In conversation with Cathy Stevulak, the Director and Leonard Hill, the Producer, of the award-winning documentary, Threads.
Why did you make Threads? What is the core message you tried to convey?
Cathy: We started to make the film about Suraiya Rahman’s art because we thought it’s going to be purely about the art form of Nakshi Kantha. But as we talked with Suraiya, and she was actually very ill at that time, we heard this remarkable story about how one person made a difference in the lives of hundreds of others and how all of the women worked together, helped their families through this handicraft and this beautiful work. So, we decided that the film needed to be beyond art to tell the story of the resilience of women and this incredible depth of culture within Bangladesh.
This is your debut documentary. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
Leonard: There were a lot of challenges in making Threads, the first film we have ever made. We are living in North America and the film takes place in Bangladesh, just geographically there was a challenge. When we lived in Bangladesh before we were fortunate to meet Catherine and Tareque Masud and we got back in touch with them and they offered to help us. They also introduced us to Mishuk Munir who did the original filming of Suraiya Rahman and the women. The great challenge came in the summer of 2011 when Mishuk and Tareque were killed in a very sad car accident.
How did you try to portray Suraiya Rahman in the film?
Cathy: Suraiya was 79 when we started filming. She was not well then, so we had a great challenge as to when it was a good time to film her. Sometimes, when those times came, there were hartals where the film crew couldn’t come and many other logistical issues that happened. A huge challenge also was because Suraiya’s art and the art made by these women is all over the world. There is some in Bangladesh, but it was scattered all over the world and in order to make a film about someone’s art one needs to show the art. So it took us the better part of three to four years to find images of the art. We traced people and found out where they were living, maybe they knew somebody else who had a piece. The story changed as we found pieces and you will see in the film a couple of very key places where we found art and we had to re-edit pretty much the whole story because we found the additional piece of art.
Suraiya went through adversity – how did you deal with those parts of her life?
Leonard: Suraiya said to us very early on that she wanted the true story told and of course no one is a saint really. We have tried to portray all aspects of her life particularly her commitment to art and really her perfectionism when it came to creating art and also then teaching other people because she had at certain point hundreds of women stitching these elaborate tapestries.
Why did you call the film Threads?
Cathy: A thread is individually strong but it is much stronger when it comes together, just as these communities of women are when they come together and stitch. These communities are stronger when they work together. We are overall much stronger when we collaborate and come together and this is one of the meanings of threads as well as the literal meaning. Another meaning is that when these women started with the project, they were working really just for subsistence and for learning and for helping their families. But over time in three decades, as you see in the film, they have done incredible things, and so this is over time a thread that will continue to other generations.
Interview by Syed Zain Al-Mahmood