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The Cover Designed by Ravi Jadhav, the cover is representative of the magazine’s contents. It shows, in an anti-clockwise direction, stills from Robert Flaherty’s documentary classic Nanook of the North (1), Chris Marker’s experimental classic Sans Soleil (2), Bangladesh filmmaker Tareque Masud shooting one of his documentaries (3) against the backdrop of a still from the Bangladesh film The Women of Kisani Sabha (4), which was shown at M.I.F.F. 2002.

5 Social Reality, Documentary Truth & Videotape Author and documentary filmmaker Sanjit Narwekar discusses how the advent of video technology has changed the nature of documentary filmmaking in India. He makes a case for the use of video citing examples from some of the more prominent video diocumentaries.

11 Second-Class Citizens of Cinema? Documentary filmmaker Phillip Adams attempts to answer why documentary filmmakers are still considered subservient to feature filmmakers in spite of winning so many laurels and being the Research and Development department of cinema. An eye-opener of an article!!

18 The Digital Revolution and The Future Cinema The speech made by Samira Makhmalbaf at the Cannes Festival when she made her debut as the youngest filmmaker in the world. She was only 22 years of age but her words are prophetic and still relevant.


23 Rediscovering a Gandhi film Journalist T.S.Subramaniam follows the trail of an abridged version of a long-lost documentary on Mahatma Gandhi, made by A.K.Chettiar, with the commentary in English, which is traced in the United States almost sixty years after it was first made. The original Tamil, Telugu and Hindi versions remain elusive.

26 Nurturing the Wanderlust An interview with Gaurav Jani, the maker of Riding Solo to the Top of the World, the film which is sweeping all the awards since 2006 when it was first shown at M.I.F.F. 2006 and even bagged two prestigious awards.

30 The Evolution of Experimental Documentary Deborah Girdwood, co-founder of the Northwest Film Forum, a non-profit organization in Seattle, USA that supports local filmmaking, traces the evolution of the experimental documentary.

37 Bangladesh Documentaries: Cinema with a Cause Bangladesh documentary filmmakers and observers Alamgir Kabir and Tareque Mokammel discuss the past, present and future of Bangladesh’s fractured documentary movement in the first in a series of articles which takes a look at out neighbouring cinemas.

60 Understanding the World of Video Starting a new series of technical articles which will introduce the documentary filmmaker to the art of the digital documentary.

Plus • The latest News from the world of documentary films • The latest Documentary Films • The complete list of documentary award-winners at the 53rd National Film Festival • Letters to the Editor


From The Editor’s Desk

Editor Kuldeep Sinha Executive Editor Sanjit Narwekar Production Co-ordinator Anil Kumar Cover Design Ravi Jadhav Printed at Work Center Offset Printers (I) Pvt Ltd. A2/32, Shah & Nahar Industrial Estate, S. J. Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400013 Tel.: 24943227 / 24929261 Published by Films Division, 24, Dr.Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg, Mumbai 400026 Tel.: 23510461 / 23521421

The general apathy that most people exhibit towards documentary films stems from the step-motherly treatment accorded to this genre of cinema vis-à-vis entertainment films. The mandatory “compulsory screening” of documentary films before a feature film – though considered most appropriate and necessary soon after independence so as to educate and inform the vast majority of unlettered citizens of the country – proved to be a misconceived policy in the years to come. This visual representation of reality was widely considered to be the most potent medium to reach out to the general masses to spread the message of the strides being taken by the new-born nation. Hence, a captive audience starved of entertainment was made to ‘watch’ these utterly un-entertaining documentaries and newsreels. As there was no other popular means of ‘Education’ and ‘Information’, people reluctantly accepted these films. In fairness, it must be said that a majority of the audiences enjoyed the films and today actually miss them in the theatres. Old timers still have fond memories of the Films Division’s Newsreels. The films amply served the purpose for which they were made. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had this dream that films should cross fertilise the imagination of the Indian public. He wanted films to carry the culture of different parts of India to the other parts so that everyone understood the essence of being Indian. Later, in the 1960s, when the documentaries of the early 1950s had begun to look trite and pedestrian, more in the nature of tourist office pamphlets than serious incisive studies of people and situations, it was the Films Division which provided the lead. Jehangir aka Jean Bhownagary, who had left for a UNESCO job after a brief period at the Films Division in the 1950s where he had distinguished himself with several films on the arts, was brought back as Chief Advisor(Films) at the specific request of Mrs Indira Gandhi, then Minister of Information & Broadcasting. He was given what a creative man values the most: a free hand! In the new mood that began to emerge DOCUMENTARY TODAY

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at the Films Division, a whole new set of filmmakers came to the fore. These filmmakers gave a new twist to age-old topics by putting forth the views of the man-on-the-street. Along with that Bhownagary encouraged experimentation on film which resulted in a veritable explosion of forms and styles. The Films Division films of the 1960s are still a treat to watch. Whatever may be the view almost sixty years after the fact there is no denying that Films Division’s documentaries and newsreels have served a definite purpose with its highly effective narratives and visual communication style and extensive reach which contributed more meaningfully than the written words, all through the White and Green Revolutions of the Sixties and Seventies. When the Films Division came into existence, there were hardly 75 documentary filmmakers in the country. Today, sixty years later, there are 7500 and more are joining the ranks with the increase in media courses. A hundred-fold rise!! This in itself is not a mean achievement and can only contribute to the growth of documentaries and the documentary movement! Those filmmakers who wanted to be identified with the grassroots chose to become documentary filmmakers or opted to make reality films and there is no doubt that the seeds were sown by the documentaries made by Films Division. In its endeavour to reach out to the masses and, indeed fulfill the role that had been thrust upon it by the first Prime Minister of this country, Films Division has intentionally chronicled the achievements of a post independent India, thus recording its history in a visual format. The Films Division Archive is, therefore, a golden heritage of independent India with more than 8000 titles covering a wide spectrum of every imaginable theme and subject. Animation, which has become a thriving industry today, was pioneered by the Films Division in the Sixties. Most of the top animators practicing today are a product of the Films Division where they gained their experience and expertise in animation films during their early formative years. The fact that Films Division has made some of the most significant documentary films in the country have been recognised by films festivals the world over. 6

