Kamar Ahmad Simon started his “water trilogy” with “Are You Listening!,” about a family living on the coast of Bangladesh, struggling to keep their land from flooding. “Day After…”, the second part, conceived all the way back in 2013, has just celebrated its world premiere at IDFA’s international competition after being selected for the 2017 Cannes Festival L’Atelier co-production forum. But completing the film has been a “struggle,” admits the Dhaka-born filmmaker, who still intends to follow it with “Till the Last Drop,” which concludes the trilogy.
“It has been a very personal experience,” he says about continuing his journey to central Bangladesh, noting that after finishing “Are You Listening!,” he felt the project wasn’t complete. In “Till the Last Drop” he will head up north, where rivers have dried out, influencing people’s livelihoods and culture.
“When I was a child, the dock was my playground. That’s where I grew up, where I went whenever I was upset. I didn’t know where these boats were coming from or where they were heading, so I would just look at all these faces and wonder.”
In his new film he is wondering no more, boarding a century-old paddle steamer and eavesdropping on fellow passengers. After embarking on 22 trips, he decided on having multiple protagonists, trying to show people from all walks of life.
“This woman who is travelling with a wounded husband? I didn’t approach her myself. She came up to me, which is not very common. She wanted to tell her story and asked me to mic her up. It was shocking to me and maybe also to her, but I found out that when given the chance, people are eager to express their thoughts,” he says.
“I don’t want to be another selfish filmmaker. I want to make sure that what I am doing will mean something to others.”
While the passengers chat, sing and bicker, they also address some of the country’s most pressing issues, including the “development craze,” referring to the fast growth of urban areas – all in accordance with the director’s process, based on inserting fictional elements into the narrative.
“At the end of the day, it’s cinema. I took all the liberties this medium allowed me to,” he says, calling his film “100% fictional and 100% non-fictional.”
Simon created additional characters and coached others in order to stage some of the film’s interactions, including the heated debate between a group of young students trying to interview a politician during their journey.
“None of these people knew which characters were fictitious. I coached them separately. The students thought the politician was real, the politician thought the students were real. When they were interacting, their reactions were authentic. That’s why I say that these scenes are staged, but they are also real.”
This was true too of the growing sense of inequality voiced by many people on board, reaching its pinnacle with an argument over a toilet reserved for the wealthier passengers.
“Years ago, I experienced something very similar on a flight. People were queuing, waiting to use this ‘second-class’ bathroom, even though there was another one empty. The crew didn’t allow them to use it, which really surprised me. This whole idea that some people are entitled to use different toilets than others, it’s just comical to me. I have always been critical of the class system in every sense of the word,” says Simon. Observing that once faced with much bigger issues, such divisions simply cease to matter.
“I kept hearing about all these boats stuck on sandbars and in a way, I was waiting for it to happen,” he adds.
“We are so divided. Not just in Bangladesh, but all over the world. What we don’t realize, however, is that we share the same destiny – just look at the climate crisis. We are literally in the same boat, regardless of our class.”
Produced by Sara Afreen for Studio Beginning, “Day After…” was co-produced by Dominique Welinski for DW and Ingrid Lill Høgtun for Barentsfilm As.