Changing the world with a camera
Dhaka, Bangladesh 3 February 2009. The children in the audience all knew who the winners would be. Two names echoed around the auditorium well before the announcement.
Screams, tears of joy and the clap of many hands followed as filmmakers Masud Al Kaosar (16) and Shubhajit Bhowmik (18) ran to the stage to collect first prize for their film Ora (They). There, at the closing ceremony of the Second International Children’s Film Festival of Bangladesh, Masud and Shubhajit were celebrities.
By children, about children, for children
Ora chronicles the story of three children struggling to survive on the streets of Dhaka. The boys made their film without the help of adults or professional filmmakers.
“The system of our society inspired us to make Ora. The life of street children portrayed in the film is common in Bangladesh,” Masud said.
“A lot of films made in Bangladesh don’t portray our culture. We want to make films that are a real portrayal. I hope each film we make brings out the true culture of Bangladesh,” Shubhajit said. “I want to change the world with my camera.”
“We hope the film inspires people so that underprivileged children are given the opportunity to contribute to our society,” Masud said.
Fifteen films submitted by Bangladeshi children were short listed for screening and prize contention in the 2nd International Children’s Film Festival, organized by the Children’s Film Society Bangladesh with support from UNICEF.
“If children can contribute to film making it brings out a different dimension, because our thinking is different, our views are different,” Masud said. “There is no one else to tell children’s stories, so they should have the chance to tell their stories.”
A special audience
Throughout the screening of the short-listed films, which preceded the award ceremony, three young boys in the front row were even more attentive than the rest of the rapt audience.
Parvez (10), Shohag (9) and Joher (8) had been to several screenings during the five-day festival, which was free to all children. They’d fussed and squabbled during some films, teasing the children sitting near them. During Ora, they hardly moved. Eyes wide, the usually excitable boys were completely engrossed.
All three of these boys live on the streets. They don’t go to school. Much like the heroes of Ora, their daily life is a struggle.
“The film really showed our feelings and the problems we go through,” said Parvez.
Celebrating film for children
Cinema suitable for children is a rarity in Bangladesh, where movie halls tend to screen films with adult themes, high levels of violence and low production values. The annual festival seeks to improve access to children’s cinema and awareness of filmmaking for children. More than 150 films for children from 40 countries around the world were screened.
From thousands of essay applications, 103 children (including eight children with disabilities and eight underprivileged children) were chosen to attend as child delegates. They participated in workshops run by well-known Bangladeshi filmmakers, including acclaimed director Tareque Masud.
Films entered in the children’s competition were judged by a panel of children, all members of the Children’s Film Society of Bangladesh and most of them child actors.
Raddha Anindya, an eleven-year-old judge, said: “We judged the films on two things: presentation and subject. It was difficult to choose a winner; all the films were very good. The most important thing to remember is to portray the truth, and show it to the people.”