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|Volume 12 |Issue 08| February 22, 2013 ||
An out-of-the-blue invitation came from the High Commission of Canada to come to Dhaka to open the 6th Children's Film Festival, which was showing my film and to do a workshop with the prospective children film makers, I had to run to Google to read up on the country.
Bangladesh. So far away from my snowed-in home in Montreal Canada. If you had asked about the images in my mind before coming, I would have shrugged. The only answers would have been poverty, floods, fires,and loans to women.
Words cannot begin to adequately describe the experience of coming to Dhaka to be part of Morshedul Islam's sixth annual Children's Film Festival. It has changed not just our perceptions, but our lives.
For instance, I had no idea that this festival was not only for children, but was completely run by the children.
We're talking about 5-year-olds to eighteen-year-olds. Having been to many film festivals all around the world, this has been one of the best. From the art and booths, to the organisation of the screenings, to the workshops or meals, it could not have been better planned or more smoothly run. And we're talking about 300 children.
Day by day as my husband Mark Shekter and I fell in love with the children and young people, we saw that there was something greater happening. Morshedul Islam and his wife, son and daughter are creating, not just a festival to encourage children to make their own films; or to see other films from all around the world, they are creating citizens of the world’ and leaders of tomorrow for Bangladesh.
The Children's film festival is fundamentally teaching democracy in its finest form.
This is democracy in action. A group of people bonded together for a purpose to create a way to live together, making it happen, each contributing their best individually for the good of many.
The children get to vote on each film thus learning that their opinion matters. There's a box for ‘GOOD,’ ‘NOT SO GOOD’ and ‘NOT GREAT.’ They vote with ballots on the way out of each screening. This is the fine example Islam sets and lives. And I'm not even talking yet about the actual films the children have made.
This festival opens the world to the children of Bangladesh as they watch films from every country giving them a global perspective on their own lives and their place in the world. But most importantly, by making and showing their own films. These children are given a voice– their own voice. Validating the need and right of each individual to tell his or her own story and get their own perspective out to the world.
That too is democracy
We were stunned as we watched hours and hours of their wonderful short films. These children are not trying emulate Hollywood or even Bollywood, no, they're making films about issues important to them; life, loneliness, love of parents, the harms of smoking, and over and over– themes on their love for their country.
The war of independence is in their DNA. Bangladesh is their beloved country. They are proud of it and of themselves. Of course, they need film training, but their stories are clear and moving.
Mark and I did an all day workshop for 125 children from all over Bangladesh on ‘Telling Your Story.’ By the end of the day, even the youngest group of six-year-olds had constructed a powerful story, complete with Purpose and Message. The room erupted in cheers! What six-year olds in the world can sit in a workshop for a whole day and come up with this!
As I wrote to Islam, training tomorrow's leaders with this festival is the greatest of all gift to this country. Encouraging your children to speak of that which is most important in their own lives is teaching them that they have the power to make change happen. And there is no greater gift to the world, than having your children tell and show the world who they are – and who they will become – through the films they make.
You want to build a country that is vibrant and strong? Start with your children. Make it possible for thousands to participate in these workshops and festivals. The work Islam and his family is doing is that of nation-building. When 50 million of Bangladesh population is under 25, and 30 million is under 14, you already have a built-in audience for these films.
When we see ourselves reflected in our own stories, we can start to believe in ourselves and our own worth.
When one speaks of changing the perception of the world for a country, what better place to start than the stories of your children. They have no agenda other than to tell the truth of the world as they see it with the most powerful medium we have with which to speak.
Can you imagine the change of perception for Bangladesh when these films become world class and get out to the world?
So, now when you ask me about Bangladesh, Mark and I do not speak of the poverty or the crazy traffic. It's still there, but what we see are the dreams and realities of a young country that can surge into it's own power, solving it's problems in a way no one could ever anticipate.
Mark and I have been forever changed.
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