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As the Film Division enters its 60th year we could also boast about – or, at the very least, talk about – the more than 2000 national and international awards and recognitions which the organisation has garnered over the years – something no other public organization can match! Today, celluloid might have been replaced by digital technology! The actual reality of documentaries might have been replaced by the reality shows of television! Thousands of neo-realistic documentary filmmakers might have mushroomed because of digital technology. Does it mean that Film Division has lost its relevance? Isaac Newton had once defined gravity force and the definition is still valid. Similarly, the Films Division had added a chapter on “Documentaries” in the history of Indian cinema and it is still relevant. What’s more, it still gives refuge to short filmmakers and promotes the documentary movement in India. Which other organization can claim to do that? We should now move forward with the times and technology. These documentary films need to come out of their dependency on uninterested exhibitors whose main concern has been and will be BUSINESS. With the advent of the digital format and its ready acceptance by documentary filmmakers, thus making documentary film production cheaper, why shouldn’t these films become a part of our daily lives? Why cannot they supplement the school syllabus? Why cannot they find a place in regular screenings by film clubs/ societies all over the country? Why cannot documentary films be marketed in the digital format — as VCDs and DVDs? There is always a demand for such films. Films Division once again has to take the lead and make documentaries acceptable to households. Films Division must free itself from the stranglehold of the age-old “commentary” format and experiment with new styles and treatment in documentary production to explore newer avenues and possibilities to interact with people everywhere. As it is, only the Films Division has the means and the expertise to catapult documentary films into a new arena of growth.

Kuldeep Sinha


LEAD STORY

Social R eality, D ocumentary T ruth Reality, Documentary Truth & V ideotape Videotape By Sanjit N arwekar Narwekar

Parth Arora’s As The River Flows (1997), a film which comprises a single moving shot

No one really knows who made the first documentary on video but there is unanimous agreement that the first use of video for filming documentary material must have been sometime in the early 1980s. At first video was merely an adjunct to film and was primarily used simply as a different delivery mechanism – in that, existing feature films (made on 35 mm) were transferred onto low-end video (VHS) so as to facilitate their distribution to a larger viewing public – a majority of it in the home viewing segment – and if there were any loss in either visual clarity or viewing size it was to be “suffered” if only because of the larger viewership that it entailed. Much of the viewing on video was, therefore, of

feature films, which have always been the priority among the hoi polloi. It was only when commercial television started in India that “low band” videography achieved a modicum of respectability. It was still looked down upon by the 35 mm filmmaker but there was enough choice exercised for it to feed the idiot box. Filmmakers who had been unable to make it in the big bad world of feature films quickly adapted themselves to it as means of continuing to work in cinema. Thus, among the first filmmakers to convert to the medium of low band video, apart from the television serial producers, were undoubtedly the advertising filmmakers who needed to make

advertising films only for “commercial” television without having to bother about theatrical releases. And it must not have been long before some local “visionary” saw in the medium the potential to service a client with short term needs – mainly the corporate client who needed a film for a one-time screening like the annual general meeting or a product launch. Video, it was soon discovered, was the ideal “disposable” medium for such occasions. The use of video for documenting social processes was first mooted by Lord Donald Snowden, who had developed a process whereby community members were able to DOCUMENTARY TODAY

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articulate their problems, ideas and vision on films that were later screened to community members at facilitated community discussion forums – later to be known as the Fogo Process because it was first used on the Fogo Islands. In 1983 Snowden was asked by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to explore the possibility of using small format video and the Fogo Process approach to bring together the physical engineering and social interests

countless community development workers around the world. But that is another story! All through the 1980s video steadily gained ground in India – primarily in the realm of television programming – but it was only in the 1990s that it began to take dramatic strides. The first to latch on to it were the activistfilmmakers who saw in it a cheaper alternative with which to propagate their message. The fact that the

The video format also gained quick popularity in the documentary sector primarily because of its lightness, adaptability and maneuverability. concerned with small-scale water control structures for improved agriculture in Bangladesh. It was while working on this project that Snowden died suddenly on April 4, 1984 in Hyderabad, India, where he was attending the first meeting of the National Council for Development Communications. Whatever dreams Lord Snowden may have had of using video technology for community work in the Third World quickly dissolved and it was left to another participatory video pioneer, Tony Williamson, to introduce the Fogo Process to

equipment was lighter and easy to use was an added advantage. Thus video technology not only demystified the filmmaking process but also democratized it so that literally anyone with a few lessons in the use of the camera could now make films. Also, because the process did not require a sophisticated film laboratory to “process and print” the final product, the advent of video also decentralized the making of films. Earlier, the production centers in India had been confined to areas where film laboratory facilities were available – primarily in

A Magic Mystic Marketplace (1995) directed by Ranjan Palit

the metro cities of Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Now this was no longer necessary and so, video production units came up even in the interiors. The video format also gained quick popularity in the documentary sector primarily because of its lightness, adaptability and maneuverability. Noted Indian filmmaker Anand Patwardhan who is a pioneer of sorts in the realm of the investigative documentary says, “When I started to make documentaries, video did not exist here. If it had, it would have been a natural option. I shot Waves of Revolution, my first film, on 8 mm! Now I have both choices – film and video – and I would choose video if I wanted to document something over a long time, to portray it very intimately.” In spite of its advantages, many filmmakers had serious issues with the use of video: that of durability. They felt that since video did not have the permanence of celluloid it could only be used for short-term needs. Wrote Kolkata-based short filmmaker Jagannath Guha, “Understandably, some programmes are best made on videotape, yet there are some whose contextual permanence, or record value, can be kept best by photographic emulsion.” It is for this reason that many a television programme shot in the early days of television was on 35 mm or, at the very least, on 16 mm. For example, the first dozen episodes of Shyam Benegal’s monumental television epic Discovery of India and all the episodes of Govind Nihalani’s Partition epic Tamas were shot on 35 mm. The first big fillip that the video movement received was when the Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films (better known by its acronym MIFF) introduced the Video Vista section in its third 1994 edition “bowing to the demands of short filmmakers in India”. Commenting on then films entered in the Video Vista section, its chairperson Pradeep Dixit wrote, “Comprehension of the video media is lacking in many

