Thousands of miles away from the comfort of their homes, a group of Bangladeshi women police officers defy stereotypes and face harsh realities of becoming foot soldiers in a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti in the Caribbean region.
All this is documented by two Academy and Emmy award-winning women directors: Geeta Gandbhir of India and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy from Pakistan -- on Bangladeshi police officers who were part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti. The documentary, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers” was screened at the Mumbai Association of Moving Images Festival, after its world premiere to a packed audience at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) earlier this year.
The documentary follows a unit of 160 Bangladeshi women who, between June 2013 and July 2014, joined the United Nations Stabilizing Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). They form one of the world's first all-female, predominantly Muslim peacekeeping units. The women -- young and old, married and single, mothers and daughters-- come from every corner of Bangladesh.
The cameras follow these women from their recruitment to the unit, to pre-deployment training, and throughout their yearlong tour of duty in Haiti. They confront extreme poverty, crumbling healthcare systems, violent anti-government protests and opposition to their very presence.
“The film focuses on three of women in this unit as they grapple with the harsh realities of becoming foot soldiers in a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission. Ultimately, however, the women rise to the occasion, providing essential community support to the region,” said the co-directors.
While the Bangladeshi women immerse themselves in their duties, intimate scenes of the families they love and left behind provide a stark contrast throughout the film.
“We witness first hand their return home and the subsequent reintegration into family life -- a process that is at once a relief and a profound challenge,” they added.
“A Journey of a Thousand Miles” is a bold look at the women who make up this global force, going beyond the statistics and news stories to look at who these officers are at individual level,” said Geeta and Sharmeen.
The directors said they wanted to make a film about Muslim women who defy stereotypes. “These Bangladeshi women are the breadwinners who go out from their traditional communities to leave the men at home with the children. It's a role for women in that region that we haven't heard much about and these women do it effectively. It's important for everyone to see that,” according to Geeta and Sharmeen.
It took three years to make the film. “We were with them at least a week or week and a half every month over the course of their time there (in Haiti). It was the same when they were in Bangladesh."
The documentary's executive producer Irfan Izhar said it was not an easy task as in this kind of shoots, the safety of the crew is very important and travelling to different places with full crew is also challenging. He said the World Premiere at the Toronto Festival was a great experience as “both our shows were full and we got lots of appreciation and people like the film.”
Asad Faruqi is the director of photography, music is by Kishon Khan and Maya Mumma is the editor of the documentary, which will now travel to a documentary festival in New York.