Documentary Films on Bangladesh
Since its birth, Bangladesh has produced more than 2100 films until 2015 but film genre wise they are exceptionally limited. Most of the movies in Bangladesh are some variations of drama. Therefore, other categories of filmmaking are almost absence or neglected. The documentary is one such genre. It is not appreciated, not popular, not promoted, not known. So far, most of the important documentary films on Bangladesh on various issues are made mostly by non-Bangladeshi film-makers independently or as a part of a project for foreign media. Some of the documentaries are now extremely difficult to find. This list is an effort to keep a record of them.
Eight docs are included in this part of documentary films on Bangladesh — as already mentioned, they are all made by non-Bangladeshi documentary makers. Some are feature-length, some are shorts, some are old, some new, some available, some not. The list is in random order. Previous lists can be found here — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.
Director: George Butler
2015 • 90 Min • USA
Tiger Tiger follows Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, renowned big cat conservationist, as he travels deep into the primordial landscape of the Sundarbans — a tidal mangrove forest spanning the India-Bangladesh border. Known as one of the most dangerous places on Earth, the Sundarbans is the domain of what may be the largest, wildest remaining tiger population. Only 3,000 tigers remain in the wild throughout Asia, and as Alan journeys through the remote landscape of the Sundarbans, he confronts the treacherous terrain both tiger and man must navigate in their mutual struggle to survive. This may be his last journey; diagnosed with leukemia, Alan must face his own mortality as he races to save one of the world’s most charismatic animals from the razor’s edge of extinction.
A Journey Of A Thousand Miles — Peacekeepers
Director: Geeta Gandbhir, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
2015 • 95 Min • USA
Documentarians Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (the Academy Award-winning Saving Face) and Geeta Gandbhir follow the stories of three Bangladeshi policewomen who served with the UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The role of United Nations peacekeepers is a true “mission impossible,” dropping soldiers who literally don’t speak each other’s languages into foreign countries rife with chaos and violence. Anything that goes wrong can become an international incident. Good luck.
A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers acquaints us with the personal side of such a mission, focusing on five Muslim policewomen from Dhaka, Bangladesh who are part of a unit sent to maintain peace in the wake of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Their training is inadequate, to say the least. Adding to the volatile situation are the local perceptions that the UN has overstayed its welcome, and that foreign troops are responsible for the cholera epidemic that has been killing Haitians by the thousands since the earthquake.
Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Saving Face) teams with filmmaker Geeta Gandbhir to follow the peacekeeping unit not just over the course of the year-long mission, but also through their return home, where they face fresh challenges of reintegration. Many of the women are the primary earners in their families, but they still encounter opposition from husbands and parents over leaving home for work. As the film takes us deeper into their lives, we come to feel the emotional toll of a risky and gruelling year abroad, away from children and loved ones.
Muslim women are often kept at a distance in the Western media. This film offers a rare and up-close look as they make the best of a difficult situation, with compassion and humour, while the mission expands their sense of what’s possible.
Half Devil Half Child
Director: Bill Nikides
2012 • 80 Min • USA
Throughout the last century, Christianity has grown dramatically in the 10–40 window. In Bangladesh, as Western colonies faded into history, young, dynamic leaders came out of Islam and into the Church. Bolstered by strong fellowship and an outspoken witness, Muslim-background Christians planted churches, started schools, translated resources and grew into a vibrant, visible, Christian church. But something else was lurking in the shadows.
Under the guise of contextualization, colonialism has evolved. Western missionaries are encouraging new believers to keep their faith ‘inside.’ Baptized Christians are going back to the Imams and back to the mosques. Rather than identifying themselves as Christians, they are calling themselves Isai or “Jesus” Muslims. Bibles are being produced that are omitting references to God as Father and to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It is an idea that turns the gospel upside down, reversing what the Bible means when it calls people to turn to Christ and out of darkness and into the light.
No simple diatribe against accommodation, Half Devil Half Child calls the church in the West to remember who it is in Christ, a new creation that requires a wiser approach to missions and better use of our material blessings. This film challenges our taste for the comfort, ease and safety we enjoy. It identifies what drives a movement that creates invisible Christians for an invisible and ineffectual Church, to the glory of Islam. It is a call to recapture for the West what has been known for millennia — that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. It reminds us to let our light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Opposed by Muslims and these “insider” Western approaches, faithful men, called from Islam to Christ in His one and only church continue to plant churches, preach the Gospel, train new leaders, and love their enemies. Hear them speak of their love for Jesus Christ and the freedom of His Gospel. Hear them confess their one hope in Christ and one life in the triune God. Hear them express their desire for the bond of brotherhood born for adversity, knit together in life and death. Hear the deep meaning it has for our lives in a majority world country and the Christian church as we know it.
Journey to Bangladesh and meet the men who tell a story of deception and confusion, and of true faith. Join these men who are giving all they have to reach their nation with the faith delivered once for all to the saints, and — once for all — to light the 10–40 window.
Mass E Bhat
Directors: Hannan Majid, Richard York
2014 • 72 Min • UK
Through the story of one boy’s childhood, “Mass-e-Bhat” weaves the narratives of 6 children growing up around Bangladesh into an epic tableaux of a nation in flux.
As social worker, Nasir, wanders the alleyways of Dhaka’s Korrail slum, searching for working children to enroll in school, he recounts the story of his own childhood and his journey through a rapidly developing country.
A typical child of Bangladesh, Nasir grew up in the village before leaving at the age of 8 to pursue a better life in the city. Like so many others, rather than streets paved with gold, he finds himself working on a rubbish dump before being pulled into the workhouses and garment factories which sparked the country’s rapid growth.