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cases. Video is used as just an alternative to celluloid and not handled as an independent medium with its enormous possibilities. The same kind of ideas, treatments and concepts in presentation in script form seem to have been transferred to a video format.” It was an admissible complaint because most filmmakers had switched over to the video format because they could not afford celluloid and not because there was a specific making or viewing politics to it. That would come much later! A perusal of the films unspooled at the Video Vista section of MIFF 1994 demolishes the popularly-held belief that the activist-filmmakers were the first to adapt to the video format because of its cheapness, adaptability and maneuverability. A majority of the MIFF entries were on subjects, which could be categorized as “Films Division” staples: biography, culture, history and tourism. Many of the films were hangovers from television cultural (the Surabhi episodes) and current affairs programmes. The notable socially relevant films to emerge from this selection were Madhushree Dutta’s I Live In Behrampada, Dewakar Goswami’s The Killing Fields of Andhra Pradesh and Rama Jha’s Ladies Compartment

From Phillip Padachira’s 1995 video film Ab Gussa Nahin Aata

the International Symposium on New Technologies and the Democratisation of Audiovisual Communication, convened by Videazimut and CENDIT in New Delhi on February 12, 1994. The Conference was attended by media producers, users and distributors, communication researchers and teachers and representatives of many community-based and national organisations who have come from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Denmark, France, Hong

Video is used as just an alternative to celluloid and not handled as an independent medium with its enormous possibilities. The same kind of ideas, treatments and concepts in presentation in script form seem to have been transferred to a video format. to name but a few. There was a smattering of experimental films like painter Nalini Malini’s City of Desires and Sumana Kasturi’s Circle of Energy but that was about all. There were no startling discoveries.

Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Palestine, the Philippines, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

While MIFF 1994 was underway in Mumbai another important event was making waves in New Delhi. This was

The mastermind behind the conference was The Centre For Development of Instructional Technology (better known

by its acronym CENDIT), which is a non profit society formed in 1972 to provide information and communication support to NGOs, activists, people’s institutions and other agencies involved in development and social change. Over the years CENDIT had not only produced several hundred video films on developmental issues with and for grassroots groups, it had also conducted a large number of workshops and training programmes in participatory communication and video production in the South Asia region. It had also begun to provide equipment and facilities to activists, grassroot workers and independent filmmakers to make programmes on issues of public interest, thus equipping them with the means of documenting and interpreting their own reality. The New Delhi conference articulated CENDIT’s work and provided a manifesto of sorts for the movement. The conference noted “information and communications was dominated by corporate and military interests and thus was a serious threat to democracy, cultural diversity, and the evolution of civil society. It also noted that “an increasing number of people have come to recognise the considerable potential social and political benefits of the new technologies and are DOCUMENTARY TODAY

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opposing the corporate and state control of information and communications.4” At the conclusion of the conference the participants noted, “Individuals are not born consumers; information is not a commodity, but rather a utility to be shared” and concluded: We believe in the pressing need for global democracy, rather than a global supermarket, and affirm our unity in support of the following: • All peoples and individuals shall have the right to communicate freely, to utilise the tools of communication and to inform themselves and others. • Airwaves and satellite paths are a global people’s resource to be administered equitably, with a significant portion devoted to serving the public interest and for community use. • We oppose the militarisation of space and the exploitation of space for corporate interests. Any exploitation of airwaves, transmission channels and earth orbits should be subject to a public levy to be used to support local community expression, to facilitate non-commercial information exchange, and to contribute to

Evarkalum Manitharkalthan, directed by R. C. Sampathkumar, is about the annual ritualistic worship conducted by hijras (hermaphrodites)

order to nurture and sustain cultural diversity and humanitarian values. Writing in the Video Vista booklet in 1996 filmmaker Paromita Vohra observed, “CENDIT’s activities are now greatly reduced and perhaps some of their videos were stronger on sincerity than style but there’s no question that it created a vital base for the growth of documentary filmmaking, demystifying the process,

An increasing number of people have come to recognise the considerable potential social and political benefits of the new technologies and are opposing the corporate and state control of information and communications. equitable distribution of information technologies. • Communication and information technologies must be used to facilitate participatory democracy and the development of civil society, and not to limit democratic rights. • Information systems exhibit great potential for real popular participation and should be organised according to the principles of decentralisation in 10

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seizing it to serve a purpose. CENDIT favoured the unorthodox approach and relied on interactive methods, using even the VHS format to produce several films on civil liberties issues, trade union movements and environmental action – the most successful among these were K.P.Sasi’s A Valley Refuses To Die and Avinash Deshpande’s Yateem Lahu." Yet another organization which propagated the use of participatory

video was the Ahmedabad-based Self Employed Women’s Association (or SEWA) a trade union formed in 1972 by activist Ela Bhatt in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The organisation’s first brush with video came about in 1984 when the late Martha Stuart, an international video communications expert from New York, held a three-week video production workshop at SEWA in Gujarat. Twenty women, most of them illiterate, took the workshop and began to make videos but for three years they had no editing equipment or expertise, so they shot their video productions in sequence. It was only in 1987 that they acquired editing equipment and training in its use. In 1994, 15 more women were trained in the use of video at the grassroots level and by 1999 the Video SEWA had acquired a full time staff of four women. The films are used for different things. Some are used for raising consciousness and advocacy. Some are training films, such as the films about oral rehydration therapy and building smokeless stoves. The women film significant events at SEWA as well as outside, and their new clips have been used nationally and internationally. The women discovered that “the instant


playback feature of video is one of its most empowering qualities; it enables continuous participation and immediate feedback. This aspect allows those who are the subject and those who run the technology to collaborate as equals.” Today SEWA uses video to motivate, mobilise and train their existing members, to organise new trade groups and new members in the existing trade groups. Their productions are used for teaching, informing and orienting. Video SEWA members lead and facilitate group discussions when their programmes are used. In the last decade this remarkable filmmaking collective has produced over one hundred films, thirty-nine of them complete and available to the public. In a rare case of continuity Martha Stuart’s son and daughter still come to India once a year to bring the group up-to-date on the latest technical innovations. Another collective of women’s filmmakers was the Delhi-based Mediastorm which comprised some of the early graduates of the Jamia Millia Mass Communications Institute, New Delhi. Writes Paromita Vohra, “Their films dealt intensely and incisively with women’s issues and matters of ethnic conflict. From The Burning Embers (on the Deorala Sati) and In Secular India (on the Muslim Women’s Bill) represent the energy and tenacity and also idealism, that suffused early efforts in video documentary making and gave impetus – a sense of possibility – to a renewed culture of documentary."

