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Reportage – Bangladesh: traces, faces

My dear friend and co-director Paolo Del Bianco is possibly one of the most seasoned Western documenters of the landscapes and peoples of Bangladesh, having now spent nearly 6 months in the country spread over a number of expeditions. During this time he has amassed a huge number of photos from every corner of the country, as well as some 24 hours of HD footage.

I was his companion on one such month long trip over the Christmas/New Year period of 2010/11, and from this was born the concept of whittling the huge amount of material we had down into a documentary, aimed above all at communicating the emotions we had experienced on our exhausting ride in that great place.
It is hard to explain the impact of a country like Bangladesh on a mind conditioned by Western culture. Despite having spent a year living in India, the sheer ferocity and rawness of what I was confronted with was overwhelming, and much of the experience was deeply challenging on both emotional and spiritual levels.
We began the month long journey by travelling from Dhaka airport to Chittagong by car (you can read about this hair raising journey here and see clips of it in the film), and from there travelled to the relative peace of Rangamti with its lake and Chakma villages.
We trekked through forests and over hills in the hot sun to visit Mru tribes living on the fringes of civilisation before heading back to Dhaka by train, and then onto the surprisingly clean and well organised city of Khulna: our gateway to the Sundarbans.
The Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and home of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger, which we hoped to see on numerous silent excursions through the swamps in a small wooden boat. Unfortunately we were not blessed with a sighting, but the time we spent in the solitude and peace of the water ways was deeply refreshing after so many weeks immersed in the chaos of the country’s cities.
Bangladesh is sometimes referred to as a ‘fourth world’ country because of the sheer scale and depth of the poverty there. Its capital city is one of the most densely populated places on Earth and the noise and pollution are mind boggling.
But the extremes of the urban decay are balanced by the incredible places of natural beauty such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Sundarbans, and the warmth and kindness of the people is truly remarkable. We were swamped everywhere we went and treated like celebrities because it was so unusual for Europeans to be in Bangladesh, and for many of the local people we met it was probably the first time they had seen white people in the flesh.
The main reason we are offering you Bangladesh: traces, faces is because we know it is so rare for tourists to visit the country. We hope that through our film, photos and writing you can catch a glimpse into the beauty and extremes we experienced, and share the exhilarating memories that Bangladesh gave us.
Thank you, and please visit the official site of our multi-media project here and interact with us on Twitter.
Peter O’Donoghue

Peter O’Donoghue

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