As he reflects upon his childhood and his eventual struggle towards education, we meet series of children, through short observational chapters, who’s lives mirror his past while telling a story all too real in the country’s present. From Emon, a young boy scraping out a living in the rural areas and Shujon, an 8 year old working on a sprawling rubbish tip in the nation’s capital, to garment worker Riham and a pair of youngsters living on the platforms of Dhaka’s train station, we see life in a developing nation through the eyes of it’s children.
Bangladesh: Culture of Impunity
Director: Miles Roston
2012 • 30 Min • Netherlands
In Bangladesh, poverty and corruption have long been endemic. An Islamic state, minorities are under threat, with crimes against them rarely punished. How has Bangladesh become an extremist haven?
Bangladesh, the world’s eighth most populous country. While its problems may seem removed from the rest of the world, its military provides the biggest share of UN peacekeepers globally, earning billions for the government. Well known as a nation of endemic poverty and rampant corruption, it’s also a country born of a bloody war with Pakistan, enduring what one high US official called the most calculated thing since the Nazis in Poland. “At the time, it was the most horrendous genocide since the Second World War.” Shahriar Kabir Now an Islamic state like Pakistan, the country it fought for independence from, minorities are under threat; and crimes against them are rarely punished, like the war crime perpetrators over thirty years ago. Not only religious minorities but the little known indigenous population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts face violent attacks, urged on by extremists. Yet despite its human rights violations, the country still receives European and international aid.
Bubber i Bangladesh
Director: Poul Kjar
2001 • 27 Min • Denmark
Bubber travels to Bangladesh to see how bad the working conditions are for children. By nature he is alarmed that children work at all. He feels that the Western countries should boycot any form of child work. Though, as the documentary unfolds he changes his mind somewhat.
The Star (TÄTHI)
Director: Richard Solarz
1998 • 52 Min • Finland
In the Islamic country of Bangladesh, films are primarily made for an audience of lower-class males. On the one hand, the actresses are adored by the spectators as stars, but on the other hand, from their religious persuasion most people can only feel contempt for these ‘fallen women‘. Not surprisingly, a normal life as a respected member of society and marriage is almost unattainable for an actress. In TÄTHI, director Richard Solarz follows the realization of a Bengali feature film, with the young Swedish Lisa in the leading role. The film, about the relationship between a Western woman and a Bengali man, is alternately shot in Bangladesh and Sweden. The trip exposes many prejudices and cultural differences to the cast and crew of the film. Lisa is embraced as a new star in the poverty-stricken Bangladesh, but the way she and her female Bengali colleagues are treated by the male filmmakers and co-actors is not always respectful. The double moral standards and the resulting dilemmas are painfully unveiled when the producer of the film falls in love with the actress Shangita. He proposes to her, but attaches the condition that if she agrees she will immediately have to terminate her acting career. A condition she is forced to accept; for her, this is the chance of a lifetime. In this way, TÄTHI not only portrays the film industry of Bangladesh, but also questions the subordinate position of women in this country, constantly relating the two subjects to the situation in Sweden.
In Sweden, the name of the documentary is ‘Stjärnan’.
The Rasheda Trust
Director: Jurg Neuenschwander
2005 • 52 Min • Switzerland
Rasheda Begum is a respected and well known entrepreneur far beyond the region of Modukhali (Bangladesh). She became solvent thanks to tireless work and her good instinct for business. Back in the eighties, Rasheda’s family lived in extreme poverty. The only cash income came from Rasheda’s husband Ali, who worked for a pittance as a labourer. When government officials came to the village and offered the first micro credits, Rasheda saw her chance. With her first micro credit she bought 20 square meters of land and started a tree nursery. Until now, neither setbacks due to flooding and drought, nor ruthless business practices from commercial banks or extortionate rates of interests from money lenders, could slow her down. Her children went to school; her living situation improved. All is well, but not quite: There are still village leaders, who complain about Rasheda Begum’s success; her two oldest girls didn’t get their high school diploma, the oldest son dropped out of school, and the bank is demanding payment of a credit, or else….!
‘The Rasheda Trust’ shows the stages of development and the daily routine of the entrepreneur Rasheda Begum, who rose from nothing and holds her ground in a male dominated world.
Licu’s Holidays (Le ferie di Licu)
Director: Vittorio Moroni
2006 • 93 Min • Italy
The young Bengali immigrant Licu is an optimistic happiness seeker. Flexible, hard-working and charming, he has secured a job in Rome in a field that is dear to him: fashion. But despite his remarkable adaptability, he finds himself stuck between the Muslim customs he was raised with and the Italian way of life. For one thing, his female colleagues in Rome are far less inhibited than he is accustomed to. When a letter arrives containing a photo of his future bride that his parents have chosen for him, it seems he will be able to combine Bangladesh and Italy in one and the same future. This turns out to be easier said than done. The marriage negotiations do not progress very smoothly, floods ravage his native land, and his Italian employer shows little understanding for his long absence. But when he returns to Rome with his bride, the true challenges await him. Filmed in an unemphatic but intimate manner, Licu’s Holidays becomes a probing sociological exploration of a widespread dilemma for immigrants: which culture should these newlyweds use as a basis for their relationship in their new homeland? The images of a woman locked up at home make you fear the worst, but her desire for freedom leaves you feeling optimistic.
Festivals & awards
2008 Hot Docs — Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto
2007 Alba International Film Festival
2007 Villerupt Italian Film Festival: Best Film
2007 BosArt-Sardegna: Best Film
2007 IDFA — International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam: Best of Fest
Originally published at www.bangladeshcircle.com on June 27, 2016.