production units: 10 Audio Visual Research Centres (AVRCs) and 7 Educational Media Research Centres (EMRCs) all over the country. These Centres were expected to bring in not only an academic flavour to different subjects but also different cultural nuances. By the time the fourth edition of the festival, MIFF 1996, was held video technology had also made tremendous strides in the marketplace. Low band U-matic had yielded to High Band Umatic, which in its turn had yielded to Betacam. Along with it had come nonlinear editing suites and a whole range of 3D computer graphics, which could do things to the image which had not been hitherto imagined. The technology of cinema had not altered much in the last one hundred years but video was proving to be a technology straight out of Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock. No longer did the filmmaker have to fear last-minute changes in editing which, in analog, would have required redoing the whole edit. The real fear was that video would some day outdo celluloid itself though durability was still miles away! All these changes – social and technological – were reflected in the

form and content of the films shown at MIFF 1996. A competition section, with cash awards and trophies, had also been introduced thus providing a further fillip to video filmmaking, which was now at least recognized as a legitimate and professional format. The 35 mm filmmaker still looked down on the video-maker but at least he could no longer call his country cousin an amateur in the world of filmmaking. By MIFF 1998 an international video section had also been added to the festival thus bringing video filmmaking on par with celluloid documentary cinema. The proliferation of 24-hour news channels in India inspired by the super success of CNN during and after the Gulf War and the resulting competition amongst them for larger number of eyeballs has resulted in the production of quasi-documentary material. News itself has become more visual but the channels have been compelled to produce more current affairs material so as to create an USP (Unique Selling Proposition) for their channel – and in doing so they have also created several mini documentaries which have a life and relevance beyond the normal news day. These news channels have also created the concept of the hidden

Another Revolt, (1995) a video film directed by Shriprakash

Along with this, there was a proliferation of video made as educational tools. The Government of India initiated a project known as the Country-wide Classroom (CWCR), the objective of which was to take the facilities of the cities in the field of undergraduate education to the villages and suburban areas of India. CWCR tries to update, upgrade and enrich education at large. In order to make these programmes the University Grants Commission set up 17 DOCUMENTARY TODAY 11


camera, thanks to the digitalization and miniaturization of cameras. But the use of hidden spy cameras was not pioneered by the news channels. The pioneering spirit came from another media, one of the emerging technologies: the Internet. In the first year of the new century, in March 2001, two young reporters, Aniruddha Bahl and Mathew Samuels, of a news portal named tehelka.com created a sensation when they carried out a stunning expose using Hi8 spycam to record secret video footage of senior politicians, bureaucrats and army officers apparently taking money in connection with a fake defence deal. The rights to the edited four-and-a-half long footage was secured by a local television channel Zee News and telecast on prime time logging a viewership of near 100 per cent. A year before that the portal, headed by the feisty Tarun Tejpal, had carried out a similar sting operation with cricket players proving that there was large-scale betting involved in the game but this expose was not as sensational as the one carried out in the case of the fake defence deal (codenamed Operation West End). However, not everyone was convinced that the tapes were genuine and there were many like freelance filmmaker Milin Kapoor, who took up the study of the tapes “as an academic exercise”, who openly claimed that the tapes had been tampered. Even as the case is still before the Justice Venkataswami Commission there has, in the fading months of the current year, emerged one more spycam scandal in which a regional politician has sought to get even with his poltical adversary. This case has also excited enough curiousity and brought the humble spycam to the fore. By the turn of the century even the lower formats like Hi8 and DV Mini were being used by documentary filmmakers and, more important, were being accepted in international film festivals as professionally-made films. For a few years it seemed that Hi8 12

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The Shame is Not Mine, a video film which deals with the bold theme of the stigma attached to a woman who has been raped

would emerge as the format for the documentary filmmaker but by the turn of the century the DV Mini and its corresponding DV Procam formats seemed to have gained wider acceptance – thanks to the advent of easy-to-handle and yet, professional cameras like the Sony PD-150 and Cannon XL-1 which have found favour with Indian documentary filmmakers like R.V.Ramani, who has shot many of his later films on the Sony PD-150. In fact, at the IDPA Awards of 2002 and 2003 a large number of the films entered were on the DV format and it was amazing to note the kind of subjects that were being tackled on this format. Just one example of such a film will suffice: Bleached Buds of Tomorrow, directed by Ravindra Choubey and Pranav Shrivasta, deals with the trials and tribulations of the “tribals” of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, who have had to face the problems of rapid urbanization. The film is so acutely of local interest that it would not have been viable on any other format. More than that, the film has been made under great opposition from the authorities (the forest officials who regularly harass the tribals) and hence, could only have been made with easy-to-maneuver equipment like the DV Mini.

And because it is so cheap and easy to use and yet, gives acceptable professional results that DV Mini is now becoming the format of choice for the innumerable students of cinema scattered all over the country except probably the Film and Television Institute of India, the premier film institute where 35 mm is still the norm – just as it is at the Films Division. In a sense video filmmaking – whether analogue or digital – has long overtaken the 35 mm format, which is now used only by the “government” filmmaker because only the Government now has the resources to make films in that format. This switch has still not been recognized by India’s National Awards, which only recognize entries in 35 mm or 16 mm thus creating a false situation where Films Division documentaries go on winning heaps of awards on sheer proxy. I believe that the best is yet to come. Indian documentary filmmakers have, time and again, demonstrated that they have the investigative spirit and an active social conscience. Given the availability of the right mix of audio visual technology the day is not far when the investigative social documentary from India will find its rightful place in the documentaries of the world.


