Bangladesh has a certain reputation as a land of festivities, and there are a few 'flagship' festivals for which the people in Bangladesh always passionately wait the whole year. Since 1992, such a festival was organized for the first time and then continued on a regular basis by a group named Rainbow Film Society, which has been part of the most celebrated festivals in Bangladesh since its first edition - dedicated to the promotion of a healthy cine culture in Bangladesh and in celebrating the global mainstream in film and its social relevance. Echoing the slogan "Better Film, Better Audience and Better Society", the 19th edition of the Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF) officially began on Saturday, January 16 in the capital.

The nine-day festival was inaugurated by Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen as the chief guest of the inauguration ceremony, while the Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami joined as the special guest. Presided over by Liberation War Museum trustee Dr Mofidul Hoque, festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal delivered the welcome speech at the ceremony. The inauguration event was also attended by festival patron M Hamid, DIFF chairperson Kishwar Kamal, festival's Asian Films Competition jury and renowned art critic Moinuddin Khaled and more, among others.

Referring the Dhaka International Film Festival as a 'flagship' event in the domain of films and film appreciation in the context of Bangladesh, FM said in his speech that the festival is slowly but gradually becoming a high platform for projecting the Bangladeshi understanding of the evolution of the film-space all over the world.

"The 19th DIFF is dedicated to the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is coming up at a time when we are crossing over from within the 'MujibBorsho' to the Golden Jubilee of our Independence. It was the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had first tabled the bill in the provincial assembly of erstwhile East Pakistan for the formation of Film Development Corporation (FDC) in 1957, which eventually became BFDC after the independence of Bangladesh - and till today holds and nurtures the principal foundation of Bangladesh's Film Industry," Dr Momen said in his speech.

Addressing the role of the government regarding the ongoing pandemic, FM said, "The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has managed the COVID-19 situation very successfully across the country and at present we see that the infection level is reduced to less than 10%. So for the sake of our film industry, the government has opened the theatres again under conditions of health and social-distancing restrictions."

"Even with constraints put in place by COVID-19, this is a great event for gathering and presenting creative minds around the world. Through this event, I hope that people will know and learn about culture, society, tradition and beliefs of other countries", Dr Momen said at the event.

Indian ambassador Vikram K Doraiswami said, "India has always been a loyal cultural companion to Bangladesh. A biopic on the Father of the Nation, documenting the life and works of the greatest Bengali of all times, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's - and we are proud that the Bangladesh-India joint venture production also commences filming this January (2021)."

Festival director Ahmed Muztaba Jamal said, "Promoting healthy cine culture in Bangladesh and celebrating the global mainstream of film, Rainbow Film Society has been organising the festival since 1977. Though the ongoing global pandemic of COVID-19 impacted every aspect of our lives, we tried to include all the sections of films in this festival through a hybrid format for the first time in DIFF's history."

The 19th edition of DIFF is showcasing a total of 226 films from around 73 countries. Films in the festival are being screened at six venues - the main auditorium and Sufia Kamal Auditorium of the Bangladesh National Museum, Shawkat Osman Memorial Auditorium of the Sufia Kamal National Public Library, the National Art Gallery Auditorium and Music and Dance Centre of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Nandan Mancha of the Academy for open-air screening, and Bashundhara City and Shimanto Shambhar branches of Star Cineplex. Aside from these venues, the festival will screen films using the virtual platform for the first time.

The 19th DIFF is having a competition for its diversified segments including the Asian Cinema Competition Section, Legendary Leaders Who Changed the World, Tribute, Retrospective, Bangladesh Panorama Section, Cinema of the World Section, Children Films Section, Women Filmmakers Section, Short and Independent Films Section and Spiritual Films Section.

This year's festival is showcasing feature films on global leaders under a new segment titled 'Legendary Leaders Who Changed the World', for the first time in its history, honouring the Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation and the Founding President of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as part of the Mujib Borsho celebration across the country.

