SGIFF: ‘The Salt in Our Waters’ Explores Man vs Nature in Bangladesh

Naman Ramachandran
·3 min read

Feature debutant Rezwan Shahriar Sumit’s “The Salt in Our Waters,” bows Nov. 29 at the Singapore International Film Festival’s Asian Visions strand after successful festival screenings at London, Busan and Torino.

The project was supported by the Spike Lee Fellowship, which offered the film’s preliminary writing grants, France’s CNC aide aux cinemas du monde, the Torino Film Lab’s audience design fund, and Bangladesh’s national film grant.

The film follows a city-raised sculptor who visits a remote fishing island on the Bangladeshi Delta, and finds himself centerstage in a primal, elemental conflict between land and sea, man and nature, past and future.

Shot on location on Bangladesh’s Patuakhali shore, 11 hours by road from the capital, Dhaka, the film stems from Sumit’s memories of visiting the region in 2008 during the devastating Cyclone Sidr.

“Those memories stayed with me for a long time,” Sumit told Variety. “Years later, when I was in grad film school at NYU, I thought what if I set a clash of cultures tale in that village. Back home, liberals and conservatives were clashing over decades-old, unresolved injustices. I started seeing the fishing community as a microcosm of Bangladesh, in unity as in division.”

The film is a Bangladesh-France co-production between Sumit’s MyPixelStory and Ilann Girard’s Arsam International (“Cunningham,” “Lebanon”). Sumit met Girard at India’s Film Bazaar, South Asia’s leading co-production market, in 2016.

Girard was drawn to the project because of its theme and setting. “Bangladesh, a country which is fighting several modern-world challenges, global warming, radicalization, refugee crisis, etc. in its unique way, is not often seen on mainstream media beyond the scope of clickbait headlines,” Girard told Variety. “Sumit manages to blend never-before-seen social, cultural, and religious elements and create a story world that feels grounded in reality. He sets this against the spectacular backdrop of Bay of Bengal during monsoon – which makes the film even more special.”

The team is hoping to resonate with three disparate audiences – the Bangladeshi diaspora, the traditional art-house audiences, and climate change activists.

Singapore is an important festival for the film. “We will have both physical and virtual screenings at the festival which means the film will enjoy the widest possible reach, within Singapore,” said Sumit. “The country hosts hundreds and thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers and I hope many of them will be able to watch it from their dorms.”

Film Republic is on board for global sales.

Next up for Sumit is a short film “Sorry For The Inconvenience,” which is part of a new filmmaker program backed by Singapore- and Los Angeles-based Next 10 Ventures, due to start shooting this week.

The story is set in a forest cabin where four friends are in quarantine and provide conflicting narratives of what exactly transpired in the outside world. It features “The Salt in Our Waters” stars Titas Zia and Tasnova Tamanna.

Also in the works is Sumit’s second feature project “A New Prophet,” a drama set in the confluence of virtual reality and spirituality where a young gamer develops a VR app capable of giving users glimpses of the afterlife, set against the backdrop of Dhaka’s socio-economic fabric. The project is backed by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Film Independent, and Torino Film Lab, via the International Emerging Film Talent Association.

The Singapore International Film Festival runs as part of the Singapore Media Festival.

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