Posted by:  Len

Congratulations to our friend Alex Rotaru for the New York City theatrical release and good reviews generated by his latest documentary, “Shakespeare High.”  Cathy and I met Alex — who has also directed “Kids with Cameras” and “They Came to Play” — in late 2011 in Kazakhstan where I was helping to put on an American contemporary documentary film festival in Almaty and Shymkent.  Alex’s enthusiasm, passion for his subjects, and general joie de vivre are refreshing and inspiring, and both Cathy and I really enjoyed the time we spent with him, and learned much from our discussions of film making.

Alex was in Kazakhstan because “Kids with Cameras” was selected by an independent panel of experts for the American Film Showcase which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and was being shown, subtitled in Russian, along with five other American documentaries in various cities in Kazakhstan.  Alex and film expert Diane Carson led discussions of his and the other films, had workshops with students, and helped introduce Kazakh audiences to a film genre that most were not familiar with.  Continuing Alex’s tradition of success, in February “Shakespeare High” was selected for the 2012 American Film Showcase.

Congratulations to Alex and those who worked on the other films chosen for AFS!  Your work goes around the world and helps audiences experience firsthand the amazing creativity and breadth of vision and experience of U.S. documentary filmmakers.   We hope that Surayia’s story will one day join AFS as well.

Posted by:  Len

We recently came across this article from the Dhaka Daily Star and were pleased to see the Salesian Sisters being recognized for the excellent work that is being done at their embroidery center.  Along with Anil Advani we visited the center in Monipuripara several times during our trip to Dhaka in late 2010 and were very impressed by the high quality embroidery that we saw.

Intricate embroidery at the Salesian Sisters house in Dhaka. Photo copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC.

Surayia gave her designs to the Salesians when she was no longer able to draw or stitch; Sister Elizabeth and her colleagues now oversee the embroidery of the women who used to work for Arshi.  The quality, from what we saw on our visit, remains high, and we understand that there continues to be strong consumer demand for nakshi kantha tapestries.

The Daily Star article includes a photo of one of Surayia’s designs, her interpretation of Rabindranath Tagore’s play “Shyama.”

We were also pleased to see a positive mention in the article of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Cathy and I were frequent visitors to their house and chapel in Bashundara when we lived in Dhaka; Mother Luisa taught many young women how to embroider beautiful table linens.  The type of work done at OLS is very different from that of the Salesians, but it is all exquisite and the goal in each case is to help poor young women become self-sufficient, just as Surayia did.

Congratulations to Sister Elizabeth, Mother Luisa, and everyone in Bangladesh who helps to carry on the rich tradition of embroidery.


Posted by: Cathy

March is Women’s History Month, a great time for us to think about Surayia, her art, and the hundreds of women who worked with her to make nakshi kantha tapestries.   The National Women’s History Project in the U.S. has selected “Women’s Education — Women’s Empowerment” as the theme for 2012.

How appropriate to reflect on Surayia’s role in the education and empowerment of poor women in Bangladesh.  As I work with Rita editing the film Threads: the art and life of Surayia Rahman, time and again people whom we have interviewed return to the image of Surayia patiently guiding other women, first at the Skills Development project and later at her own organization called Arshi.

Surayia Rahman and some of the women of Arshi. Photo copyright by Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC

Surayia’s efforts as an artist and a teacher ramified, with woman teaching their own children and being able to afford better food, better housing, and very importantly, to send them to school.  Education and empowerment go hand in hand for Surayia and the women who worked with her.  As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we celebrate teachers and those who share their skills to empower others for a better future.