Raising For Rana is a not-for-profit initiative in association with charity organisations including War on Want and Traid. It is in place to raise awareness and raise funds for the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse. A fundraising event will take place on the 24th April 2014; exactly one year on from the disaster. The event will feature a film premiere and charity auction.
This event is organised by Rainbow Collective, a unique production company, formed as a social enterprise and committed to raising awareness on issues of human and childrens’ rights through powerful cinematic documentaries. Filmmakers Hannan Majid and Richard York have collaborated with Amnesty International, The Consortium For Street Children, War On Want, ActionAid and many others.
The Fableists spoke to Richard and Hannan about Raising for Rana.
Rainbow Collective > April the 24th 2014 is the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, so we thought it would be the ideal date on which to premiere “Tears in the Fabric.”
Last year, a couple of weeks after the disaster, we ran a fundraiser for the families of the victims and screened our earlier film “The Machinists” as part of the event. We wanted to build on that for the 1 year anniversary.
The Fableists > You’ve shot in Bangladesh about the garment trade in the past. Tell us about your previous work on this topic.
Rainbow Collective > We’ve actually shot 2 other films on or around the subject of garment workers in Bangladesh.
In 2010 we made “The Machinists” for the Al Jazeera channel, which was a 45 minute observational doc following the lives of 3 garment working families, with an emphasis on the women workers. The film also followed the head of a garment workers trade union, the NGWF, and his fight to secure a better life for the workers. The film was successful on its broadcast and we were very pleased to be able to give it an extended life by offering it to campaigners, pressure groups and such like in order to raise awareness and funds for female garment workers in Bangladesh and beyond.
Our other film, “Mass-e-Bhat” is a feature length doc, supported by Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation, recounting the life of a young man in Bangladesh’s largest slum. Through the telling of his story and his travels from the rural villages to the rubbish tips and garment factories of Dhaka, the audience is shown a series of short observational stories about young people living in those situations in the country’s present.
Through the story of 1 person’s life, “Mass-e-Bhat”, which is to be released this summer, really gives a comprehensive overview of the wider social factors, which keep the garment factories full of workers fresh from the villages.
The Fableists > Do you have a personal connection to this cause and how did you get involved?
Rainbow Collective > Hannan’s family are originally from Bangladesh and he still has many relatives there. Some of them work in the garments trade; through some family and friend connections we were able to gain access to begin filming “Mass-e-Bhat” in 2008.
Our social enterprise production company, Rainbow Collective, was always set up as a way to produce films which could serve wider purposes beyond traditional distribution, so we began to connect the scenes which we were filming with campaigns via a wide range of grass-roots and international NGOs.
The more we’ve campaigned on the issue, the more stories have presented themselves which we are keen to highlight. Unfortunately these stories of late have involved workers losing their lives whether in Tazreen Fire or Rana Plaza. Which made us more determined to highlight these issues.
The Fableists > Richard and Hannan, you are both filmmakers and have worked together for many years. How long have you been working together and how did you meet?
Rainbow Collective > We met at the Northern Film School in Leeds in 2002. We both had different skills and specialisms but after graduation we had the opportunity to co-direct a feature length documentary in South Africa, “AmaZulu: The Children of Heaven”.
The film went on to receive cinema distribution in South Africa and also to be used as a tool by the South African government to encourage and inspire head teachers in KwaZulu Natal province.
This established the model upon which we’ve based the last 10 years of our working relationship – making character led, cinematic documentaries which can be used over the years for to promote social change.
The Fableists > While working on ‘Tears in the Fabric’, you filmed in Savar, Bangladesh, where the Rana Plaza building was. What has happened to the site over the past year?
Rainbow Collective > The whole town of Savar seems to be under a cloud, even a year on from the disaster. The site itself has mostly been cleared now and has become a kind of dark green swamp in between 2 other buildings. As we see in “Tears in the Fabric” though, the rubble, machinery and everything else caught up in the collapse was transported away from the site and dumped in huge piles, right beside the neighborhoods where many of the victims and their families live, just down the road from the site.
According to locals, when they first dumped the stuff there, the smell of decaying bodies was so strong nobody could go near it and anybody trying to investigate the dumping ground would be beaten by the police. The site is now strewn with a combination of the garments that the locals were producing for western brands and the clothes which the workers themselves were wearing when the building collapsed. In all of our time filming together, it was certainly the most challenging and disturbing environment we’ve found ourselves in.
The Fableists > With this film, you were eager to tell the story of the people affected by the building collapse, rather than the brands involved. Why was this important to you?
