While Bangladesh's short film industry faces challenges due to limited producers and platforms, its talent shines internationally, securing selections and awards at prestigious film festivals.
Recently, Bangladeshi filmmaker Shah Newaz Khan Cju's four-minute short film, 'Not a Fiction,' has been making waves internationally. It's an official submission at the 18th Hamilton International Film Festival (HIFF) and Silver Wave Film Festival (SWFF) in Canada, both qualifying for the Canadian Screen Awards.
Selected under the 'International Shorts' category at HIFF, 'Not a Fiction' was the sole South Asian entry, competing against films from Spain, Greece, New Zealand, Jordan, Botswana, the Cayman Islands, and the UK.
At SWFF, it was the lone Bangladeshi representative, contesting for the International Shorts Award against 15 global contenders from 2-9 November.
Cju sat down in conversation with The Business Standard to share his journey, early life, making of 'Not a Fiction' and his future plans.
Hailing from Patgram near the Bangladesh-India border, Cju completed primary and secondary education in the small town. In 2012, after securing his Secondary School Certificate, he entered Rangpur Polytechnic Institute for a four-year civil engineering diploma. However, his interest waned, and in a place which he called 'City Mess' of Rangpur, Cju found a group of passionate dreamers that changed his life.
"They were constantly immersed in discussions about films. It was their influence that sparked my interest in filmmaking. Despite the lack of high-end equipment, we used to share our dreams and make plans," Cju reminisced.
His friends were actively involved with a film society in Rangpur known as the Children's Film Society Bangladesh. Intrigued by their passion, he began volunteering for the society. This society was responsible for organising nationwide film festivals, which significantly piqued his interest.
The film society ignited Cju's passion for directing. In 2016 and 2017, he assumed the role of festival convener and director for the 9th and 10th International Children's Film Festival in Rangpur.
"Through festivals, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of films submitted from across the world and get connected with the key figures in the Bangladeshi film industry. It marked a pivotal moment in my cinematic journey," he said.
Despite nearing the end of his civil engineering diploma, Cju took a bold step by dropping out. In 2019, he moved to Dhaka and faced many challenges. Life involved shifting houses weekly, but he had no other choice.
"If I wanted to pursue a career in film, Dhaka was the only viable option, as there were limited opportunities outside the city," Cju said.
In January 2020, when he used to live with one of his friends at Jahangirnagar University, Cju shot his first short film, 'Not a Fiction.' This four-minute film was produced with a remarkably constrained budget of under $100. It was filmed with the invaluable assistance of Cju's friends.
"The film addresses the issue of an extrajudicial killing case, a harsh reality that unfolds worldwide. It was captured in a single continuous take, with no breaks or interruptions during filming. The ambient sound played a crucial role in conveying the essence of the film," explained Cju.
After filming, financial constraints led Cju to store the raw footage, as post-production remained incomplete. Covid-19 added to the challenges. In 2021, he became an assistant director at 'Chabial,' owned by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki. Joining 'Chabial' was another pivotal moment, providing valuable filmmaking lessons while working with Farooki.
"One of the advantages of working with him is that anyone can carry on with their individual production while working for his company," he said.
In June 2022, Cju launched his own production house, 'Think Tankers Production,' primarily focusing on commercial advertisement projects. His film received selections from two Canadian Screen Awards (CSA) qualifying festivals, and he awaits his third CSA qualifying nod.
With 'Not a Fiction,' Cju plans to participate in the Canadian Screen Awards. Eager for international exposure, Cju also aims to pursue higher studies in film, considering options in Canada or the USA.
"With the international recognition I've gained, I'm optimistic about my prospects of pursuing further education abroad," he said.
"I aspire to establish a permanent career outside of Bangladesh because creating unconventional films here poses considerable challenges. Securing a producer for out-of-the box ideas is a daunting task, as we often have to conform to conventional practices due to censorship issues. Additionally, financial constraints are a significant hurdle," he concluded.
Cju is highly inspired by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.