Locarno: Open Doors’ Ishtiaque Zico Preps ‘Cats,’ a Look at Life in Bangladesh Capital Dhaka

Projects Open Doors section is devoted to South Asia region

Ishtiaque Zico
Courtesy of Ishtiaque Zico

Bangladeshi Ishtiaque Zico’s debut, “Cinema, City and Cats” is being pitched at the 69th Locarno Open Doors showcase, dedicated this year to South Asia region national cinemas.

Industry sidebar promotes independent cinema industry in territories where filmmaking is especially challenged. Over 2016-18, Open Doors will explore eight South Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“Cats” follows three characters: an Indian Bengali who is a Hindu film teacher; a cinema projectionist who wants to upgrade to the digital era; a Bihari boy raised in the Geneva camp, a slum district for paperless Pakistanis in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital.

“I have always been interested in themes such as undefined relationships, the hierarchy of latent power, migrants and the urban lifestyle,” Zico told Variety.

He explores these themes through three criss-crossing stories of marginalised characters who struggle to adapt to power structures in contemporary Dhaka.

“Cats” is in development and is to be produced by Fran Borgia and Jeremy Chua at Singapore’s Akanga Film Asia, which backed Boo Junfeng’s “Apprentice.”

“This generation is very keen to show the importance of culture and cinema. Several projects feature cinema people, artists. It’s a connection to the outside world, and reflects the evolution of the society, [how] cinema can contribute to education, social evolution,” said Open Doors curator Sophie Bourdon.

What Bangladesh lacks is cinema infrastructure. There are only around 400 cinema theaters in Bangladesh, Zico said. “They are not as popular as Hindi soap serials,” he lamented.

Zico’s short, ”720 degrees,” in Locarno’s 2016 Open Doors Screenings retrospective program, was the first Bangladeshi film presented at Venice, in 2010.

But South Asia has its upside.

“One common aspect is an amazing energy seen in the new generation of South Asian talents, and the determination to show a different image of their country to what we usually see on TV news/reports,” said Bourdon.

They hope to show that there are talents that can make “‘good, artistic films’ as they say, that can travel and seduce international audiences,” Bourdon added.