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RUNOMI Movie Night - The Ice Cream Sellers

On 10 November 2022, filmmaker, writer and producer Sohel Rahman came to De Klinker in Nijmegen to screen his movie The Ice Cream Sellers – a movie about two Rohingya children living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh. Nijmegen was the first stop of Sohel's tour through The Netherlands. By organizing this event together with the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office of Radboud University and the De Klinker collective, RUNOMI was honored to be part of De Klinker film debate cycle, marking the beginning of a new film cycle.

After a general introduction by RUNOMI Network officer Linda Sloane, Sohel introduced his film. The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted communities in the world after facing genocide in 2017. Sohel pointed out the message that his film should convey, a message that came from his heart: They are known. They are not forgotten. They are loved. Sohel invited everyone to participate in a Q&A after the screening. 22 people attended the movie night.

The Ice Cream Sellers

The Ice Cream Sellers (75") tells the story of two little siblings, Ayas and Asia, and the genocide survivors of the Rohingya community who fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh after a brutal genocide. While most of the Rohingya people were exhausted from the weight of their trauma, the two siblings began their new life with hard work, selling cheap ice-cream door to door in the world´s largest refugee camp in a desperate attempt to earn enough money to bribe officials for the release of their father from prison in Myanmar. The film invites the audience to become a part of the journey of two children across the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, just as the director himself was invited and received intimate access into their journey of life. The film portrays a story of tragedy and loss, courage, and suffering. On one hand, we have parents’ harrowing tales of their flight from their homeland, and on the other, we see laughter and the irrepressible spirit of the children.


Q&A with Sohel Rahman

After the screening, the audience was given the opportunity not only to ask the filmmaker questions, but also to share their first insights and reflections.

Many participants expressed their thanks for sharing this movie with the audience. There was a sentiment of anger about the injustice done to the Rohingya people. A participant noticed this emotional attachment and wondered how Sohel had experienced this. Sohel explained that he started this film from a moral obligation. The film was made from the soul, as a one-man army. Sohel pointed out a scene in the movie that was dear to him: in the countryside of Bangladesh, you see a line of people passing the camera. It is Rohingya refugees fleeing their home country, walking to the camp in Bangladesh. A young man is carrying his 90-years old mother on his back. Sohel spent three months in the camp, and because he was familiar with the culture and the language, and the significant amount of time being with the refugees, he developed an emotional attachment. This, however, gave him a unique position in being able to share the story of the refugees with a point of view of tenderness and empathy. Sohel was of course affected by his experiences, and he shared that he could not sleep after each day of filming at the camp. He knows the story of each person in the frame. He was touched by the children that are still bringing light to the camp. The siblings Ayas and Asia starring in the documentary still have hope that their father will one day be released from prison although nobody promised them this – it is pure hope.

Another participant pointed out that without many words, Sohel conveyed the severity of the situation but also kept it ‘light’. It was striking how fast the children transition to adulthood, yet occasionally going back to childhood. The siblings were engaging in adult activities such as scheduling each day by themselves and making determined plans for the future. This observation resonated with Sohel and the many stories that he witnessed in the camp. Such as the one of a boy, only two years old who did not speak yet but already had learned to fight. He had only one ‘taka’ [currency of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Ed.] and wanted an ice cream, but it was not enough. His ‘taka’ was not accepted. He kept asking though and after each rejection, the child kept trying. Sohel saw that the boy would not give up and was touched by this moment. Eventually, Sohel bought an ice cream for the boy. And so, there were many stories of the children of the camp that could have been told.

Sohel shared that for his next film, he wants to illustrate the ‘autopsy of the genocide’, showing how this slow poisoning process evolves. It must be acknowledged that the Rohingya truly are victims of a genocide. The Rohingya are not in the headlines anymore, because of other humanitarian crises that happened after 2017. However, they cannot be forgotten and Sohel called upon the audience that we all should at least prevent genocides in the future – it can happen to anyone, anytime.

Next, the audience touched upon the presence of organizations such as UNHCR. A participant mentioned that also in other, similar places, many materials such as buckets or blankets have the logo of f. i. UNHCR, yet the situation there is unbearable. What was Sohel's experience with this organization when he visited the camp, the participant asked. Sohel answered that there are many people who work for this organization who really designate their life to help the refugees. Especially at the beginning, there was a lot of support. However, more recently, Sohel has been in contact with people who say that provisions are getting worse, and so is life in the camp. So, although such organizations can tremendously aid, the situation is getting worse every day.

Participants of the movie night were also interested in how the story of the film came into being. How did the siblings come to sell ice cream (of all things)? And how did Sohel get in touch with these children? Sohel explained that when he was in the camp, it was very hot – 42 degrees and more – and that the people in the camp do not have any access to cold water. So, ice cream is a little temporary relief of the continuous heat people must endure. The ice cream, however, is not like ‘real’ ice cream, it is some colour and sugar on ice. The siblings bought the ice cream from a local entrepreneur end then resell them. One day, Sohel also bought an ice cream from the siblings and started talking to them. He immediately felt that he had found the story for his movie. It is unknown if the siblings ever saved enough money to free their father. Until 2020, Sohel was still in contact and in these years they did not succeed.

The last question touched upon the current situation in Myanmar that is in civil war now and if there is any possibility that the Rohingya can return. According to Sohel, possibilities can only occur if the international community keeps pressuring Myanmar by, for instance, officially recognizing the genocide of Rohingya people. The Bangladeshi government is currently trying, but they have insufficient power to make their voices heard, Sohel says. He not only called on the international community for more pressure, but also on the individuals present at the screening to spread the word in order to let the Rohingya community know that they are not forgotten.

About Sohel Rahman

Sohel is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and producer based in Lisbon, Portugal. His films have been screened internationally in various film festivals and universities around the world. Sohel received the best feature documentary film award from South Asian Film Festival of Montreal, Canada in 2021, and from Tasveer South Asian Film Festival, Seattle in 2021 for his film The Ice Cream Sellers 75” (2021). Born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Sohel’s love of visual art, literature, and storytelling drew him to filmmaking early in life. In 2014 Sohel received European joint master degree in documentary film directing (Docnomads) from three prominent European Universities ( Lusofona University, Lisbon, University of Theatre and Film Arts, Budapest, and Sint LUKAS International University, Brussels). He also studied English literature at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh. Sohel teaches film in different universities and institutes in Portugal and Bangladesh as an invited filmmaker. He is the director and chief organizer of Mostra de Cinema sul Asiatico, Lisbon, Portugal.

See here for a trailer of the film.
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