OPINION D O CU M E N T AR Y F MAK E RS TA RY FII L M MMAK MAKE

SecondClass Citizens of Cinema? econd-Class By Phillip A dams Adams My heart goes out to you, you poor chaps. For you are the second-class citizens of cinema. Not for you the theatrical release, the pole position in a network’s schedule, the pride of place on Oscar night or at the AFI Awards. Not for you the red carpet at the funding bodies. You are not head of the queue when it comes to political clout or ministerial access. If you’re reviewed it is an after-thought, an act of kindness, of condescension. For almost as long as there’s been a film industry, the documentary-maker has been grateful if he or she was allowed to play second fiddle. In orchestral terms, the instruments available were less desirable, akin to the kazoo and triangle. Look, let’s have a grizzle about this up front. The top bananas in film, the big wheels, the heavy hitters, the chosen people, those with the inside running, the big shots are those

involved in features. They get the accolades, the big budgets, the adoring publics, the political focus. The lion’s share. In the modern era of filmmaking it’s the feature director who makes the money, attracts the political groupies, gets to sign autographs. He or she is on the Great White Way while you, you documentary riff-raff, are so off Broadway that you’re in the boon docks. And it’s just not fair. Now, I might say that I detect a similar gap, gulf, whatever, between the journalist and the fiction writer. Both of us deal in words but our words are deemed inferior. Oh, we get invited to writers’ weeks but only to interview the authors. We’re lower case W writers. They’re capital W writers. And the fact is the overwhelming majority of them couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag does not come into it. So it’s

Anita Kanwar in Mani Kaul’s Mati Manas, a film which traces the history of pottery

not merely my undying loyalty to the doco that brings me here. It’s a hint of fellow feeling. I, too, belong to the ranks of the under-appreciated. But it would be regarded as graceless and self-serving to make that point very loudly – and it would be an exercise in futility because the fiction writers would win hands down. They’ve got all the bases loaded. Better, I think, for me to come along and identify with another oppressed minority. It wasn’t so long ago that I was cutting the ribbon at the premiere screening of Rats in the Ranks. I began by asserting that it takes greater skills to make a good doco than it does an FAQ feature film. You’d be surprised – or perhaps you wouldn’t – at how many highly regarded feature directors don’t deserve their reputations, because their modest abilities have been camouflaged by the process of collaboration. Apart from the vast dollops of dough involved in a feature, you’ve got executive producers and producers and line producers and designers and art directors and foley artists and prop buyers and wig makers and dialogue coaches and clapper loaders and writers and agents and actors and grips and best boys and special effects people. All of them helping produce the finished product. To an extent that if the director just sat on the set reading the newspaper or sulked in his or her caravan – and there are well-known cases in both categories – his or her presence would scarcely be noticed. Libel laws constrain me from naming the well-known local directors whose contribution to their films has been DOCUMENTARY TODAY 13


mercifully minimal – for all the rave reviews and AFI Awards. Whereas doco-makers have to get something up on the screen pretty much on their Pat Malone. Few if any have writers, actors, designers, art directors, first assistance, back-scratchers, gophers. You name it, they don’t have it. Instead of a vast team working together from a detailed script and/or storyboards, the classic doco involves a handful of people. It results in a film with perhaps half a dozen credits, instead of closing titles that emulate the pianola roll. For what you see on the screen is usually done on the smell of an oily rag. And in a context where nothing was predictable. In a feature film you may have a few problems with weather or budget or the tantrums of a thespian, either neurotic, overpaid or both, but by and large it’s a wellorganised, ordered and predictable process. The feature film, in the golden age of the studios, was pretty much a factory product and for all the impact of the so-called independents it largely remains so in the US. Whereas the hunter-gatherer documentary, as we know it in the trade, is utterly unpredictable. You’re up there on the

Flaherty’s class study of the Inuit in Nanook of the North

feature film industry is remarkable circumscribed, inhibited by habit, constrained by genre. It has to obey the whims of marketing, be deployed against a given demographic and of course, it has to distort its casting in deference to the demands of the megastars – so that an extraordinary

The hunter-gatherer documentary, as we know it in the trade, is utterly unpredictable. You’re up there on the high wire without a safety net. You’re not driving the story – you’re running after it, desperately trying to give shape, form and coherence. high wire without a safety net. You’re not driving the story – you’re running after it, desperately trying to give shape, form and coherence. And you’re using, by and large, real people. Volatile, ratbaggy, unpredictable, uncontrollable people who, at any moment, can spit the dummy. On one level, it seems you can make a feature film on just about anything. That you’re not limited by topic or location. But in practical terms, the 14

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variety of characters come out looking and sounding exactly like Tom Cruise or Nicole Kidman, for example. Whereas the documentary maker casts from the entire human population. And inhuman population. After all, how many feature films have you seen starring termites. Or aardvark. Whilst daring producers and directors do break some of the rules of features from time to time, there are many rules that are never broken. One of them, of

course, concerns the pulchritude of the leading lady. Another is the fact that whenever you turn on a TV set it immediately provides you with some information, or a news flash, that is imperative to the plot. Traditionally, documentary filmmakers focused on simple, single-minded propositions like Flaherty’s class study of the Inuit in Nanook of the North. But the Connollys, for example, liked to do things differently, confronting greater orders of difficulties. Hence their remarkable work in PNG – the so-called Highlands Trilogy of First Contact, Joe Leahy’s Neighbours and Black Harvest, a sequence of films that I see as comparable to those great fictional narratives Donskoy’s Gorky Trilogy or Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy. The slowly emerging tragedy those films recorded – often tragicomically – are amongst the finest achievements in our film industry. Yet the Connollys, and the handful of doco-makers of comparable excellence are not as widely known as they should be. When Australians think of filmmakers, they chant the litany of Weir, Beresford, Schepisi, Noyce, Armstrong, Campion, Miller. Its their


genius the film critics – in my view little more than members of the publicists’ extended family – sing their praises, to the exclusion of all else. The doco-makers make do with the crumbs from the rich man’s table. They are the rural sector of Australian filmmaking, in the back of beyond that John Heyer discovered all those years ago, as compared to the big city industries. And this is absolutely wrong. Bob and Robin are major artists and few, very few, of our umpteen features come within a country mile of the Highlands Trilogy for depth of observation, let alone for characterization or plot. Perhaps because our documentary industry has to fight for the aforementioned crumbs that docoproduction has become competitive to the point of acrimonious. And instead of fighting for the common cause, there’s been a tendency amongst documentary makers to fight each other. Now, this isn’t unusual in other spheres or realms. Take politics. Only a fool believes that the great struggles in Australian politics are between the political parties. They’re not. They’re within them. The greatest hatreds, the bitterest feuds, occur within the ALP, between the factions, in the stacked branches, in the bloody battles for everything from pre-selection to the ministerial ballot. It’s exactly the same on the other side of the House, amidst the Libs and the Nats. But I must say,

