Bangladeshi filmmaker Rezwan Shahriar Sumit’s 2020 London and Busan selection “The Salt in Our Waters,” which will play at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Nov. 8, is a stark reminder of the issues the event is trying to highlight.
Sumit shot the film during the monsoon of 2018 in the hamlet of Gangamatir Char, home to 20 fishing families, in Patuakhali district, located at the southernmost tip of Bangladesh.
But, Gangamatir Char does not exist anymore.
Sumit was unable to return to the location for a year and a half due to the pandemic and finally managed to visit in July this year.
“When I returned to that beloved place, to those beloved people, all I found were some broken tree branches and the rising tide,” Sumit tells Variety. “I learned that the sea level in this area has risen dramatically in the last two to three years. The high tide is eroding the land, and Cyclone Amphan last year wreaked havoc.”
The families located in the hamlet were forced to relocate to nearby villages and many of them had to find alternate professions as the erratic weather affected the supply of the Hilsa fish, prized in Bangladesh, eastern India and Myanmar.
“Bangladesh is often referred to as a ground zero for climate change,” says Sumit. “We are bearing witness to a primal, elemental conflict between land and sea, man and nature, past and future. Our small time coastal fishers are caught on the frontline of this battle. Their families desperately need tools to adapt to the worst impacts, their natural habitats and ecosystems need immediate protection and restoration.
“After having spent many months in their company, I realized that they are a people plagued by disruptions but not defined by it. They are incredibly brave, resilient, resourceful, colorful, full of ideas, hope and potential. These nuances are often missing from the images we see on the international media. Therefore, I took it upon myself to present to the world an unfiltered, immersive and inspired portrait of this community, and ‘The Salt in Our Waters’ was born.”
During his July visit, Sumit met several members of the fishing community who appeared in the film. “I discovered that the awful reality of their lives is far more severe than my film’s story,” says Sumit. “I want to tell the world about these people’s suffering, which is why I applied for the United Nations Climate Conference COP26. I’d want to express my gratitude to the organizers for allowing my film to highlight the narrative of the artisanal fishing community. ‘The Salt in Our Waters’ has turned out to be an epic story from the front lines of the fight against climate change.”
Film Republic is handling international sales on the film and has sold it to HBO for Central Europe. The British Film Institute has acquired U.K. streaming rights for its BFI Player.
The film will be released in Bangladeshi theatres by Star Cineplex, a leader in the local theatrical business, on Nov. 26 and additional global theatrical releases might be possible thanks to Torino Film Lab’s Audience Design Grant.
The first people in Bangladesh to watch the film, prior to its release, will be the affected fishing community. Sumit is also planning localized screenings via the Shilpokola Academy’s network of community centers across Bangladesh.
“All eyes are on COP26,” says Sumit. “There is a lot of pressure on the talks to bring about meaningful commitments and, of course, real financing for vulnerable nations. I firmly believe that narrative films with an insider point of view like mine can help create true empathy for climate frontliners at such world events.”