Successfully connecting the film-lovers from different corners of the world through its virtual platform, the first-ever Bangladesh European Union Film Festival (BEUFF) concluded on Wednesday after a three-week run to mark the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence, as well as of the friendship between the EU and Bangladesh.
It was organised by the European Union's mission in Bangladesh, in partnership with all the EU Member States' individual Embassies in Dhaka: Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy and Spain, as well as the two cultural centres- Germany's Goethe-Institut Bangladesh and the French Alliance Française de Dhaka.
The festival featured 7 Bangladeshi films from young aspiring filmmakers, 7 EU feature films, and 7 international short films on climate change.
Discussing the festival's success and other aspects, a webinar was arranged on Wednesday with the associates of the festival's organizing partners.
Broadcast live on the Facebook page of the Daily Prothom Alo, the festival was joined by the European Union in Bangladesh's Deputy Head of Diplomatic Mission Jeremy Opritesco, Goethe-Institut Bangladesh's Director Dr Kirsten Hackenbroch, Alliance Française de Dhaka Director Olivier Dintinger, Director of Operations at RedOrange Media and Communications Petra Van Der Eijk, Dr Nepomuk Zettle from the film department of Goethe-Institut Munich, Dhaka International Film Festival's Director Ahmed Muztaba Jamal, and Producer-Director Arifur Rahman from Gupi Bagha Productions Limited.
Hosted by noted filmmaker, media personality and International Film Initiative of Bangladesh (IFIB) President Samia Zaman, discussants on the webinar lauded the participation of the audiences and talked about the new reality of film festivals around the world amid the challenging situation of COVID-19 global pandemic.
"Before starting the festival, we had no other option than to do it virtually, and then we were wondering if we will find any audience, considering the COVID-19 crisis. We thought people would probably be bored by watching the films online as we all have been hearing about online fatigue, but after the festival got started, we were quite surprised to see that the audience was quite high and the engagement was quite strong," European Union in Bangladesh's Deputy Head of Diplomatic Mission Jeremy Opritesco said at the webinar.
"So that was an excellent surprise and that led us to the conclusion that having an online festival is probably something that has to be looked at, even in the future when the COVID crisis will be ended," he added.
Echoing the same, Dr Kirsten Hackenbroch, Director of Goethe-Institut Bangladesh said, "It's the future - the home cinema; the smaller, semi-public living room screenings. I think we are going to see more of the hybrid format and it would be really interesting to explore how we can make use of this new virtual reality. It becomes more private, then again, it opens up more to a global world because we can bring more people together in Q and A sessions much more easily and interactively."
Dr Nepomuk Zettle, representing the film department of Goethe-Institut Munich also agreed with her, adding that the online festivals are challenging yet good additions in the time of COVID-19. He said, "My personal guess is that we will see more hybrid formats in the future and I am very much hoping that this is not only the first European International Film Festival but also that there are many to come."
Alliance Française de Dhaka Director Olivier Dintinger said, "We had no alternative within the COVID-19 situation, yet we managed to reach a new audience through this festival and even reached people who have never come to Dhaka or Chittagong and couldn’t visit in a normal format. We are still missing the experience of watching movies in cinema halls. It's a completely different dynamic that we have been collaborating with festivals like the Dhaka International Film Festival this year, and I hope that we will be able in coming months to witness more of these hybrid formats."
Petra Van Der Eijk, Director of Operations at RedOrange Media and Communications said, "This has been the first-ever European Union Film Festival in Bangladesh and it has been a great success, almost all Bangladeshi films were sold out and even we were asked for extra tickets. That's a very good result I would say, and also, as already said by other discussants, we can reach a broader public around the world which is especially also the goal of the festival and the bigger projects which the film festival belongs to. As for people from the Netherlands, I know for sure they looked at Bangladeshi films and that is really something great."
She informed that more than 4,400 people watched the films at this festival while almost 10,000 people visited the dedicated website, and over 1.5 million new visitors have visited the Facebook page of EU to learn about the festival during its timeline.
Producer and Director Arifur Rahman said, "I really believe online is not the only option and cinema is an experience that needs to be felt within. As artists and filmmakers, we all believe that we can obviously cope-up; for example, if we look at the film history, when sound came - people never thought sound will be 100% compatible with films but now we cannot imagine most of the films without sounds."
"So the same kind of shifting is going on virtually now but it's actually not appropriate in my opinion. Currently, I am in France for the Cannes Film Festival; it's physical and here we can have all the ideal experiences, we can see the emotion of the filmmakers. That's really important in this journey - we have to see the expressions and the filmmakers' journey on their faces. So definitely the format should be hybrid, and as for the online formats - it has its positive-negative both sides."
Explaining the existing situation in the country, DIFF Director Ahmed Muztaba Jamal said, "We need support from the bureaucrats and associates. For film censoring, getting funds, getting the permissions and everything else, we have to go through many hardships. It's very complicated as sometimes it gets very difficult to convince the government people of the necessity of a film festival."
"A film festival can work as an ambassador of a country. It can also help build a strong cultural environment in the country, as well. Cinema is a strong media that can easily reach people, again proved in our DIFF which was organised back in January this year. Many audiences joined our festival in person and joined a lot of seminars and conferences that we organised via the virtual platform. Most notably, the film conference on Satyajit Ray that we arranged this year, was watched by over 40,000 people," he informed at the webinar.
A dedicated website (www.beuff.org) was launched on June 9, allowing the audiences access to all films and other information related to the festival.
The festival also featured masterclasses, questions/answer sessions with directors, discussions on gender representations in cinema, climate change and a handful of other issues.
Organizers of the festival expect to bring more engaging festivals in the future that can promote EU's cultural exchange with Bangladesh and further shed light on vital issues such as education and skill development, climate change adaptation, food and nutrition security, good governance, safe migration and sustainable reintegration of refugees, empowerment of women and girls: EU's priorities for development cooperation in Bangladesh.