the back-biting, bitchiness and bitterness one observes amongst documentary makers, often intensified, justified or camouflaged by matters of ideology or theory, seem to get just a little bit out of control. For my own part, I’m a pluralist. Oh, I have my views and values – and rejoice in a high quality of enemy. But I’ve never really wanted to ban or censor the views of others, even the views of those I despise. Or even fear. Whereas, it has to be said, from time to time, and I think

that get four or five stars. This demonstrates the over-excitement generated by the feature industry which can result in an excruciatingly twee effort like The English Patient being treated with veneration more appropriate to Battleship Potemkin then we’re in trouble. In my view, everyone should notch their palpitating excitements, their gushing enthusiasms, by orders of magnitude, so that the majority of films get one or two stars or no stars at all, leaving three,

Instead of fighting for the common cause, there’s been a tendency amongst documentary makers to fight each other. one often sees such a time in the wrangling around the AFI Awards, things do get a little out of control. Better, surely, to confront the common enemy, the overpaid, over-praised, over-privileged bastards who make feature films. The people who claim to be critics who rave about them and the audiences, remarkably uncritical, who flock to see them. Incidentally, if our better known critics – reviewers would be a more accurate term, if not publicists – are to be taken seriously, something I find extremely difficult, you’d get the feeling that this was a golden age of cinema because, every week, there’s another half dozen films

A study of personality... from Shyam Benegal’s classic documentary Nehru

four or more for the occasional, unequivocal masterpiece. But then, everything about the feature film is feverish, excessive, particularly the marketing. These days it is not enough to rave about a feature film but it is essential to see it within nanoseconds of its release. So it can notch up one of those big openings, or big weekends. Out of sociological interest I dragged myself along to see Jurassic Park II – now there’s a load of old cobblers – and found myself sitting, literally, in an empty cinema. The film’s promotion had produced a sort of orgasmic response, with people exploding into cinemas as if they were sperm. But once the first weekend had passed, the film was becoming, already, ancient history. And the marketing techniques that applied to the dinosaur movies also applied to the dynamics of the art house. It’s not enough to be a member of the audience. You’ve got to be a fully fledged member of the team. You’ve got to get on the program. One of the reasons I loved Jane Campion’s early films – to the extent that, as chair of the AFC I urged we put her on a TLC list and do our best to market her to Giles Jacob, the arrogant chap who runs Cannes Film Festival – was because her films were cool, ironic, oblique. They stood back DOCUMENTARY TODAY 15


theatre seat was subject to g-forces. And I discovered that Brecht believed in something called epic theatre – where instead of conning an audience member into an emotional or intellectual response, he preferred to chuck ideas and energies at them, and through irony, through deliberate detachment, force you to come to your own conclusions, to make your own judgments. In other words, instead of being patronized, you were provoked. And again and again, in the almost half a century I’ve been watching films, its been the doco that’s done that for me.

Shabana Shaikh and nadira irani in Kisses on a Train, directed by Dinaz Stafford

from their subjects and observed them with the most delicious detachment. In other words, the films were not heavily manipulative or emotionally loaded. You weren’t subject to every trick in the trade – lighting, music, etc. – pushing you towards a specific emotional response. Campion seemed to be allowing you to draw on your own conclusions, to make your own judgment. Now, that’s a quality that I enjoy in some of my favourite documentaries. So imagine my shock, and disappointment, when The Piano came along. Here was a film that pulled out all the stops, that was as manipulative, as preposterously romanticized as anything I’ve ever seen. But at least the film reminded me why, little by little, I’ve fallen out of love with the feature. Oh, there are still nuggets amongst the dross, features that seem to me exceptional, worthy of at least one or two stars. Though, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve seen a four-star feature in years, let alone a five. Look, I’m troubled by the feature film. I find them increasingly calculated, slick and smart-arse. I tired of the luscious cinematography, of the digital effects, of the sleekness and slickness and gloss and glitz and stupefying sophistication and professionalism. The modern feature, particularly the American feature film, is a remarkable artifact, where a host of professional 16

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skills conspire to present a dog turd as a chocolate éclair. I find them increasingly annoying, underwhelming, boring. Whereas, conversely, I find the documentary film, and I’m talking across the genres, from huntergatherer to the bizarre and highly stylized, far more provocative and, yes, disturbing. To change media altogether. I was a theatre critic for the Bulletin some 40 years ago and spent a lot of time

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the industry, the feature industry and the television industry who treat the documentary filmmaker like dirt, or who debase the notion of the documentary, producing pseudodocumentaries on this or that topic, usually the allegedly supernatural or the schlock that passes as paranormal, how these people derive so many of their narrative devices from the documentary maker. And this is because, I submit, that my suspicions of fictional narratives in film and television are shared by an increasing percentage of the audience. And we look for evidence of authenticity, of

I find the documentary film, and I’m talking across the genres, from hunter-gatherer to the bizarre and highly stylized, far more provocative and, yes, disturbing. watching excruciatingly mediocre stage shows at Her Majesty’s, the Comedy, St Martin’s and the MTC. One in a hundred had much impact on me – for almost the same reasons as I’m describing with the features. You could feel your strings being pulled. And I’ve always resisted being manipulated, whether by artists or politicians. Then, one night, I was confronted by The Threepenny Opera, by Brecht and Weill. Not a particularly good production. As rough as bags, indeed. But it was so gusty, so raw and energetic and confronting, that I felt my

integrity, of realism, in our features and series. Look at The X-Files, with its socalled cult following. Some cult. It’s about as big as Christianity these days and is largely based on the fact that Chris Carter fills his scripts, from beginning to end, with documentary material. With the mannerisms of the documentary, including didactic statements of research material or those little supers at the bottom of frame, identifying this or that location. As the series developed Mr Carter also decided that he should use less and less lighting, less and less colour, so that


