An Interview with Kamar Ahmad Simon (Director)
A Film Embodying Beautiful Life
Q: Your film had an impressive variety of scenes, ranging from peaceful images of parents and children to tense scenes of discussions between villagers and otherworldly scenes of the river in the early morning. How did you assemble these scenes into a single film?
KAS: I started with a backdrop of climate change, but concentrating too much on an issue like this was painful to me as a filmmaker. I wanted to capture the beauty of the land, the big sky, these people, and their way of living. The idea was to start with the backdrop, and bring the issue back to the cinema.
Q: Can you tell us how you decided to make this film?
KAS: At the time of this catastrophe—when the tidal wave hit the coastal belt of Bangladesh—I was in the middle of writing another feature script. However, when I saw the local people suffering every day in the newspaper, along with the news of the Copenhagen summit about climate change in the same newspaper, I was very ignited to respond. As an artist, I had to stop my past and look for the present, and respond to what was going on.
Then, after traveling almost 200 km in a local boat in a three-month span, I realized that it had nothing to do with climate change. I met all these people who were so beautiful, courageous, and had so much vibrant energy. I started out of anger, but I eventually fell in love with this community and the place and the people.
Q: In the conversation with the children near the end of the film, why did you decide to leave your voice in the scene?
KAS: Until then, it was the classic narrative structure, but I needed to remind the viewer that this was a documentary, this was not fiction. Also, there was a boy who was talking to me, and he asked me a question—he said he wanted to go away with me forever, and never come back. This is very universal, this question of leaving one’s home and going some place in search of something, though the final result is to return home. One reason I chose this shot was because of the metaphorical meaning of this question.
Q: Why did you choose the title “Are You Listening”?
KAS: I started this film with rain and a storm, and then I followed with a multi-layered narrative of relationships, of community, of politics. I looked at the people, and I knew that they would one day build a dike and reclaim their land. But after the dike was completed, I saw the rain coming again. Then I realized that this was like the whole cycle of life itself—there is the rain, and after the dike is completed, again there is the rain. Until then, I thought that it was about reaching a point, and then I realized that it wasn’t. It is a circle of life, bringing you to the same point where you started. And I hear the song of life that these very people carry with them every day in their dreams. I could hear that song, and I wanted people to listen to that unsung song. So—are you listening?
Q: What is Sutarkhali village like now?
KAS: Fortunately, the village continues to survive, but no one knows for how much longer. To be very honest with you, for me as a filmmaker, the film is not just about this village. If you look, you can find this village in your country, in Japan also. This film is about the radical hope that one should never give up, and that life is about continuing to breathe these dreams of hope.
(Compiled by Ukai Sakurako)
Interviewers: Ukai Sakurako, Oki Kayako / Interpreter: Kawaguchi Takao / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Iwata Kohei / Video: Nakata Ryo / 2013-10-14