HOME       |       FILM INDUSTRY       |       FESTIVALS & AWARDS       |     REVIEWS      |     MOVIES
 

 

Shahida Akhter

"The Elegant Heroic
Bangladeshi Female Humanist"


Facing danger for women rights and betterment.

Author, researcher, editor, filmmaker, and social activist.


 
 

 

The Film Reporter interviewed  Shahida Akhter regarding her film "Fight Acid Violence"

Q: What was your overall role?

A: Producer, Director, Scrip Writer.

Q: Did you always want to be in the film Industry?
A: Not always. However, I wanted to be a filmmaker occasionally. I had a fascination for film since my childhood, as I was raised in a cultured and enlightened family. My father used to take us to the cinema and we enjoyed good films together. Gradually, I came to know about the famous filmmakers of the East and West, which inspired me dreaming for film making in future.

Q: Tell us how Fight Acid evolved.
A: Acid attack on girls and women in Bangladesh was a burning issue for more than three decades. But I never thought to make a documentary on acid attack. I have a friend in the USA, named Heidi Basch-Harod. She is the Executive Director of Women's Voices Now (WVN) based in Los Angeles, California. Her activities focus on women's issues and particularly, the Muslim women of Asia, Middle East and Africa. We have regular email conversation on various issues. She always appreciated my work and inspired me to focus on women issues. In 2013, she posted a short video on acid attack on the website of WVN. The video was made by a Pakistani American student named Ifrah Sheikh. After watching it, I decided to work on acid attack in Bangladesh, and accordingly, started data collection and research on it. In January 2013, a college student of Dhaka city became a victim of acid attack. I at once went to see her in the hospital, talked to her mother and brother. This prompted me to make a documentary.

Q: Did you have any unusual difficulties during filming?
A: From the very beginning of filming and till the end, I had to face lot of difficulties. Firstly, the situation of the country was not favorable. Due to political turmoil, the situation was very panic and unrest. Protest, strike, burning vehicles, blockage and violence on the street were the regular occurrence. It was not safe to move out in the city and outside the city. Amidst this violent situation, shooting was very much difficult and challenging. In addition, I was afraid as acid attack was a sensitive issue.

People in the family and others asked me, 'why did you plan to make documentary on such a sensitive and risky issue?' Sometimes, this made me up set. But I became desperate to complete my project.

Secondly, getting fund was another big challenge. At first, I tried to gather fund locally and approached to a number of organizations. Unfortunately, I did not get any positive response. Then I shared this with Ms. Heidi Basch-Harod, and she introduced me with the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice USA. They have a Frontline Fund grant for research and activities on Human Rights. The amount is US $ 500-2500. They gave me the highest amount $ 2500 (Two Lac in BGD currency).

Then I faced another difficulty. I could not draw the money in Bangladesh because of some difficult and corrupted people. This is a long episode. Finally, I requested Lantos Foundation to withdraw the fund saying that I would collect it from the USA. Then I planned for a trip to USA, which cost me more than the fund amount. Meanwhile, I started shooting a few sequences, recorded background music, songs etc.

Thirdly, it was another challenge to get access to the Acid Survivors Foundation-ASF in Bangladesh. At the beginning, my script was different. I planned to make the whole documentary inside the ASF. However, it was not easy to convince the authority. There is a genuine cause that they should not allow anyone to make videos of the acid victims. Lantos Foundation helped me in this regard. They gave a fund to Acid Survivors Foundation and then ASF authority allowed me to take the interview.

Q: Will winning awards help promote the film? How so?
A: Winning awards is the best recognition and appreciation to the filmmakers. This is a big reward in terms of judgement, value and publicity of a winning film and also the filmmaker. Festivals bring the opportunity of big audience to watch the winning films. Award winning also inspires the filmmakers to continue their work.

Q: How much money did it cost?
A: It cost 7000 US Dollar including the Fund of Lantos Foundation ($ 2500) and my own money.

Q: How did you finance that?
A: I got some support from my family and the rest from my own.

Q: Where were the locations?
A: The locations were mainly in three districts of Bangladesh - Dhaka, Kishoreganj and Naraynganj.

Specific locations were Dhaka City, Burn Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Acid Survivors Foundation and its hospital, Hashmat Uddin High School, Kishoreganj, Judges Court, Kishoreganj, Police Station, Kishoreganj, Kishoreganj District Hospital and Assistant Collector's office, Narayanganj where an acid survivor Hasina works as a Record Keeper.

Q: To what audience is your film suited?
A: General Public, Students, Teachers, Law Enforcement Authority, Policy Makers, Doctors, Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Children and Women Affairs, The Heads of District Administration, Police Stations, and the NGOs working on women issues, both Print and Electronic Media - Radio and Television.

