Sunday, November 8
Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Director: Shaheen Dill-Riaz
Country/Year: Bangladesh/Germany, 2008
Running Time: 85 mins
Language: Bengali with English subtitles
Every year, the ebb and flow of the Ganges floodplain leaves farmers in northern Bangladesh in need of employment to help them survive the yearly droughts. Many of them travel hundreds of miles south to the shores of Chittagong to labor in one of Bangladesh's most prosperous industries, dismantling colossal ships and tankers— the discards of the developed world—for scrap iron.
German-Bangladeshi filmmaker Shaheen Dill-Riaz spent four months at the Peace, Happiness and Prosperity Shipyard, and chronicled the daily lives of the workers through close observation. His camera exquisitely captures the mind-boggling scenery of behemoth container ships washed up like whales on the muddy shore. Between the ocean liners, the workers look like ants. They slog barefoot as cable-pullers and sheet-carriers— their bodies heaving to and fro, sinking knee-deep into the mud. This dangerous work, that even no local would do, earns them 33 cents a day.
Before long, Dill-Riaz’s perceptive camera captures the camaraderie of the workers, and begins to hone in on their internal hierarchies. Various levels of exploitation in the shipyard— from owners to contractors to shopkeepers, who withhold money from the workers or cut their hours—become apparent. Ultimately, this fascinating focus on the little documented ship-breaking industry serves as a metaphor for all global labor exploitation.
The film received the prestigious “One-World Award” in Cologne, Germany in 2007, and was screened in competition at the Lisbon International Documentary Film Festival (Portugal), and the Sao Paulo International Film Festival (Brazil). - Neela Banerjee