It is midsummer in northeastern Bangladesh. Five men face a dangerous mission. They must conquer the great river with their raft. Their journey will last a month and take them 300 kilometers downstream. Their cargo: 25,000 bamboo logs. During daytime, endless heat, pouring rain and dangerous rapids keep the men on their toes. At night, river pirates lurk in the darkness for easy prey. But it is worth it for the men, who all make the journey as part of their very own struggles for existence.
With breathtaking images from Bangladesh, filmmaker Shaheen Dill-Riaz introduces the viewer to the rough world of the men who have been working in the woods and on the river for generations. They only have one goal: get the bamboo to the wholesalers in the capital Dhaka on time.
From above, the woods like a vast expanse of lush green that comes in all variations of the color. On the ground, the bamboo forest is much less romantic. Here leeches, centipedes and evil spirits have driven some poor souls into madness. At least that’s what Liakot, the foreman of the bamboo cutters, says. He has been working in the woods since his childhood, when he learned the craft from his father.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find Liakot somewhere in this bamboo jungle, where he spends his days cutting down bamboo and digging canals into the muddy ground. Under his supervision, his men build dams made out of bamboo and mud to stow mountain water. Always on guard against wild elephants and the strict gaze of the forest leaseholder, they cut their way ever deeper into the forest, one log at a time. Everyone yearns for the day when they will hop on a bundle of bamboo and surf the rapids down to the valley.
Down by the big river the raftsmen are already waiting. Shoheed and his men use about 60 bundles of bamboo to build a huge raft. They’ll soon set sail to get the logs to the traders in Dhaka.
The raft will be their home for the next four weeks. “Toilet, bathroom, laundry room, the river is all in one,” says Shoheed. He points to the water and grins: “Of course we use it for cooking as well”. His humor helps the men bear the hardships and dangers of the long journey. Their route will lead them through treacherous waters, where corrupt policemen and river pirates often appear out of nowhere.
In the midst of all this is director-cinematographer Shaheen Dill-Riaz. With a keen eye on details, the acclaimed filmmaker observes and shares the lives of the men in the forest and on board. They soon become travelers who move between different worlds, each with its own laws and rules. Why do the men accept the bad pay, the hardships and the danger? And why would they never give up this trade even as the whole bamboo business is gradually dying?
Bamboo Stories will premiere at the DocPoint Film Festival in Helsinki in January 2019.