Award-winning filmmaker Catherine Masud shares “A Journey in Filmmaking” at Poly

By Charity Hume, sophomore dean and Upper School English teacher
Last Thursday evening, Poly’s Global Initiatives Program-sponsored speaker series featured the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Catherine Masud, who gave a presentation to parents and students called “A Journey in Filmmaking.”  Masud is an award-winning filmmaker with more than 25 years of experience in producing, directing and editing, working in both documentary and fictional genres. She produced and co-wrote the acclaimed feature "Matir Moina" ("The Clay Bird"), which won the International Critics' Prize at Cannes. Thematically many of her films address social justice issues and the conflict between religious and cultural identity. Her films have screened at major festivals and been theatrically released in many countries. An American citizen by birth, Masud spent much of her adult life in Bangladesh, working together with her late husband and filmmaking partner, Tareque Masud.
The presentation on Thursday covered Masud’s evolution as a filmmaker, from her student days studying economics at Brown, to crafting an individualized journey in the year after graduation, to work at several NGO organizations in Bangladesh. Her expectation during the early '80s was to stay for a year and return to live in the United States. But things didn’t quite work out that way. At the invitation of a friend, she met Tareque Masud, a documentary filmmaker working on a project about the Bengali artist, S.M. Sultan. The chance meeting altered the course of their lives. Masud shares, “Two things happened: I fell in love with Tareque, and I fell in love with filmmaking.”  For the next 25 years, the Masuds collaborated on a series of films that gradually made her a national participant in Bengali culture as the political themes of their documentaries and subsequent features created an unprecedented national audience in Bangladesh. 
Catherine Masud’s talk was particularly inspiring in its description of the evolution of her creative process and the maturation of her artistic identity and voice. She began by describing her creative path from the first projects to her most recent work. Working with Tareque on a documentary that used footage taken in 1971 during the war for independence, "Song of Freedom" ignited a national response, and as Catherine’s own understanding of the Bengali language, culture, and the art of filmmaking in Bangladesh matured, so did the reach and momentum of their common work together. Masud shared clips from several of their features, including "The Clay Bird," recognized at Cannes and nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, which was based on Tareque’s childhood experiences in a madrassa, during the years of Bangladesh’s independence war. "Runway," their last feature together before Tareque Masud’s tragic death in an accident, is a film that looked at the ways in which religious fundamentalism tempts the younger generation with its quick but sometimes violent solutions; however, the thematic message of "Runway," and all of Masud’s films, inspires audiences with its emphasis on ways to heal and bridge the divides between religious groups by emphasizing compassion, forgiveness, and our common humanity.
On Friday, Masud’s visit continued with Poly freshmen in Grace Hamilton’s World Cultures class on India. Masud’s lecture, “A Brief History of Bangladesh,” was an inspired and clear introduction to the country’s recent history, the religious and social context of its war for independence in the 1970s, and its subsequent national formation. Her talk allowed students to more fully understand sources of religious tension in the regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and to visually access the documentary footage that gave meaning to the partitions and refugee migrations in this period of time. As part of her presentation, Masud shared some of her own work as ways to more fully understand the human cost and context of these tensions, and she concluded her lecture by showing the short film, "The Barbershop," where a student is given refuge by members of another religious sect, suggesting the possibility of compassion and human kindness that crosses divisions when an immediate opportunity to be merciful and protective overrides the religious affiliations that appear to divide us. 
GIP is indebted to Masud for her visit. Her work, leadership, courage, and artistry in bringing our world closer together through the medium of film inspire us to bridge the cultural divide, to learn one another’s history, language, and art, and to find ways to communicate our common humanity as our global connections transcend borders and help us embrace our differences in a spirit of collaboration and compassion.