A very special segment of 19th DIFF is called 'Tribute' which is honouring the Oscar-winning cinema titan Satyajit Ray, on the occasion of his birth centenary. Some of his notable films including "Pather Panchali", "Aparajito", "Jalsaghar", "Apur Sansar", "Ashani Sanket", "Sonar Kella" and "Hirak Rajar Deshe" has been screened at the festival as part of this Section.

7th edition of Dhaka International Conference on Women in Cinema:

The 7th edition of Dhaka International Conference on Women in Cinema at the 19th Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF) concluded on Monday at the National Art Gallery Auditorium of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA).

The two-day long international conference began on January 17 and concluded on January 18, shedding special focus on improving the standard and content of women-based cinema and creating an interaction among the women who are involved in the medium of cinema through exchanging ideas and sharing diverse experiences.

A total of six keynote papers were presented and discussed at this international conference by renowned women filmmakers, critics, and panel members from home and abroad, following this year's hybrid format.

The conference featured the presentation of three keynote papers on Monday including "Women in VR: Is Another Train Leaving Without Us" by film critic and Show Time editor of Dhaka Tribune Sadia Khalid, "Role of Film Festivals and Social Media to Empower and Encourage Women in Cinema And Nepalese Women Film Maker's Stand in the Present Scenario in seven decades History" by Nepalese filmmaker, actor and festival director of Yala International Independent Film Festival (YIIFF) in Nepal Nisha Shrestha and "Beyond Bangla Borders: Made in Bangladesh: A Case Study" by Sydney Levine, conference director and trainer, educator, writer and consultant for festival, international sales and financing strategies from LA, USA.

The sessions were respectively presided over by Associate Professor at Dhaka University's Department of Mass Communication and Journalism Sabrina Sultana Chowdhury, film critic and Show Time editor of Dhaka Tribune Sadia Khalid and Liberation War Museum trustee Mofidul Haque - with noted discussants including Canadian film consultant-programmer Hannah Fisher, Bangladeshi independent filmmaker N Rashed Chowdhury, Indian actress and filmmaker Bijaya Jena, the connoisseur of 'fan of all things' creative, cultural and innovative from Bangladesh Naeema Chaudhury, Bangladeshi independent filmmaker Shamim Akhter, Norwegian producer and head of the New Nordic Films of the Norwegian International Film Festival Gyda Velvin Myklebust, Bangladeshi filmmaker and film society activist Aka Reza Ghalib and French filmmaker-producer Meral Melika Duran.

On Sunday, the other three papers including "A Few Good Films: Alternative Representation of Women in Films in the 70s in Bangladesh" was presented by Bangladeshi filmmaker and independent film activist Mehzad Ghalib; "We will Tell the Truth through Cinema - Women of the Iranian Cinema" was presented by Iranian film festival programmer, distributor and film producer Elaheh Nobakht and "Depicting Son Preference in Indian Cinema: A Feminist Contemplation" was presented by Debjani Halder, film research officer of the Film and Television Institute of India (Pune).

The sessions on Sunday were respectively presided over by DIFF chairperson Professor Kishwar Kamal, Bangladeshi independent filmmaker Shamim Akhter and Dr Kaberi Gayen, Professor at Dhaka University's Mass Communication and Journalism department - with noted discussants including South Korean film festival programmer, playwright, journalist, producer, and human rights activist Su Lee, noted Bangladeshi filmmaker, screenwriter and producer Nargis Akhter, media personality and Jagannath University's Film and Television department faculty Fatima Amin, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh Farah Kabir, Bangladeshi independent filmmaker, editor, and instructor Chaitali Somadder, Bangladeshi actress Bonna Mirza, Indian film society activist, film programmer and journalist Uma da Cunha, manager of Tehran's Hilaj Film and Acting School in Iran Shadi Javadi and Bangladeshi filmmaker and film society activist and director Aka Reza Ghalib.

The declaration of the conference will be continued and read out at the closing ceremony of the 19th DIFF on January 24, Liberation War Museum trustee Mofidul Hoque told Dhaka Courier.

Earlier, the conference was officially inaugurated by State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid on Sunday as the chief guest while BSA director general Liaquat Ali Lucky joined as the special guest at the inaugural ceremony, presided over by DIFF chairperson Kishwar Kamal. French filmmaker-producer Meral Melika Duran and Canadian film consultant-programmer Hannah Fisher joined the inaugural ceremony virtually, which was anchored by festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal.