Rainbow Collective > Over the past year, there’s been a number of documentaries and journalistic reports focusing on the big-name brands and their responsibility for the disaster. While these films are very important in raising public awareness, we felt that there was a real lack of voices from the people who were affected most – the victims themselves and their families. It sometimes seems that western audiences only really believe a report or a current affairs doc if it’s fronted by a well spoken, well educated western journalist and often, even when they do have a local person being interviewed, their voice is dubbed over by an English interpreter, rather than subtitled.
In the case of Rana Plaza, we agree that the brands should be shown up for their role in the disaster, but we also want the people who were most affected to have the chance to be heard as well, rather than to become yet more faceless statistics in a political debate. For this reason, we also interviewed around 20 victims and bereaved family members as part of an online resource site to be used by academics, journalists and campaigners in years to come.
Rainbow Collective > Razia Begum is a grandmother who lost her two daughters and a son in law in the disaster. She now looks after her two young grandsons and is struggling to make ends meet and to come to terms with the enormity of her loss. When her family was still alive, they all lived together in a nice house with plenty of food and the kids were in an expensive private school. Now, however, Razia and the boys have found themselves homeless and relying on the goodwill of others in order to survive. The film follows the distraught but resilient Razia, a year on from losing most of her family, as she struggles to educate her grandchildren while fighting for compensation from the brands.
The Fableists > Your subject matter is very emotional and must be very affecting to work on. How do prepare for a shoot with this kind of human story?
Rainbow Collective > We have worked on the garments topic for some time and have spent many years campaigning on this issue so the background information that we needed for a shoot like this was already there. We did as much research as we could from the UK before going out because of our regular connection with the people at the National Garment Workers Federation who were organising all the interviewees.
When shooting documentaries you have to expect the unexpected, and that happened to us many times on this shoot. The family that we were originally going to shoot with had left Savar and gone to the village on holiday and so had our back-up family. Kobir, the head of the NGWF’s Savar office, then introduced us to Razia Begum who is the main character in ‘Tears In the Fabric’.
Of course it was very emotional time for us because we had to take in many testimonials that we shot as well as spending the time with Razia Begum and seeing how the loss of two girls and a son in law has affected her. We have worked with the Bangladeshi garment-making community for a few years now and it is a subject very close to our hearts so to see the aftermath and human cost of such a disaster close up was hard. In situations like you have to be strong, our purpose of being there was to document what is happening and we hope through that we can create some positive changes that can benefit the people of Savar. Those people are talking to us for the same reason so that it was important to hold our emotions together and carry on shooting.
Many docs have appeared in the past year that have focussed on the brands who were manufacturing in the building and the consumers who buy those brands. There have been many documentaries from all over the world who have dealt with the Rana Plaza. All these documentaries have been very focused on the brands. They do this because most of the documentaries audience will probably be buying those brands. A majority of the brands on the high street in London, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, New York etc., have been making clothes in Rana Plaza. So its just regular people and its not really fair to assume that all those people should know the ethics of these brands. These brands need to really look at the way they are doing business in Bangladesh and rather than exploit the work force for as many hours and little pay as possible should be looking at how it can help develop that industry into a safe and happy work place.
The Fableists > Your premiere event on April 24th in London will feature a charity auction. Where will the funds raised go?
Rainbow Collective > In response to the Rana Plaza collapse last year we decided to screen our documentary ‘The Machinists’ which was about garment workers as part of a fundraiser to raise finances for those people who have been directly affected by Rana Plaza. Due to our strong connection with War On Want and the NGWF we were able to set up a Just Giving page where any money that was raised would go to War On Want who would then pass it on the NGWF who then would give it their members who were in or have been directly affected by Rana Plaza. Every penny goes to help garment workers themselves such Razia Begum who lost two daughters and a son in law. Whilst in Savar we were able to talk to some of the people who had received some of the money that was donated. It does make a difference, especially at a time when the brands are still debating whether or not to put to a fund to help the victims.
The Fableists > How can the public bid on the items available (including some snappy clothes from The Fableists!) and when will the auction end?
Rainbow Collective > Its very easy to bid on the items. Just visit Raising For Rana website where there is a charity auction link and there are many many items to bid on. The auction will be open till 12pm on the 25th April.
The Fableists > Your goal is to create resource material so that campaigners and educators can access facts, figures as well as images and footage. Tell us why you choose to make all this available for free.
Rainbow Collective > Everything is for free because we want as many people and organisations to watch it and use the resource site. We have great partners including OpenVizor who funded this so we did not see a need to charge anyone to use the resource. The decision to make the film and resource site available for free and for the whole project to be non-profit was made very early. The documentary ‘Tears In The Fabric’ will also be available in multiple languages on its release and again the reason for this is so that it can get the widest audience possible.
Get involved by bidding on items in the charity auction, or making a donation, as all proceeds will go directly to those affected by the Rana Plaza disaster. Visit the film’s page via the Raising for Rana site to find out more about the project.