Children’s Film Festival zooms in on social issues
In a packed auditorium in Dhaka’s Central Public Library, the audience watches the screen transfixed as the fictional story of teenagers Mitu and Nitu unfolds.
The two sisters, living in rural Bangladesh, are happily preparing an elaborate wedding for one of their dolls, when their own lives begin to mirror the fantasy world they have created. The sisters are still young enough to play with dolls, but their parents believe that Mitu is also old enough to marry a man she has never met, and move to Saudi Arabia to be his bride.
Despite being a fictional film, Doll Wedding reflects the reality of millions of Bangladeshi teenage girls, two-thirds of whom are married before their 18th birthday.
Doll Wedding, and another film, Fellow Traveller, which is about a child labourer returning to his family for the Eid festival, were produced by renowned Bangladeshi film makers with UNICEF support. They premiered at the 3rd International Children Film Festival in front of an enthusiastic audience, mostly comprised of children and their parents.
“We wanted to tell a story that would make a difference on children’s rights,” said UNICEF Communication Chief Christine Jaulmes, at the premiere of the films.
The week-long Festival was inaugurated by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who emphasised the power of film to transform social problems.
“Film is the most powerful and influential medium which helps build awareness on different social issues,” she said. She declared that among the five Government grants that are given to feature films every year, one will be reserved for films focusing on children’s issues.
Dr Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, President of the Children’s Film Society Bangladesh, said: “It is not just about entertainment. We also like to nourish creativity among our young people.”
A competition for filmmakers under the age of 18 attracted 34 entries, and was judged by a five-member child jury. The top five child directors received 25,000 taka from ActionAid, RTV and Children’s Film Society to help them make more films.
First prize went to Tuktuker chasma (Tuktuki’s glasses), a film directed by two female directors, Fariha Jahan and Shahla Islam Rodoshee. The film is about a girl obsessed with getting a pair of glasses, and features a sinister final twist.
A special prize was given to Yeasin Rahman Sumon, for his film Bodh, which tells the story of Dhaka street children who are involved in criminal activities. “I used to live on the street, and was tortured. That’s why I decided to make a film about it,” said Sumon, who received filmmaking training from UNICEF last year as part of the One-Minute Junior Video project.
UNICEF assisted 125 child delegates who live outside Dhaka, including some disabled and underprivileged children, to travel to the capital and enjoy the Festival. These children, who were selected through an essay writing competition, also participated in a day-long workshop on film making.
Youth prize winners were: