Films are not ‘films’ anymore. The medium has come out of its traditional formats and evolved into something new and revolutionary. The industry is constantly evolving, growing, expanding, disposing outdated styles, and revisiting narratives to bring older techniques back to life. Cinema has changed in terms of activities relating to producing, distributing and consuming. The consumers are the new creators. The integration of new media and Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming sites have empowered consumers to create and devour films in their own terms. Cinema has moved beyond borders and regulations.
The history of cinema is influenced by the course of world politics. Socio-political movements all over the world have facilitated various cinema engagements and entanglements. The big political conditions inspired storytellers to adopt new technique. One of today’s most popular technique is personal cinema narratives; where the director also becomes a part of the story. New filmmakers turn cinema into personalized statements.
In a country where viewing cinema is restricted due to social stigma and religion, new storytellers have entered into the personal spaces of its viewers. The history of Bangladeshi cinema has gone through many phases of development. The industry lost a segment of viewership due to the lack of original ideas. Audience turned their back to cinema as they were facing the dark chapters of cinema history.
However, the paradigm has shifted once again. The advent of new media, open digital platforms, emerging new streaming sites are empowering the filmmakers once again. Filmmakers with very limited to zero budget can make and distribute their stories through the web. The platform once dominated with mainstream discourses, is now more inclusive towards versatility and diversity. Marginalized voices are heard and seen through cinema. With a mobile phone in hand, almost anyone can become a film producer, storyteller and consumer.
In the mainstream platform, cinema has to go through a process of censorship. The Bangladesh Film Censorship Board (BFCB), for example, has the responsibility of examining and certifying films for public exhibition around the country. The censor board is governed by the Censorship of Films Act, 1963. The Act has been amended once in 1972 by the president’s order and again as The Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act, 2006. There is the Censorship of Films Rules 1977, which emphasizes on how the certification is to be done. Then, there is the Code for Censorship of Films 1985 that provides specific instructions for the Board to decide if a film is unsuitable for public exhibition or not.
And now Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has come out with the draft of the BTRC Regulation for Digital, social media and OTT Platforms, 2021. Under the draft rules, OTT platforms will also have to abide by rules on obscenity, defamation, and hurting religious sentiment, although the platforms will not be governed by censor board like the film industry. While the booming OTT industry needs more facilitations, more regulations are conferred upon the platform.
Keeping these in mind, the Dhaka Media Summit 2023, with its central theme “Reshaping Cinema Narratives,” is envisioned to be a multi-sectoral dialogue regarding the present and future of cinema industry, especially in Bangladesh. Participants to the dialogue includes all sectors with a stake in having a healthy and vibrant cinema. This will include filmmakers, film producers, film broadcasters, academics, policymakers and civil society representatives.