Q: Any bites yet from distributors?
A: Yet not. People are still shaky about acid attack. It may take time to find distributors.

Q: What was it like working with various sources? How did you go about choosing who to interview?
A: I got positive response from various sources - from the media people, from the legal authorities and many other sources. It was a bit tough to choose who to interview. Ferdous Faisal, a journalist of the Daily Prothom Alo (the leading Bengali newspaper) gave me lot of information and also assisted me finding other sources. The coordinator of Acid Survivors Foundation A K Azad helped me to interview the acid survivors, doctor and others in ASF. Aziz Ahmed Bhuyan, the former Additional District Judge of Kishoreganj district gave me information and helped for shooting at the Judges Court and the high school.

Q: What has the feedback been so far?
A: The feedback is good. The documentary was screened in two film festivals in Bangladesh, in the schools, courts and other venues. People now can talk and discuss about acid attack. I was interviewed by four national TV channels. There will be more screening this year. Fight Acid Violence was also screened in the online film festivals by Citizen TV, USA, Women's Voices Now, USA, Culture Unplugged (Worldwide) and is supposed to participate in a few international film festivals in 2016. It was accepted for Ammar Popular Film Festival (APFF) in Iran.

Q: Are you working on any new projects?
A: Yes, I have started a new film project on Health and Environment. It will be a feature film. I have also planned to make two documentaries in 2016. One is on Child Marriage and another one on the Potters and Pottery Work of Bangladesh.

Q: Tell us about your own background. Where you were born? Where did you study film? What was your first movie? What was your previous job? Are you a full-time filmmaker?
A: I was born and raised in Bangladesh. I studied in Bangladesh and India. My PhD is on Comparative Literature from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India. While studied in India, I had the opportunity to watch good movies, theatres and to interact with writers, filmmakers and actors of India. I studied books and articles on filmmaking and participated in a few workshops.

My first movie is a documentary on fokllife and cultural heritage of Bangladesh titled Meghdubi (the name of a village). In 1994-95, I did research on Folklore and cultural heritage as a Senior Fellow of Ford foundation, USA. At that time, I wrote a Monograph on Folk Rituals of Bangladesh and a Ballad titled Meghdubi based on folk elements and traditions. Later on in 2008, I produced the documentary while I was invited to attend the Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, USA.

I was a research scholar of ICCR, India, Senior Fellow of Ford Foundation, worked with the Ministry of Education, Bangladesh, UN Peacekeeping Mission in Cambodia, worked with various national and international organizations. In addition, I taught in school, college and university in Bangladesh and India. In connection with my work, I have interacted with many people of different countries. It had a great impact on me and that's why I am conscious about social issues and problems related to women and children. I am a humanist and moralist, have been associated with voluntary and humanitarian activities since 1991. I want to focus on various aspects of social problems through my writings and films.

I am not a full-time filmmaker. But I have chosen to make films side by side with my other works, as visual media is the most powerful tool to communicate and create awareness on various social issues.

Q: What was your first award? And how did you feel at that time?
A: My first award was for writing and publishing educational materials. I got a national award in 1997 for producing the Best Innovative Education Materials on the occasion of International Literacy Day on 8 September.

In 2015, I received two awards, one for my social service - Freedom Inspiring Future Leaders Award and another Filmmaker Award.

My first award for film is the Filmmaker Award in 2015, given by the Women's Film Society Bangladesh on 14 March on the occasion of Second International Women's Film Festival Bangladesh held in Dhaka from 14-17 March 2015.

My documentary film Fight Acid Violence got Audience Award out of 70 films from 30 countries around the world.

Winning award is the best recognition and I was very happy to receive it. The award inspired me to make more films focusing on social issues and discrimination.

Q: What was the best part of the project?
A: To my opinion, interviewing the acid survivors was the best part of the project.

Q: What was the most challenging?
A: Shooting outside Dhaka city was the most challenging like acid throwing in the school, trial shot in the Judges Court etc.

Q: Are you pleased with the overall outcome?
A: Yes.

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the film?
A: I hope to make more inspiring films and documentaries that will highlight the issues on women, children, health, environment, climate change and threats on heritage. And my films will participate in the film festivals around the world.

Q: How long did it take to complete the film?
A: It took one year to complete the documentary film on acid attack.

Q: Will you do a sequel?
A: May be in future.

Q: How do you feel to have won awards in IFFWSZ 2016?
A: I am very happy to win awards in IFFWSZ 2016. It's a great recognition to my work!

