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New film: Dignified documentary on the battle of the textile workers

Documentary depicts five turbulent years in Bangladesh’s textile industry seen from the workers’ perspective. A proud and self-aware documentary that portrays the workers as human beings instead of victims.
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Angry men and women under red flags and powerful protests open the film ‘Udita’. A women says:“In one factory I succeeded with getting 530 workers organised in a union and we opened an office at the factory. There are four million workers in the textile factories in Bangladesh and we are not stopping until they are all organised in a union”.There are no passive victims. Only men and women who fight for their rights and unsentimental scenes from their everyday lives.

The directors Hannan Majid and Richard York from Rainbow Collective have filmed in Bangladesh for years and have earlier produced two documentaries: ‘The Machinist’ (2010) and ‘Tears in fabric’ (2013). Their newest documentary ‘Udita’ weaves together recordings from the past two films with new shootings and succeeds in drawing a neat portrait of how the battle for better conditions in the textile industry from 2010 to 2015 is slowly paying off.
Udita, which translates to ‘arise’, is also the story of dawning self-awareness and collective identity in an industry that only really caught the World’s attention after the disaster at Rana Plaza and the fatal fire at the factory Tazreen.

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More than just victims

We meet Razia Begum who lost her two daughters and a son-in-law when Rana Plaza collapsed and Shohibita Rani who tells us about being caught in the flames at Tazreen. These are stories that stick to your mind but ‘Udita’ does not decay to the victim clichés that unfortunately often shape the documentaries and the journalism on the textile industry in Bangladesh.

All too often female workers are portrayed only as helpless victims that the Western consumers should sympathize with and rescue.

‘Udita’ is not about the guilt of the Western consumer and the directors have left out the voice over, experts and observers who traditionally tell us what must be done. There are not just close ups of sad faces in dimmed lighting telling stories of abuse and broken dreams.

What is left is female workers as active players who tell their own stories. And we follow them in their everyday lives at home, in the streets and at the union office. They are not waiting for their rescuers.

At glance from within

The five-year-course of the documentary makes it possible to portray the increased professional organisation among the textile workers that peaked in 2013 when violent protests led to the first increase in the minimum wage.

The film is first of all an important counterweight to the conventional portrayals of the textile industry in Bangladesh where workers are often reduced to passive extras in a show where the leading roles belong to international fashion corporations, factory owners and Western consumers.

There is a chance this positive portrayal of the laborers’ organisation and the self-awareness of the seamstresses will leave you with an image that is a little too optimistic. ‘Udita’ is not the film that makes you wiser on how small a part of the workers that are actually organised, the problems with fake unions or the state’s missing protection of the unions. ‘Udita’ offers a good insight into the lives of the seamstresses and the construction of a collective identity as workers. However, it is of course also a limited insight that does not educate you on the systemic issues under which the industry suffers.

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