DocHouse kicked off their April programme with the tale of a small, isolated community in Village at the End of the World (2012). A fitting follow-up has been selected in the form of Giovanni Giommi’s Bad Weather (2011), which trades the harsh environs of North Greenland for the warmer and wetter Bay of Bengal. Here, the director has discovered a peculiar settlement perilously existing on a sliver of land slowly being eroded away. Whilst Giommi does allude to the islands uncertain future and the encroaching water, his real focus is the unexpected inhabitants, for Banishanta is home to Bangladesh’s most remote brothel.
The film begins by providing, in the only explicit instance of talking heads, a brief background to how three of the inhabitants had come to prostitution on this unusual islet; through coercion, familial pressure and desperation. The camera then drifts around this distinct little parish whose population of 65 prostitutes plus their families and an assortment of other random individuals manage to survive on 100m x 10m of land. Men make their livings with boats on the river including bringing swathes of tourist groups to engage Banishanta’s number one service.
Bad Weather’s unusual setup provides an engrossing glimpse into the banality of a full-time brothel village. A married couple consist of a prostitute and the man who brings men to her on his boat, and hates every second of it. When discussing the option of whether to save to leave the village or spend their money on a television, they opt for the latter. Whilst they all live in a male dominated society, there are moments in which the tables are turned such as one of the bread-winning women cheekily noting that her husband’s sole use was the running of errands. Meanwhile one of the women is vocal about contesting the patriarchy and is particularly keen to join an association of Bangladeshi sex workers to give them rights as professionals.
Despite the undercurrent of empowerment, and their outward assertion to be proud of their work, there are more introspective moments. One woman laments the fact that to feed her child she must sell her dignity and this becomes more apparent during the bustle of a tourist group visiting. They must be chided to pay after sex and even then, some do not. As cyclones regularly ravage the village and flood their small homes, the threat to their livelihoods seems ever present and life would not appear to be especially pleasant at the best of times.
Still, while Giommi’s camera continues to patiently observe the oddness of this island community, it does provide a glimpse at hope within the dire situation. These women struggle to maintain what they have and are lent a tragic note as first the crazy pseudo-prophet Litu, then the Imam, and finally one of the women’s daughters gravely assert that Banishanta is a bad place. Either way, Bad Weather makes for a compelling watch.
Bad Weather screens as part of the DocHouse strand at London’s Lexi Cinema on 18 April, 2013. For more info, visit dochouse.org.