Can independent cinema survive this crisis?
This week, in The Daily Star's interview series that aims to give readers an idea of what changes to expect in a post-Covid-19 world, filmmaker Amitabh Reza Chowdhury talks to Minam Haque about the future of independent cinema. With a portfolio of national and international critical acclaim, Reza is an established name in the media, with several notable TV plays to his credit. Known in the industry for portraying unique creative prowess through his lens, the storyteller made his directorial debut with 'Aynabaji', one of the most successful films of 2016. The film also got a screening at the 69th edition of Cannes Film Festival.
The pandemic has suspended many activities and the arts seem to have come to a standstill. As a filmmaker how has this experience affected you professionally? Have you found alternative ways to continue with work while in self-isolation? How are you dealing with the process?
This pandemic is a challenge unlike any we have ever faced before. The bigger names in the industry have the ability to deal with the financial constraints easily, and so can the smaller ones, those that operate on a minimal scale. My production house is a middle-income business, thus we are comparatively more vulnerable. I work with a team consisting of a good number of professionals, meaning they must be paid professionally as well.
In my line of work, we are no strangers to self-isolation as we often need to concentrate thoroughly on parts of our work like scriptwriting and in order to do so, we have to move away from all the hustle and bustle. So, in a way isolation is a good thing, allowing us uninterrupted time for our work. Also, I try to keep myself away from all the negative news related to the pandemic. I just follow a few selective sources, but try to keep my mind free from most of it. Instead, it is better to connect with friends and family during such times and nurture a positive state of mind.
My current strategy is to work in a manner suitable to the existing circumstances within the given limitations, so that we can resume operations with a smaller team. However, revenue remains one of the biggest challenges, and a strategic way to tackle it, is to establish our video on demand (VOD) platforms. If that can be achieved, then the prospects will be promising.
Will independent cinema survive in a post-Covid world where there is likely to be a crisis in funding for films?
There is a high possibility that there will be a crisis in funding for films in a post-Covid world, but that does not necessarily mean that independent cinema won't survive. There is no need to spend extravagantly on making films to portray scenes that surpass the budget. Instead, focusing on the originality of the content can attract today's audience who, I believe, are more realistic. We saw such an approach being successful during the Italian neorealism where emphasis was placed on the value of ordinary people. Independent cinema will surely triumph if over-the-top platforms (streaming services) can also make use of such an approach.
Technology has played an incredible role during this crisis. What kind of changes and innovations do you foresee in the technology used in filmmaking? Can Bangladeshi independent cinema catch up?
I don't think this is an issue. Cinematic technology only becomes a necessity when we are talking big budget films. As far as I'm concerned, whatever technology we have at the moment will suffice.
Many have resorted to online and social media communities amidst the lockdown to engage with their audience. Have you done anything similar? If so, what?
We have worked on a web series for "Aynabaji" during the early days of the lockdown, but that was about it. Since we did not have any existing well-established platforms, we were not prepared for such a thing. However, we are making some preparations now and are currently in the preproduction stage.
What new adjustments will have to be made during the shooting?
The pandemic has made it an obligation to create a new working protocol, therefore, we have adopted the guidelines ascribed by the government and health authorities and plan to implement them to our daily operation on the sets. Workplaces should have Covid-19 risk assessments and plans in place. We will strictly maintain the screening protocols, social distancing norms, sanitising, proper hygienic measures, and wearing of masks and gloves. We also encourage a work-from-home strategy when and where possible. Leave of absence is mandatory if anyone shows any symptoms of illness. If we adhere to all the details in the protocol set forth, it will enable us to minimise exposure and thereby limit the spread of Covid-19 while helping us to sustain a functional ﬁlm industry.
Having made successful rounds across international film circuits, how is the scenario now? As travelling restrictions are easing steadily, are there any film festivals in your itinerary?
The work that I do is never intended for any film festivals. I just want to tell my stories, and I believe if they are powerful enough, they will resonate with the audience. And that in turn can propel them far and wide. As of now, I don't have any plans on travelling, but overtime as flights begin to operate on a larger scale, things may change.