Q: What makes you a filmmaker?
A: Social issues are the main causes that made me a filmmaker. In the present world, visual media is a powerful tool to highlight the social issues, to communicate people, raise public awareness and put pressure on the policy makers to solve the problems.

Q: Why is this subject important to you?
A: Acid throwing is a heinous crime, which is beyond humanity. Many girls and women have already died after acid attack. Those who are surviving with their disfigured face and body, they are not treated well in the society and family as well. They are deprived of normal life. They need support, care and rehabilitation. I want to draw attention of the policy makers and others to support acid survivors.

In many cases, the criminals are escaped of trial due to the weakness of law. They can easily get bail from the court and again threat the acid survivors. This should be stopped.

Q: Does this film send the message you intended?
A: Definitely.

Q: Do most people just turn a blind eye when they hear of these issues?
A: In fact, most people are afraid of hearing about acid attack, though they have sympathy for the acid victims. However, people come out of home to help the acid victims. They inform the police, and join the rally and demonstration against acid throwing. Recently, people's attitude and social trends have been changed. In some places, the acid survivors are getting jobs, which could not be imagined before.

Q: Why the title?
A: We have to fight against the heinous crime 'acid attack', so that it can be stopped for ever. The victims are still fighting to survive.

Q: Advice to others who might like to follow in your footsteps?
A: Filmmakers should be conscious and aware of social issues and causes against humanity. Because, film can be the showcase of our society, our history, our environment, and it can be the reflection of our values, our empathy and judgment. Filmmakers can be the change maker and they may work together to make the world a better place.

Q: Is there anything in the past happened to you that make you make this movie? If, yes, what is this?
A: Yes, I had a threat of acid attack in the early 1990's by someone with bad intension.

Q: Is this a film that young people, college or high school students could benefit from?
A: Of course. Young girls, college & high school students are the main victims of acid attack. They will be benefited.

Q: Do you personally know anyone who inspires the movie?
A: Yes. She is a college student and a victim of acid attack.

Q: Has the film won any other awards?
A: It won Audience Award in Bangladesh on the occasion of Second International Women Film Festival Bangladesh 2015.

Q: Anything new to date on the film?
A: The film will be screened in various venues in Bangladesh soon, and a few international film festivals.

Q: Unique stories during the making of the film?
A: There are many stories behind my film making. I wanted to interview a survivor and talked to her on phone. She is working with a government community clinic. But she did not want to give interview, as her perpetrator was given bail from the court. He influenced the law enforcement authority to come out from jail. The man wanted to marry her and he threw acid on her when she refused him. After getting free, he threatened to kill her. There are many similar cases. A few acid survivors are working with an organization in Dhaka supported by a US NGO. I went to talk to them. But they did not agree to say about their attack.

Q: What sacrifices did you make to become a filmmaker?
A: My family members, colleagues and others did not want to see me as a filmmaker. I had a different career and I just ignored other works for becoming a filmmaker. Our society is still conservative about women and their career. They do not take easily when a woman becomes filmmaker.

Q: How do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
A: I have a passion and determination to make a few good films in the next 10 years. As an author, I will continue my writings including my memoir. I work for an ideology to help underprivileged section of the society. Therefore, I need to give time for my charity works. Besides these, I want to be an established filmmaker and earn reputation worldwide. I have a mission and goal. Wish I could fulfill my dream.

Thank you so much.

Photos information:
- Receiving National Award from the President of Bangladesh on 8 September 1997, the International Literacy Day.
- During shooting Fight Acid Violence
- Shahida Akhter with acid survivor Hasina in Narayanganj. Dec. 2013
- Happy moment with child learners of CEWS school in a village.
- Receive award from Advisor Council of Creative People and sister of former Indonesian President, Lily Wahid, Minister of Social Affairs Dra. Khofifah Indar Parawansa, President Director of Public Broadcasting Radio Republik Indonesia Dra. Rosarita Niken Widiastuti M.Si., Minister of Environment and Forestry Dr. Ir. Siti Nurbaya Bakar, M.Sc.
- Filmmaker Award from the Minister for Information, awarded by Women's Film Society Bangladesh
- Receiving Crest from the Minister for Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh, 8 March 2015

Related links:

  • Sajan George, "The Mother Theresa Filmmaker"

  • Ilchi Lee: The Spiritualist

  • Cheryl Halpern: The Woman Fighter

  • Yunus Shahul: The Future Assassin

  • Joon Bai: Labor of Love

  • Iara Lee: The Suffering Grasses

  • Trevor Graham: The Hummus Warrior

  •  

    The Film Reporter 2013-2015