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The film 'The Ice Cream Sellers' comes to Eugene

Sohel Rahman stands in front of the doors of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Jill Burke
Documentary filmmaker Sohel Rahman stands in front of the front doors of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. His film "The Ice Cream Sellers" documents the human rights crisis faced by the Rohingya, an ethnic minority in Myanmar.

On April 19, the University of Oregon will host a free screening of the documentary film “The Ice Cream Sellers.” The film chronicles the human rights crisis of the Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar whom the United Nations has called “the most persecuted minority in the world.”

Documentary filmmaker Sohel Rahman traveled to a refugee camp in Bangladesh in 2017 to capture what life is like for the nearly one million Rohingya who have either fled or been forced from their homeland.

Lack of legal standing and citizenship heightens the vulnerability of the refuges and their families, who face violence, exploitation, and genocide. They are also barred from work and attending schools due to their status.

Rahman knew he’d encounter suffering. But he also found hope.

His film weaves the two together as he follows a brother and sister through the camp as they sell frozen ice treats to make money. He first encountered the siblings as he sat in a shelter, taking a break from his research. He recalls it was a hot and dusty day, with no green trees and no cold water, when along came two children selling frozen, sweetened ice to raise money to bribe a prison guard and free their father.

Rahman was struck by the powerful impact of the moment, by the intertwining of suffering and joy, and knew following the ice cream sellers throughout the camp would allow him to balance the trauma and horror of genocide with the innocence and hope of childhood.

“They have nothing. But they [the children] have this ability to create their childhood, to create this spirit and laughter,” Rahman said in an interview with KLCC ahead of the film’s screening.

Kathie Carpenter, a global studies professor with the university, sought the money to bring Rahman and his film to campus. The crisis faced by the Rohingya isn’t talked about enough, she said.

“When I talk about the Rohingya, the response from students is always the same," said Carpenter. "They're stunned. And then they're outraged. And they say, ‘Why didn't anybody tell me about this? Why haven't I heard about this? Why are we talking about this? Why isn't anybody doing anything about it?'"

For Rahman, the screening is an opportunity to bring the conversation outside the classroom to the broader community.

“I want the people, my audience, to talk about these people that deserve justice, that deserve their fundamental rights, that deserve to live in this world, happily, [with] their family and friends,” Rahman said.

A free showing of “The Ice Cream Sellers” begins at 5:00 PM Wednesday, April 19, at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, followed by a discussion with the director.

Jill Burke became KLCC's arts reporter in February, 2023.