Lauren Anders Brown’s Shanti Khana is a film well, well worth seeking out.
Director: Lauren Anders Brown
Cast: Ashley Judd (narration)
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Anna Cale
Imagine having to flee from your home, leaving your life and loved ones behind. How would you face the harsh realities of a life lived in fear as you search for a place of peace? Directed, produced and filmed by Lauren Anders Brown, with narration from Ashley Judd, short documentary Shanti Khana follows the journey of Rohingya Muslim women who have escaped persecution in Myanmar and now call the makeshift refugee camps of Bangladesh their home.
This poetic and compelling documentary is a snapshot of one woman’s story told through her eyes, as she faces the new realities of the everyday. Life for pregnant Minara is now confusing and disconcerting. Simple acts like trying to wash, to feed her family and keep them safe are challenging. In the makeshift shelters, there are no walls, just one room. There’s no privacy for women and girls to move around safely. Each day requires the navigation of an unfamiliar process, but human connections remain. When Minara has an examination in the camp medical tent and they find her baby’s heartbeat, the midwife is as delighted as she is. There is still joy found in the shared female experiences here.
The film is beautifully shot and paced. We view the camp through Minara’s eyes, but sometimes we also travel beside her, experiencing for ourselves the hustle and bustle and endless noise. Sometimes we see things from behind a curtain or from under water, our view obscured or captured in slow motion, adding to the sense of disorientation. This is the story of one woman, but it’s also the story of all the Rohingya women. Minara’s identity is slowly revealed throughout the film as it builds a picture of her daily life. In the last few frames, we finally see her face as she spends time in Shanti Khana, a women-only safe space where they are encouraged to talk openly and share what they’ve been though.
As Ashley Judd’s heartfelt narration reminds us, these women are survivors for a reason. They are resilient and strong, as they fight battles each day just for food, water and shelter. But Shanti Khana gives them a place of peace, somewhere to find strength together. The film ends joyfully, with the women sharing and talking, smiling and dancing together. Minara’s final words capture that feeling of hope: “I do not know what is in my future… but I know I am not afraid.”