Prodigies of Celluloid
Sayeda Abrar Toha Draha, currently a student of class ten at Viqarunnesa Noon School first heard about Children Film Society through her friends and siblings. "Last year my resolution was to try something new, so when I heard about the 9th International Children's Film Festival, I thought to my self, why not give this a shot," says Draha. She came up with a story of a child who chose the path of redundancy rather than trying to improve himself through learning. Draha chose to treat the film as a stop motion animation and shot the entire thing with a two mega pixel camera. "During the screening of my film I wasn't present at the hall due to a basketball and hockey tournament, but not being able to see the audience's response was eating me up from the inside." When the screening was done and it was time for awarding, Draha was in for a big surprise. "I thought to myself, why on earth would anyone select a film which was shot with a two mega pixel camera? I remember my mother and I were in the audience that day and I was literally praying to God to not be the first one. But please, the fifth one, maybe." That day Draha made history by achieving the award for the third best film and also being the youngest delegate ever to win it. "Now when some one asks me what happens in the festival, I reply with a big smile on my face and say, it makes your dreams come true!"
To make more dreams turn into realities this year, the Children's Film Society organised its biggest film festival for the tenth time starting from January 24th. With the aim of opening up a new world of cinema to the children of Bangladesh and exposing them to different cultures and traditions—this year more than 600 films have been submitted for the festival world wide. "One of our primary goals is to help the youth understand the important role cinema plays to portray various social issues," says Abir Ferdous Mukhar, festival director. From 24 January to 30 January, more than one lakh children would go on a cinematic journey through different workshops and movie screenings. "As a former delegate I must say that it is not only a very good platform to showcase your talent but also you get to learn a lot of new things in a fun and interactive manner."
This festival is considered to be the biggest and also the only international film festival for children and young adults in the country. Interestingly enough, this grand gala of young film makers started with a very humble beginning back in 2006, when the Children's Film Society (CFS) was founded. The society was renowned filmmaker Morshedul Islam's brain child. "There's no argument against the fact that cinema is the most powerful media of art at present time. The problem was that this medium was not being used properly for our children as a strong tool of learning and awareness," says Morshedul Islam. In a meeting with some leading educationists, writers and cultural activists on August 17, 2006; Morshedul Islam proposed the idea of a film society dedicated to child content. "Our first work was organising a three day long film session at Goethe Institute. We received so much enthusiasm from the audience and participants that we knew that this will continue," says Morshedul Islam. The International Children's Film Festival however began its journey a year after the society was established. The society is run by a fifteen members executive committee formed for a two-year long term. At present leading writer Dr Muhammad Zafar Iqbal is working as the president while leading photojournalist Munira Morshed Munni is working as the general secretary of the organisation. The society also has an advisory committee headed by eminent artist Mustafa Monwar.
This year's festival will mark ten years of CFS's enormous contribution to children's film. To celebrate this achievement, the volunteers have been in work mode since March 2006 when the submission portal opened up. Fifty four countries such as Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Spain have participated in this year's festival. After weeks of going through all the films, CFS chose two hundred and ninety films for the screening. "We are always very happy when we see the increasing number of female filmmakers among the young delegates. Even from the very beginning the proportion of female filmmakers was always high," says Abir Ferdous Mukhar. This year almost 62 percent of submissions were from young female directors. "From our own country's perspective, this scenario is very promising and gives us hope for a very bright film industry."
On 24 January, the inauguration ceremony of the 10th International Film Festival took place at the Central Public Library, Shahbagh. The premises felt like nothing less than the Canes or Sundance Film Festivals as young filmmakers from around the country filled the auditorium. Prominent actor and Honourable Minister of Cultural Affairs Asaduzzaman Nur was invited as the special guest while Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith was present as the chief guest. Notable icons such as actress Masuma Rahman Nabila, filmmaker Mejbaur Rahman Sumon, journalist and tv presenter Billie JD Porter, actress Nusrat Imrose Tisha were also on the ceremony's guest list. For this whole week, Central Public Library will act as the main screening hall of the festival while other screenings will take place at the National Museum, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Alliance Francaise de Dhaka, Jahangirnagar University and Daffodil International University. The festival will be simultaneously celebrated in Rajshahi, Rangpur, Barisal, Sylhet, Khulna and Tangail. A lot of schools also come and join to witness these screenings as a part of the school's curriculum.
The most fascinating part of this festival is not just the movies but the volunteers who work hard to make this event possible. "You would think the turn up in Dhaka is great but you will be surprised to see the other districts," says Mukhar. "The most dedicated volunteers we get come from outside of Dhaka. We had this boy who came from Sylhet just for a day to interview for the volunteer job," he adds. This entire grand event is run by young volunteers aged between 6 and 25 who supervise and organise every little inch of the festival.
This year's festival is also paying tribute to the famous children's film Dipu Number two. Coincidently 2017 will mark 20 years of the film which touched every child's soul. CFS has planned a special tribute for this film followed by a discussion with the director, Morshedul Islam.
This whole week Dhaka has been witnessing a small revolution in the world of cinema, where young directors much like Draha have broken the orthodoxies of films and gave a new light to this medium—showing everyone what truly independent movies are all about. People who are yet to plan their week, we highly recommend you to go see the works of these amazing children—where you can witness the bright future of Bangladeshi cinema.