Workshop on Encouraging Film and Web Content on Social Issues: A Film Accelerator Program in Bangladesh

By Shahla Islam

Working in an ailing and exclusionary film industry with high barriers to entry, Bangladeshi filmmakers often find themselves struggling to maintain careers and foster new and inclusive ideas in film. Women filmmakers are even more susceptible to leaving the industry due to unfavorable environments. Recognizing these inequities, my project team and I developed the concept for the “Workshop on Encouraging Film and Web Content on Social Issues.”

Project Flyer designed by Syed Minhaj Hossain

We started this project after I attended the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES) that took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan in November 2019 on the topic of “Women in Media: Creating Networks for Social Change.” After the seminar, I was awarded with an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State, and my project team, Afia Pina, Syed Minhaj Hossain, and Fatema Reza, and I enacted a dynamic workshop for emerging filmmakers in Bangladesh. The training offered an advanced level training for young Bangladeshi filmmakers who have basic knowledge, potential, and creativity to make quality media content on social issues. These young filmmakers, being in the early stages of their career, have not been able to produce any commercial films due to lack of networking and funding.

To kick off the project, we announced an open call for applications in late February 2020 and shared information about the training through social media and local news. The project was also promoted by fellow Alumni TIES participants, Elita Karim and Angur Nahar Monty as well as our project partners, EMK Center, Dream On, and a number of other young filmmakers. As a result of this extended community outreach, we received 82 applications for the training program in a short period of time.

Originally, we scheduled the trainings around the Bangladesh rainy season and Ramadan but unfortunately, we could not foresee or avoid COVID-19. Due to the virus and the nationwide shutdowns, we were forced to shift the agenda for our trainings. After consulting with our team and speakers, we were successfully able reorganize our program to adjust for the unforeseen circumstances. We, ultimately, decided that we did not want to shift the whole project to a virtual platform as it would compromise the impact of the film accelerator program. Therefore, we decided to postpone the workshop but to continue the conversation that had already begun with the selected young filmmaker participants. To foster these early discussions, we held online screening sessions for 11 different films that were recommended by Bijon Imtiaz, one of the project trainers, and provided an online space for participants to discuss these films among themselves. This online format provided this small, new flourishing young film community a space to cultivate creative ideas for their individual films and develop their own visions for their projects that that they will create during the workshop.

Announcements about project trainers Arifur Rahman and Bijon Imtiaz (top to bottom); design by Syed Minhaj Hossain
Workshop Flyer, design by Nabidur Rahman

Currently, we are in the midst of organizing a virtual session that will concentrate on helping the selected participants to structure their projects until we are able to host our in-person workshop. At the same time, we are reaching out to additional industry partners which will help us to build a bridge between established industry leaders and young filmmakers in a more practical way. With a renewed focus on building these connections, we hope to inspire a new and inclusive generation to help restore a weakening Bangladeshi film industry and give a voice to fresh and positive perspectives. I hope the next time that I take up the pen again to write about this transformative and innovative project, the world will be a safer place and we will be able to come together to celebrate the fruits of this community initiative.

Workshop on Encouraging Film and Web Content on Social Issues is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.

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