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The Day Shall Dawn: the studio

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The Day Shall Dawn: preparing to shoot
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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In 1958 came my second experience of the Third World when I was asked to make a film in what is now Bangladesh. And, I went out there round about Christmas time and, in fact, they said, it's essential that we get there before Christmas as- I would've liked to spend Christmas in England, but the director, whose name is Aaejay Kardar, and he became a very good friend for many years later, insisted that it's absolutely essential that we get there before Christmas. So, we went out. I was accompanied by my old friend John Fletcher and his recently married wife, Marlene, did the continuity, and John did the sound and- and helped generally. Then we had Satyajit Ray's assistant director, Santi Chatterjee, he was the assistant director, and I was a great admirer of Satyajit Ray, so I was looking forward to the opportunity of discussing all that with him. He spoke very good English. But the crew- That was about it. The crew was very, very small indeed. At that time I had my own Arriflex so I brought that out there with the usual delays of customs that I'd already become accustomed to from Greece. Very similar. In fact one Pakistani official once said to me- you British, meaning you British, you may have invented bureaucracy, but we have perfected it. So we spent hours at the airport, you know, clearing the gear and all that. And, Dhaka at that time, was a relatively quiet, small town, as Indian towns go, Indian and Pakistani, it's the same to me. And we first were quartered in a place called The Rumna Resthouse, which was a modest- It was like an inn really, or like a hostel more than a hotel, and the food was pretty monotonous and very hot. Now I don't mind spicy food, but this was, this was pretty spicy, and occasionally you liked to have a respite from, from very spicy food. So after a while, we persuaded Kardar, which wasn't very difficult, that we would move into the city's only so-called luxury hotel, which was a 12-storey concrete building, like they all are nowadays. And, he didn't mind. He also thought, well maybe the Rumna Resthouse is a little bit primitive, we can do better that for our English guests. So we moved into the Shabagh Hotel and that proved to have problems of it's own, which I'll come back to later. But, we- within a week or so of arriving, and this was within days of Christmas now, we went out to the village which involved a taxi trip in ramshackle very ramshackle old American Buicks and Chevrolets from the town of Dhaka to the port of Dhaka , which had a separate name, it was called Narayanganj, which is a bit like Athens and Piraeus. And- That area of Bangladesh consists of, what they call ponds, which is areas of water divided by embankments. Along some of the embankments the roads run. And they're quite narrow and these cars used to drive breakneck speed down these embankments, and we always had our hearts in our mouths, and said- slow down, for God's sake, we're not in a hurry! Anyway, and there were terrible stories about if they run somebody over, the crowd will gather and they'll cut the driver's hands off, on the spot. So we were a bit sort of- But nothing like that ever happened. Then you got to this port of Narayanganj and you got on- yes, and then came the drama of the two launches. Initially we had just one launch which was waiting for us. We got on board; all this was fairly leisurely. There was always something missing that delayed our departure, but we finally departed, and we went down the beautiful river Meghna, which is part of the system of the Ganges Delta, really. And, it was a two and a half to three-hour trip, I seem to remember, down to the village of Shaitnol which was deep in the Bangladeshi countryside. Bangladesh at that time was called East Pakistan. And, and he said, Kardar, the director, told us that the materials for the hut, we were going to have two Nissen huts that had been donated by the Pakistani military, and he said, the stuff has been sent ahead so the huts will probably be ready by now. So we got off at the village. Again, very primitive, a little rickety wooden pier, hardly worthy of the name. You could get off this launch and go ashore. And a small crowd gathered, of course, to watch us, because it was a very unusual event. Then we walked across the fields to the site where the - near the village. There's a little village called Shaitnol, and then near the village, but not in the village, was this site where these two huts were to be erected. And the materials for the erection of the hut were lying on the ground and the people, the erection crew, were asleep on top of the materials, and that was it. So the urgency evaporated. I said- well, you know, we could've stayed in England till, till this was done. But even to communicate between the village and the town was not exactly easy. There weren't any radiotelephones, or any telephones, or any kind of communication. You had to send word down there, and then word would come back. It was a bit like the Middle Ages, by stagecoach. So, so we went back to our Shabagh Hotel. Then began a series of journeys to and fro. The film was made over a period of five months. And we used to shoot for eight days, ten days, down at the village and then we gathered everything together, all the film, and brought it back to Dhaka, where there was a film laboratory, which was government-owned and there was a studio as well. Well, you could call it a studio, but it was a bit primitive.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Duration: 6 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008