Six under-production documentaries and an all-set-to-roll fictional film from South Asia search for production and distribution breakthroughs in pitching and mentoring sessions that coincide with the 74th Cannes Film Festival.
Eka (Solo), the feature film debut of Kolkata-born, Mumbai-based Suman Sen, is screened at La Fabrique Cinema, an Institut Francais-sponsored mentoring program for young directors.
“We are now just one draft away from the shooting. If the pandemic situation allows, we will start filming in mid-2022,” said Sen, who has been in the advertising industry for 15 years. “The film reflects the time I have lived in recent years: a time of hatred, intolerance and violence,” said Sen.
Eka hangs on a grand statue of the ‘common man’ about to be officially unveiled in Kolkata. A diabetes insurance agent, a man nearing retirement, hates the city’s economic, political and cultural failures.
To register his protest, he stands motionless in front of the mammoth statue. His act of defiance unleashes a global movement. “I have a love-hate relationship with Kolkata. I wanted to distance myself from the city I grew up in and look at it objectively. Moving to Mumbai has given me a new reflective lens to look at Kolkata,” said Sen, who moved to India’s financial capital five years ago.
Eka, an Indo-Bangladesh-French venture supported by Arifur Rahman of Goopy Bagha Productions, is one of 10 projects in La Fabrique Cinema.
Another South Asian La Fabrique selection is multi-award winning Afghan filmmaker Sahra Mani’s documentary Kabul Melody, about two teenage girls who face family opposition and Taliban threats as they pursue their passion for music.
In her statement of intent, Mani, who made the critically acclaimed A Thousand Girls Like Me (2018), says: “Being a filmmaker in Afghanistan means being a social activist. Despite everything, ‘Kabul Melody’ aims to show hope and the rise of free will among women who will create the future of Afghanistan.”
A quartet of South Asian documentaries – one each from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal – compete for the docs-in-progress awards of Cannes Docs 2021. These projects, all in advanced stages of production, are presented by the International Film Initiative from Bangladesh.
One of the four is Thirteen Destinations of a Traveler, a film by Partha Das from Kolkata.
A still from Thirteen Destinations by a traveller.
It intertwines two journeys: one through thousands of Sufi pilgrims who march for miles and days to proclaim their love for humanity, the other through a disabled, marginalized Muslim man battling physical obstacles and social prejudice in search of happiness.
Thirteen Destinations of a Traveler, Das’s first documentary, is jointly produced by Mokhalesur Rahman Talukdar from Bangladesh and Soumya Mukhopadhyay from India.
The other three South Asian films in Cannes Docs 2021 are Hezbullah Sultani’s Birds Street, about a narrow Kabul street lined with shops selling birds; Tahrima Khan’s Munni, which shows the work of a former child marriage victim who establishes a girls’ sports academy in Bangladesh; and Subina Shrestha’s Devi, the story of a former Nepalese guerrilla fighter and war rape survivor who now fights for her countrymen.
A still from No Winter Holidays.
Another Nepali documentary, Rajan Kathet and Sunir Pandey’s No Winter Holidays, is one of five projects in HAF Goes to Cannes. The Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF) is an initiative that helps a new generation of filmmakers access financing, co-production deals and marketing support on a global scale.
The logline of No Winter Holidays, a Nepal-South Korean co-production, reads: “Once married to the same man, two women in their 70s must forget the past and work together to help an empty, snowy village through the winter. .”