the early polychromatic episodes were replaced by increasingly glum, gloomy and chthonian images. Which he continued into his new series, the ludicrously gloomy and misanthropic Millennium where entire episodes seemed to be lit with somebody’s torch. Look at the highly successful work of Steve Boccho – from Hill Street Blues to NYPD Blue. In the former, you had an attempt at social realism, at thematic and visual grittiness, picking up where British series like Cars and Softly Softly had left off. Picking up from the world of the documentary filmmaker. In NYPD Blue, the documentary feeling verges on the satirical,, the parodic. For years the feature film industry tried to stabilize its images, with vibration-free helicopter mounts, steadycams and silken smooth tracking or crane shots. These days, a steady camera is regarded as an abomination. It isn’t to be trusted any more than eloquence in a politician. And just as voters actually find truth in the inarticulation of a politician like Joh Bjelke-Petrsen or Pauline Hanson – actually preferring that stumble-tongue nonsense to the well-turned phrase, which is regarded as slick and duplicitous – in the same way the camera now has to wobble. It has to grope around the screen. It has to jiggle and judder. At the weekend I was reviewing the ABC’s new series Wildside and talked of the St Vitus’s Dance School of Cinematography where viewing an image parallels the sensation of holding a jackhammer. The ABC’s new series, determined to look like NYPD Blue, determined to look like a documentary, shakes and vibrates the camera so much that many viewers will lose their fillings. The delivery of dialogue is becoming halting, fragmented. Wildside is full of overlapping sound, scenes in which everyone talks at once. Although, let it be said, they talk in monosyllables or half-sentences. In other words, the documentary is used to legitimize the fictional narrative – not only in the docu-drama style that Australia has made its own, but in the declensions of drama, in the shadings of fictional narrative, that derive from it.

Almost every time I see a device, a technical trick in feature production I can remember the documentary that invented it. For example, many years ago Lindsay Anderson made a documentary on a Luna Park-place in Britain, and a glum little number it was. What made Anderson’s doco remarkable was that, for the first time that any of us could remember, sound anticipated image. In other words, you were looking at images set here when, suddenly, mysteriously, enigmatically, you’d hear sounds that had nothing to do with here. Sounds that came from there. The next scene in the film. In other words, Anderson was anticipating his next cut with his soundtrack. Now, that is now one of the most common editing devices in features. And I’m sure all of us could sit down and think of scores of cinema developments. That even applies, I suggest, to film

violence. In feature films, people used to be shot bloodlessly, gutlessly. They would grab at their chest or stomach and fall over, usually still wearing their hat. But because of the courage of the documentary filmmaker, because of the willingness of many of them to put themselves in harm’s way to tell the truth of this or that war or conflict, it became necessary for the feature film to compete. I’ve been complaining about cinema violence for years and it’s only when I was thinking about today’s little chat that it occurred to me that even this development can be sheeted home to the docomakers. Mind you, the feature film people have wildly extrapolated, turning real death of the documentary maker into the pornographic violences of almost any blockbuster film, where heads explode and gore gushes. To the extent that it has entirely forgotten about real

The life of coal miner... from Loksen Lalwani’s Burning Stone

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violence or real pain, spiraling off into obscene, cartoonstyle nonsense. But in essence it is true that filmmakers from Boccho to the Cohen brothers have been encouraged by what they’ve seen in documentary film. All the talk about genre filmmaking, those feedback loops where filmmakers pay homage to each other – which is a posh term for plagiarism – neglects the fact that again and again the inspiration

favourite. Because I don’t believe we’ve come to the end of ideology for a second. I think that social injustice is, if anything, on the increase, that political duplicity and big business bastardry and human rights abuses are, if anything, worse than ever. And we need to be alerted, warned, told, shamed. In other words, those documentary filmmakers who seek to agitate are fine with me. But so are

I rejoice in people who make quirky or eccentric docos, documentary makers who are every bit as arrogant and egocentric as some of the feature film directors I’ve been forced to work with. derives form the driving force of the doco. Okay, to be fair, it’s a two way street. And increasingly one sees idiosyncratic, highly stylized documentaries that take their queue from the feature. But although the street is a two-way, it’s a highway, a freeway, from documentary to feature and a side street in return. Even acting has been influenced by documentaries. Increasingly the florid, theatrical style of acting has disappeared, replaced by a more actively observed, more documentarystyle approach to character. Now, this does not mean, by any means, a flattening out of approach. In fact, anyone watching docos, such as the ABC’s recent series on real estate agents in Sydney, realized that real people are far, far funnier and more preposterous than those invented for feature film purpose. If anything, the people we meet in documentaries, so vivid, so extraordinary, so eccentric, encourage actors to be more courageous in characterization. Documentaries come in every shape, size, idiom and quality. Over the years, since Day One, they’ve tended to be of the left, radical, socially critical, agin the government, didactic, angry. And I must say that those sorts of documentary are still, by and large, my 18

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those who work with rigorous, almost sanctimonious ethnographic honesty and distance. I remember the first time I was in India I saw a holy man walking through the streets of a northern city, bollockers naked. He was looking down at his bare feet as he strode along and was holding a cloth to his mouth and nostrils. Not because he had a cold but because he didn’t want to ingest an insect. And that’s why he was looking where he was walking. Lest he tread on one. In other words, he didn’t want to do any damage

to the world around him and that is a fine ambition. We have documentary filmmakers who are that concerned with objectivity, with maintaining classic disinterest. And I cheer them as well. And equally, I rejoice in people who make quirky or eccentric docos, documentary makers who are every bit as arrogant and egocentric as some of the feature film directors I’ve been forced to work with. The documentary is a broad church and there’s room for everyone. And there’s also room for a huge increase in public awareness. Which I guess is what this conference is all about. Now that you’ve got the government behaving itself, for at least the immediate future, I think its time to widen your attack, reminding the world that commercial television overlooks everything you do. While screening the usual mess of mockumentaries and shockumentaries – principally imports alleging government cover-ups of UFOs and bodily abductions – the networks slam the door in the lenses of the locals. Australians who can sustain a serious claim to be the best documentary producers in the world are treated like shit. (The singular exception? I’m told that Seven will soon screen a doco made for the Australian Commercial Television Fund, a kitty set up to encourage

