Dhaka Impressions

in 22nd Dhaka International Film Festival

by Seok Yong Changpau

The sky-way to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, a Muslim country with a population of 174 million on 143,998 km² of land is not easy. This is a country that requires a visa, and I do not have a direct flight, so I took a six-hour flight from Seoul to Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, stayed two and a half hours, then transferred to another airport, and took a further two and a half hours to get to Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. The airport at early dawn was not crowded, and the distance from the airport to the accommodation was also short, which was nice. The thick fog was accompanied by smog that I got used to after about two days. The festival is like a battle because of the noise of the accommodation (the sound of car horns, the sound of the bazar’s nightly luggage, the sound of prayer heard through the microphone at dawn), the tight schedule (the movie watching, talks with screenwriters from shortly after arrival), and the combination of meetings (directors, actors) etc.

In 1995, I was the first Korean to attend the Fipresci General meeting, which was held in Saint Vincent, Italy, and participated on the jury of Premio Grolle d‘Oro. The winter weather of Dhaka, which represents Southwest Asia, started at 13 degrees in the morning and was pleasant at 24 degrees in the afternoon. Breakfast was at the hotel, and lunch and dinner were at the Dhaka Club. DIFF became a precious memory for me to remind myself of the images of young film directors and modernisation filled with curiosity about the unknown country and passion for film. DIFF made me think of many cultural ideas such as unknown films, people, systems, languages, food, and tourism from various countries. Films were works that reflected the specific aesthetics and realities of each country.

The Fédération Internationale des Associations de Productors de Films (FIAPF) is headquartered in Paris and recognises film festivals around the world as competitive film festivals, non-competitive film festivals, and documentary·short film festivals. The events they recognize as competitive film festivals in Asia are the Tokyo International Film Festival (founded in 1985 and which has its 37th Film Festival in 2024) and the Shanghai International Film Festival (founded in 1993, although it is unclear whether the festival will resume after the 24th edition in 2021). The Busan International Film Festival (festival director Park Kwang-soo, launched in 1996) and the Jeonju International Film Festival (co-festival director Min Sung Wook, Jung Joon-ho, launched in 1997) are partially competitive film festivals that only recognise competition in the Asian feature film category.

The official schedule of the 22nd Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF, Chairperson of Organizing Committee: Kishwal Kamal, Chairperson of Executive Committee: Ahmed Muztaba Jamal) ran from Jan. 20 to Jan. 28, 2024. Almost all of the participants have endured a flight time of more than 10 hours, so they quickly show intimacy and become movie comrades. Launched in 1992, earlier than the Busan International Film Festival in Asia, the Dhaka Film Festival has been an annual event since 2017. DIFF’s theme is ‘Better Film, Better Audience, Better Society’. DIFF has consistently committed to fostering Bangladesh’s vibrant film culture. The 22nd Dhaka International Film Festival opened at the Bangladesh National Museum’s auditorium with Fereshteh (Banglasesh·Iran, 2023, 70 min.) directed by Morteza Atashzamzam.

Organised by the Rainbow Film Society and held at the Alliance Française de Dhaka, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Foreign Service Academy, and National Museum Auditorium, the 22nd Dhaka International Film Festival’s nine-day journey came to an end. DIFF became the subject of social transformation, fostering a sound and positive film culture. DIFF provided both established and new film directors with a platform to demonstrate their talents, and in doing so, played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s film identity. Winners and judges shared their joys of giving and taking awards. Young directors need to go to a scene where directors, who are establishing their positions around the world, are busily engaged in diplomatic meetings.

I prefer works by a rising director with the creative spirit of a film director rather than works by directors with various film production experience, works by directors who have won multiple awards at home and abroad, and works that have received large-scale budget support. The works of directors with a lot of future possibilities who were seriously immersed in the subject matter had a sense of subject matter and cinematic investigation. Entertainment such as a television series tailored to the level of the domestic movie audience still existed in the film festival. I cite excellent directing ability based on creativity, excellent mise-en-scène and excellent techniques to judge the excellence of a film. A film director must show future potential as a film philosopher who impresses the audience.

The festival was split into nine categories: Asian Film Competition, Retrospective, Bangladesh Panorama (Full Length, Talent), Wide Angle, Cinema of the World, Women Filmmakers, Spiritual Film, Children’s Film, Short and Independent. 252 films from 74 countries were screened, and the winners were decided.

I watched 12 feature films and 20 short films in the Bangladesh Panorama category. The films in the feature section consisted of 12 drama and documentary films produced between 2022 and 2023. It was a feature film with a minimum length of 61 minutes to a maximum length of 178 minutes. The minimum qualification for entry was 55 minutes or more. In the films, wars between ethnic folks, conflicts between generations and tragedies caused by economic poverty were prominent themes. Among them, Sabittri (A Burning Soul, 2023, 111mins.), directed by Pantho Prosad, received the Fipresci Award for Best Full-Length Feature Film. The perspective of a young director who wants to be born in a strong country via a disgraceful history stood out in the film. The plot of composition and the refined efforts of each part stood out.

From the films submitted to the Bangladesh Panorama Talent Section, the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci) Award was chosen. The best film produced from 2022 to 2023 was Baishaki Somadder’s Layla (2023, 9mins) and a trophy and an award were given. The work dealt with the internal and external female psychology of a housewife. Another short film, Inafi (The Scarf, Shuvashis Sinha, 2023, 10mins), excelled while preserving tradition. Antohin Pathe (Endless Way), by Ziaul Hoque Raju, (2023, 10mins)  was an experimental and imaginative work. Afterwards, I carefully reviewed the scripts of the Nepal, India, and Bangladesh film directors. Among them, Afsana Mimi’s Red Lights Blue Angels won the grand prize (250,000 Dhaka) in the Screenplay Lab. The first place went to India (150,000 Dhaka) and the second place went to Sri  (110,000 Dhaka).

The festival has been hosting film supply events and international conferences through various film programmes. The 10th Dhaka International Conference on Women in Cinema, which was held in 2024, attracted explosive attention with various themes as in previous years. The 3rd Screenplay Lap for Young Film Directors is also gaining popularity every year. In 2018, there was the 1st Asian Film Critics Association (AFCA) General Assembly. Film festivals are a kind of diplomatic venue that requires time and effort. Through the films, visitors can read about the political and cultural situations of each country, and foreign filmmakers have discussions with each other without reservation. The world’s leading film scholars, film festival executives, and Bangladeshi intellectuals from prestigious overseas universities will engage in film diplomacy.

DIFF has invited prominent film scholars, film directors, and producers to come to Dhaka. The master classes, which were presented by Shi Chuan, Majid Majidi, and  Anjun Dutt, sparked public interest. The appearance of actresses such as Sharmila Tagore, directors such as Majidi, and singers such as Anjan Dutt, who were objects of respect, made the festival meaningful. In addition, support from the foreign minister, Shahriar Alam, and the information and broadcasting minister, Mohammad Ali Arafat, proved DIFF to be an undisputed festival. It is a different cultural experience to meet in a country where traffic is commonplace, food culture is different and armed guards stand guard everywhere. The festival, which makes Bangladesh recognised as a country of equal neighbours, not an object of sympathy, plays a great diplomatic role. I hope that many young film directors will be able to submit their films to the festival and interact with foreign filmmakers in the future.

Seok Yong Changpau
Edited by Amber Wilkinson