Mohaiemen’s historical docu screenedCultural Correspondent
Naeem Mohaiemen’s latest venture ‘United Red Army’, a 67-minute documentary based on a historical incident, provided a unique experience to the houseful audience at Dhaka art Centre on Tuesday.
Through the story of an airplane hijacking that took place on September 28, 1977, at the then Dhaka International Airport, the politically conscious artist Mohaiemen has explored some hidden stories of the post independence political situation in Bangladesh, as well as the then prevalent ultra-left movements in Japan and Germany.
It was the second show of the documentary, as part of its series of six screenings at different venues in the city.
The 67-minute documentary features the negotiations between Dhaka tower control room and the leader of the Japanese United Red Army, who forced the Japan Airlines Flight 472, en route from Paris to Tokyo, to land in Dhaka to bargain with the Japanese government, demanding six million dollars and release of nine jailed comrades.
The director, who made the film as part of his academic research on the history of left political movements, collected the original sound recording of the negotiations between the Japanese Red Army hijacker and the control tower, from the archive of NHK Television, Japan. In the film, the sound recordings are depicted on a black screen and written texts.
Most interestingly, the courageous director touched a highly controversial topic in the political history of independent Bangladesh, as in the midst of the airplane-hostage crisis a group of Bangladeshi officers attempted an unsuccessful coup at the airport. The list of the murdered military officers as the aftermath of the unsuccessful coup is also shown in the film.
The film is anchored and bracketed by Mohaiemen’s personal memory of himself as a frustrated eight-year-old whose favourite TV show, ‘The Zoo Gang,’ was suspended by a live broadcast of the hijacking-hostage crisis.
Mohaiemen combines excerpts from the original sound recordings with snippets of archival video — blurry bits of the original black-and-white broadcast; Japanese, American, and local news coverage of the standoff; the wonderfully dated opening credits of ‘The Zoo Gang’; a sequence from a film starring one of the hostages, actress Carole Wells — all pull the film beyond the margin of merely an archival documentary. The film successfully evokes the conscience of the audience with its cinematic beauty.
The audience repeatedly hailed the director for his courage in highlighting a controversial part of history.
The documentary also got plaudits while participating at the Hot Docs Documentary Festival (Toronto) recently.
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