3rd edition of 'West Meets East':

Another significant edition of the festival has been West Meets East, which was observed for the 3rd time in the festival's history on January 19. Indian film critic Meenakshi Shedde talked about building an effective festival strategy, Creative lead of Zee5 Anindita Choudhury and director Ariq Anam Khan talked about landing films on OTT platforms, Norwegian distributor Age Hoffart and director/producer Abu Shahed Emon talked about co-production markets, and Sydney Levine concluded the session an overview of a film's festival journey in the day-long experience sharing programme, organized by director AKA Ghalib and Dhaka Tribune's Showtime Editor, Sadia Khalid. the right partner at the right time for DIFF

As the ongoing 19th edition of Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF) is catering its audiences for the first time in a hybrid format due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,, country's first online pay-per-view movie streaming platform, is streaming the movies online as the official virtual platform of this festival.

Describing the journey behind the partnership, LagVelki's founder Shariful Islam Shaon told DC that this is a great opportunity for a Bangladeshi streaming startup, led and operated by the film-loving youths of the nation.

"DIFF is one of the biggest film festivals in the world and the biggest in our country since its beginning. For the first time ever, this festival is using a streaming platform as the 19th edition is being observed in a hybrid format, and we are proud to be its official broadcasting partner," Shaon told DC.

Sharing the story on how LagVelki got connected with DIFF, Shaon shared: "Noted filmmaker Abu Shehed Emon got us connected with DIFF, after the Liberation DocFest back in July 2020. Although DIFF director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal knew of our start-up, we officially began to discuss a possible partnership back in October. We presented our plan, and made an official agreement in late December that LagVelki is going to stream 126 foreign films at the 19th Dhaka International Film Festival as its first-ever official virtual partner."

"The entire working process was hectic, but we took it as a learning experience. Compressing 126 films and uploading on our website, making promo materials for each film and ensuring constant customer support for the virtual moviegoers was challenging, yet we successfully completed our tasks", Shaon added.

When asked about the limitations, he mentioned that LagVelki only received permission to project foreign films at this year's DIFF, however, the platform is expecting to project both local and international films in future editions of DIFF.

"OTT (Over-the-top) platforms are the future and already Bangladeshi films are being showcased at many OTT sites. As a local startup which initiated to support local films and filmmakers, we expect to have more professional engagements from our film professionals so that we can reach to more local audiences with our local films".

Speaking of local audiences, Shaon also informed that the movies can only be watched from Bangladesh, as there are regional blockages for other countries. Local audiences can enjoy a full-length feature film at Tk 50 and Short film at Tk 20 for 6 hours after purchase. Payment can be made through any means of digital payment method available in Bangladesh including BKash, Nagad, Rocket and more.

"As a part of the new-hybrid-normalcy, we are receiving overwhelmingly good responses from our audiences - especially from the educated film enthusiasts, researchers, teachers and scholars who are being able to watch these films from anywhere in the country which was needed during this pandemic. This accessibility was not available to our audiences before."

DIFF always had its special preferences for children through its various initiatives, and Shaon informed that LagVelki also followed the same - as its showcasing multiple films for children as the target audiences everyday. "Many guardians were concerned about bringing their children to this festival which has always celebrated the presence of a significant number of child audiences every year - and keeping that in mind, we designed the festival with multiple international films to enthral our child audiences," Shaon told DC.

Lagvelki has a total of five members in the core team led by Shariful Shaon, and 16 members in the digital team mostly from film and computer Science background. These young film lovers are working to reach this platform all over Bangladesh, cutting the middle-men during film distribution and channelling the money directly to the producers and filmmakers.

Shaon mentioned that LagVelki has received blessings and spiritual guidance from leading film scholars and cultural activists in Bangladesh, including Mofidul Hoque, Nasir Uddin Yousuf, Tareq Ahmed, Samia Zaman, Abu Shahed Emon and more. Being the first pay-per-movie site in Bangladesh, LagVelki is committed to bring cult classics to award-winning masterpieces and flourish the true form of visual arts without compromising the artist's views, thoughts and philosophical aspects, according to Shaon and his team.

