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2018

Making movies with mobiles in Bangladesh


14th August 2018

Three groups of filmmaking novices were let loose in Dhaka to tell their stories with just phones and imagination. Workshop leader Mark Bishop reveals all.

The black kites circled overhead as my jet-lagged brain processed my being back in Bangladesh. Here I was hurtling through the hectic streets of Dhaka to a symphony of car horns for the second time in four months.

Last time it was to run Zero Budget and Zero Experience filmmaking workshops with young people from the International Children’s Film Festival. This time I was to work with three different groups over six days. The first group was called Edge (English and Digital for Girls Education) and works to improve the life prospects of adolescent girls in socio-economically marginalised communities in Bangladesh.

The girls arrived on the first morning wearing brightly coloured clothes and nervous smiles – excited to start the workshop but obviously apprehensive. My workshops incorporate many theatre exercises which relax the group and help them to work together and come up with ideas. Once the first warm-up exercise was over the room was full of relaxed, smiling and confident young women ready to learn and be creative.

The day combined technical learning about filmmaking with practical assignments to put these skills into practice, providing training for young people with no experience in filmmaking and no equipment other than their phones. The process would empower them to make films about their lives and give them a voice.

Having completed various film assignments on the first day, on the second they made two-minute films combining the skills they'd learned. As the Women of the World Festival was in full swing in Dhaka, the group focused on issues facing women in Bangladesh: teenage brides, stalking by men, inappropriate behaviour by male teachers and favouritism of sons over daughters. These issues were tackled with passion and humour.

It was a real pleasure working with this group of inspiring young women and I hope they continue to use these skills to make short films telling the world about their lives to give an insight into this wonderful country.

The fourth and fifth days were spent with British Council employees and focused on content for social media. The participants came from many different departments to learn skills that will support the work of the marketing team. The training I delivered in February had been such a success that the marketing department asked for more employees to experience the workshop. One of previous participants told me it was the best workshop she had ever done – nice to hear!

It was obvious that the group really enjoyed the two days. It was not only a welcome change from their normal routine but also inspired them to use their new-found filmmaking skills to showcase the great opportunities offered by British Council. There was lot of laughter and humour during the workshop and we found a new romantic lead for the Bangladesh Film Industry in the arts department!

Then came the Active Citizens group. British Council Bangladesh helps citizens and institutions contribute to a more inclusive, open and prosperous society. The group brought together a broad range of young people from across the country all linked by a passion and enthusiasm to support their local communities. Many of their stories concerned attitudes towards poverty and the many challenges the country faces. I am hopeful these young people will start to instigate changes and will be able to document these to tell the world.

At the end of each workshop the group wanted a team selfie to remember the experience and looking back at all those faces, they look like they had fun. I hope to stay in touch with lots of them and see what wonderful things they get up to. It was a privilege to meet them.

On this visit I had a little more time to experience the atmosphere of Dhaka – a non-stop, vibrant city full of beautiful and friendly people, many of whom are struggling to get by. I had particular admiration for the rickshaw riders ferrying  millions of locals around the city in intense heat.

As I sat on the roof of my apartment building on my last evening, watching the sun set over the city and listening to the call to prayer drifting on the light breeze, I was thinking how different this was to my home in rural England. But just as I thought this, I caught sight of a Bangladeshi builder sat on the edge of tower block, watching the same sunset. We were from very different places but both took a moment to experience a moment of beauty. Let’s hope the world can notice more of these similarities between us all.

Mark Bishop is Director of Big State.