Mahde Hasan, director of some of the most recent impactful, experimental short films of Bangladesh, says that memory lies at the root of his cinematic vision, that he is fascinated by how time holds sway over all our lives. He depicts a bustling city onscreen, through the vein of which an eerie rage flows. In this interview with Dhaka Tribune Showtime, Hasan reflects on our shared dissatisfaction with city life and his steady development as a filmmaker -
You have been quoted as saying that image and sound are more important than the story itself.
Because cinema is distinctly different from literature. You can write down an excellent story, but the roles of image and sound become infinitely more important when you are trying to capture that story on camera. Suddenly the story becomes something more.
Has making black and white films been an aesthetic choice for you?
For the most part, yes, it is a stylistic choice.
Tell us about your first feature film Sand City.
It is essentially a film about our capital, populated by several characters, whose livelihoods are one way or another connected to the sand. I have tried to explore the disorientation that the city life invokes in its inhabitants, who nevertheless remain optimistic about their future.
I have started working on the project in 2017. Due to the ongoing pandemic, I have faced a few setbacks. The film is currently in development.
Is it true that Abbas Kiarostami been a big influence on you?
Yes. Apart from his remarkable films, I have always been fond of his poetry too, which I try to translate into Bangla now and then.
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Your latest short film titled A Boring Film is the first Bangladeshi film to have been selected to compete in the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in 2020.
A Boring Film is about a man who can’t sleep at his own house because of the loud noise coming from nearby construction work. He thus goes to a zoo and finally starts sleeping again. In a way, he moves from one cage to another, the latter being slightly better.
The idea of the film came to me when I was spending a lot of time at my own house after the lockdown had begun. Three of my films have previously been screened at Locarno, but to have one officially compete at the festival made me really happy.
Prominent directors like Pedro Almodóvar’s oeuvre of work can be interpreted as a detailed love letter to their mothers; you have also ventured into filmmaking with a short film about your mother.
Yes, it was back in 2012. I had just completed a film course and was working in TV. Even though I desperately wanted to make a film, I remember being intimidated by the thought. I started asking myself what tools I had around me to make a film. It turned out, I had my fascinating mother as a character, who always encouraged me to read books, to pursue knowledge in life. I had our house for location and I had my camera.
In retrospect, I think I wanted my debut project to grow from a place of familiarity, to be deeply personal, and that is how Photographs of a School Teacher came to be.
Are foreign festivals and co-producers the best chance that local independent filmmakers can have?
Well, filmmakers really get to learn how things are done on an international scale through this process. Besides, as long as there is a shortage of local financiers, we will have to lean on co-producers to some extent.
Do you think your films are generally appreciated by local audiences?
Look, we cannot think of cinema as a disparate art form. Our people are growing less interested every day to art as a whole or to life for that matter, and that is just a fact.
What advice would you give to young filmmakers?
Don’t think of short films as a prerequisite to feature films. Short stories are not the same as novels, or inferior to the latter in any way. These are just different means of expression.
It is the same thing when it comes to cinema. One should dabble at short films from a genuine love for the medium.