Israel-based world sales company Antipode Sales has boarded Bangladeshi filmmaker Humaira Bilkis’ documentary “Things I Could Never Tell My Mother.”
The film premiered at Switzerland’s Visions du Réel and it has also been to France’s Etats Generaux du Film Documentaire, Lussas Doc, among others. It plays at IDFA’s Best of Fests strand and also at its Docs for Sale market, where Antipode will represent it.
After doing a masters degree in communications and journalism, Bilkis gave up her teaching job in order to express herself as a filmmaker. She did a filmmaking course in Delhi, India, and her diploma film “I Am Yet to See Delhi” (2015), which raises questions on loneliness and identity, was followed by “Garden of Memories” (“Baganiya,” 2017), a reflection of the tea community’s stagnation in Bangladesh through the narratives of three characters.
“Things I Could Never Tell My Mother” is a deeply personal subject for Bilkis. “I was outside home for a long time. When I returned in 2014, first thing I realized a change in my mother, she leaned towards religion. From my familial experience, I find them very jovial and positive towards media. But when their daughter is engaging in it, they are not at all comfortable. I realized my mother is more reactive towards my activity than my father whereas she used to be the most liberated woman in my childhood,” Bilkis told Variety.
“So I started my dialogue with my mother, spending more time with her and in the process I almost rediscovered her old passion. She used to be a poet long years back and I found her old diary. It’s almost a book of passion and repression at the same time. I realized my mother is reduced to a shadow of her earlier entity. She never sought for recognition and slowly in course of time she lost her expression and got tamed within the structure of family. The dominating language of religion took shape in her mind relegating poetry to an obscure memory.”
Bilkis pitched the project at Dhaka Doc Lab, Kolkata Docedege and Berlinale Doc Station. At Berlinale, she met French producer Quentin Laurent, who came on board as a producer via his Les Films de l’Oeil Sauvage, with Bilkis’ Zoo Films coproducing. The project secured a grant from the Bangladesh government, and Bilkis shot the film on her own on a camcorder as a one-woman crew as part of her daily life.
“Through shooting my mom, I realized and rediscovered the lost relationship with my mother and tried to arrive at a middle point where she could begin to appreciate my passion towards image and sound,” Bilkis said.
The editing and post production process was a real collaborative journey, Bilkis says. Laurent secured a variety of French funds that covered editing, sound, music, grading and other processes.
At one point a perfect storm of misfortune hit the project – Bilkis had a romantic breakup, her father fell ill and the pandemic began, which meant that her plans of making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca with her mother had to be shelved.
“I was suffering from emotional pain. I was sitting without doing anything for three months, I could not understand any solution – especially when assembling the footage. At one point I couldn’t tell if I was editing or in the real world. My editor Lea Chatauret rescued me from there. In a nutshell, making this film was a very cathartic process for me,” says Bilkis.
Even though “Things I Could Never Tell My Mother” is a personal story, Bilkis believes that the story of her mother’s transformation and her agitation is the story of many women of her generation in Bangladesh.
“I wanted to make this film to understand changes in our society by tracing the changes in my mother. I wanted to make this film because almost all women I know around my age experience this, talk about this amongst themselves. Yet this story of generational gap in the backdrop of socio-political change remains untold,” says Bilkis.
“My mother’s generation is the last of the women born before the independence of Bangladesh, spending childhood during the East Pakistan era, going through the war as a teenager and stepping into adult life in the independent country. Therefore, if these times pass and the generation is gone, the stories will become lost.”
The next stop for the film is the Traces de Vies documentary festival at Clermont-Ferrand, where it is in the international competition.
On the directing front, Bilkis is looking to tell some more personal stories including about her father’s rural birthplace, her grandmother’s lost burqa and about a very close friend of hers who was murdered for speaking out about the right to love. Bilkis has shot extensively for these and continues to shoot more.
On the producing front, Bilkis and her partner Mahmudul Islam, via their Zoo Films, have signed on documentary filmmaker Sourav Sarangi’s upcoming film “Fair-Home Fairy-Tales” as co-producers.