"Satyajit Ray: National as Global"

Remembering the Oscar-winning film-maestro Satyajit Ray on his birth centenary, distinguished guests including veteran actors in the subcontinent Sharmila Tagore and Dhritiman Chatterjee along with Supreme Court Justice and art enthusiast Syed Refaat Ahmed, cultural activist and trustee of Bangladesh Liberation War Museum Mofidul Hoque and art critic Moinuddin Khaled - the seminar titled "Satyajit Ray: National as Global" was held on Wednesday at the National Art Gallery of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA), focusing spotlight on Ray's versatile career as a journeyman in Bengali cinema.

Presided by eminent thespian and former cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor, the seminar was hosted by festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal, while guests including Sharmila Tagore, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Syed Refaat Ahmed joined virtually and others were present at the venue.

"The time Ray was making films, he did not have the modern technology nor adequate economic luxury of filmmaking. Manik Da (as we used to fondly call him) never took a lunch break during his work, as he was always planning ahead. He kept on innovating, improvising and competing with the rest of the world with his minimum resources and maximized, passionate efforts," Padma Bhushan-recipient legendary Indian actress Sharmila Tagore commemorated Ray at the seminar, with whom she began her film career at the age of 14 in Apur Sansar (The world of Apu) in 1959.

Sharing her memories of working with Ray and co-actor, late Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore said, "Soumitra had first auditioned for the role of the adolescent Apu in Aparajito (1956), however, Manik Da found him too old for the role. He remembered Soumitra and offered the role of adult Apu two years later in Apur Sansar. I am blessed that I was also discovered by Manik Da where I got the chance to act alongside Soumitra, and that film propelled my career at a level which I never imagined only because of Manik Da's constant effort as a genius filmmaker."

Cultural activist and trustee of Bangladesh Liberation War Museum Mofidul Hoque presented the keynote paper at the seminar, reflecting on Satyajit Rays' eclectic achievements across literature, art, music, design and storytelling. He said, "It is important to understand how Ray, an urban cosmopolitan youth, has transcended the rural-urban dichotomy and made such a portrayal of village life on the silver screen."

Explaining the trajectories of the cine-titan's inheritance of artistic brilliance from his reputed family lineage to his learnings from various mediums, Mofidul Hoque also shared anecdotes on the relationship with Satyajit Ray with renowned Bangladeshi photographer Amanul Haque, as he read out a letter sent to Amanul Haque by Ray on January 20, 1972 which showcased how much Ray cared about Bangladesh and its people.

Following Hoque's presentation, art critic and film educator-writer Moinuddin Khaled presented a brief analysis of Ray's works. Supreme Court Justice and art enthusiast-collector Syed Refaat Ahmed also shared his viewpoints, describing Ray's brilliance.

Dhritiman Chatterjee, another noted attraction of the seminar who projected political roles under Ray's direction in films such as Pratidwandi (1970), Ganashatru (1989) and recently brought life to Professor Shonku, Satyajit Ray's iconic creation on the celluloid, said: "Satyajit narrated politics and projected political characters in his films in such a majestic way that placed him incomparable to the others. He was not only a Bengali filmmaker - he became an inspiration to all other filmmakers around the world, who has rightfully earned his position."

Former cultural affairs minister and eminent thespian Asaduzzaman Noor reminisced about the master filmmaker's works in his closing remarks, saying that Ray's films have always made lasting impacts on him and he misses new releases from the writer Satyajit, famously known for crafting iconic characters and series like Feluda and Professor Shonku.

"After watching Pather Panchali, I travelled from Nilphamari to Dhaka just to watch Satyajit Ray's 'Mahanagar' (1963). Our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman really admired him, and I still recall the presence of the millions at the historic Paltan Maidan when he visited Bangladesh in 1972."

The 19th edition of DIFF is concluding on January 24, with a hope to return again with more festivities in a pandemic-free world in 2022.

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