Forsaken orphans... a still from Withering Buds


“quality work”. Quality work on commercial television amounts to an oxymoron but we live in hope. But then we hear the subject of the documentary is {how did you guess?}aliens and bodily abductions. Look forward to a piece of tosh called Aus Encounters – UFOs in Australia). Quasi-documentaries and hastily cobbled compilations appear on commercial television whenever what’s perceived as a major event occurs. The plethora of films on Diana were a case in point. But there’s no place in the commercial schedules for a genre of filmmaking that’s at least as old as the feature and every bit as distinguished. We must remind the commercial networks, and their viewers, that documentaries have been presenting the world with much of its most intelligent and creative filmmaking. I once had a film company with a young block called Kerry Packer. AdamsPacker. And Kerry and I fought like Kilkenny cats about every project. “If you want to send a message,” said Kerry, quoting a famous Hollywood producer, “call Western Union”. Yet the reluctance of the film studios to tackle urgent issues, let alone to get politically engaged, remains a considerable scandal. Our feature films are, overwhelmingly, about relationships between people, not of the relationship between people and their society. For the documentary remains the Western Union of cinema, virtually the only way of sending an urgent telegram to the world about political, social or environmental crises. Consequently documentary filmmakers tend to be partisan and didactic. Many of them are warriors who use their cameras as weapons. But others stand back, maintaining a detachment, letting their subjects tell their own story. Sometimes it is to their considerable embarrassment – you’ll recall the racist cops in Brockie’s programs on the Redfern police station. And sometimes the results have been hilarious – as in the candid observations of Senator Bob Collins in Labor in Power.

The Circle of Shambles

Some examples. Australia’s The Exile and the Kingdom told the long suppressed story of white settlement in Western Australia with a power that took the breath away. The US series, The Civil War, at once epic and elegiac, giving us an intimate, urgent connection with a conflict that still affects contemporary politics. The House, from Britain, showed us what goes on behind the scenes at Covent Garden, with the sort of anthropological detail that Margaret Mead employed in Bali and Papua. I recently discovered a documentary channel – Discovery – on pay TV. Discovery likes its material formularized and conventional and is currently insulting the Australian audience by reimporting a series of docos introduced by Jack Thompson. When purchased by Discovery, they placed Jack’s Australian accent with an American voice. Back home, poor Jack still has it. Documentaries are to the feature film and TV drama what the non-fiction list is to literature. Docos keep the bastards honest. Docos push the edges of the envelope. Docos create new idioms, new modes of expression. Docomakers are the trailblazers, the whistleblowers, the village explainers. Again and again it’s the documentary that has reinvigorated both television and cinema. Think back to Peter Watkins’

masterpiece Culloden, or to his longsuppressed The War Game. Recall the great achievements of Ken Loach in breakthrough programs like Cathy Come Home. Long before the Wood Royal Commission, Scales of Justice laid bare the truth of police and political corruption. And Australians have pioneered the doco-drama – with efforts like Joh’s Jury and, more recently, Blue Murder. Doco-makers deserve our respect and demand our attention. The networks are guilty of many sins of omission and commission – and their indifference to the doco is amongst the worst of them. So don’t just sit there. Use your considerable skills as communicators to grizzle, to complain, to force the dopey bastards who make the programming decisions realize that what you have to say, what you have to say, in both sense of the word, is important and deserves priority. And convince them, at the same time, that you’re neither dull nor humourless, fit only for what are, in ratings terms, the ghettos of public broadcasting. And if there’s any way I can help, don’t hesitate to call.

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OPINION

The Digital R evolution and Revolution The F uture Cinema Future By Samira Makhmalbaf Le Monde daily and the International Cannes Film Festival 2000 held a seminar to study the future of cinema after the digital revolution, on 9-10 May, 2000. Forty sociologists, philosophers, writers and movie-makers from all over the world participated in this seminar. One of the participants was Samira Makhmalbaf. Samira Makhmalbaf, twenty years old, took part in the Cannes Film Festival with her second film titled "Blackboards". Her first film, titled "Apple" was screened in Cannes in 1999. Samira is the youngest filmmaker in the world, who has found her way to the competitive section of the Cannes Film Festival. Below we reproduce the text of her speech at the seminar.

Cinema has always been at the mercy of political power, particularly in the East, financial capital, particularly in the West, and the concentration of means of production, anywhere in the world. The individual creativity of artists throughout the 20th century has much suffered from the whimsical practices of this odd combination of forces. The situation at the threshold of the 21st century seems to have altered radically. With astonishing technological innovations now coming to fruition, artists no longer seem to be totally vulnerable to these impediments. In the near future, the camera could very well turn into the simulacrum of a pen, comfortably put at the disposal of the artist, right in the palm of her hand. If, as it has been suggested, "the wheel is the advancement of the human feet," then we might also say that camera is the advancement of the creative eye of the film maker. Earlier in the 20th century, because of the overwhelming weight of the camera, the difficulty of operating it, and the need for technical support, this eye was cast 20

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like a heavy burden on the thoughts and emotions of the film-make. But today, following the digital revolution, I can very easily imagine a camera as light and small as a pair of eye-glasses, or even a pair of soft-lenses comfortably and unnoticeably placed inside the eye and on the cornea. Three modes of external control have historically stifled the creative process for a film-make: political, financial, and technological. Today with the digital revolution, the camera will bypass all such controls and be placed squarely at the disposal of the artist. The genuine birth of the author cinema is yet to be celebrated after the invention of the "camera-pen," for we will then be at the dawn of a whole new history in our profession. As film making becomes as inexpensive as writing, the centrality of capital in creative process will be radically diminished. This will be particularly the case in cinematic production. The distribution of our work will of course continue to be at the mercy of the capital. Equally

compromised will be the governmental control and censorship, because we will be able to "screen" our film on the Internet and have it watched by millions around the globe in the privacy of their own living room. But that will not be the end of censorship. Because selfcensorship for fear of persecution by religious fanaticism and terror will continue to thwart the creative imagination. If the camera is turned into a pen, the film maker into an author, and the intervening harassment of power, capital, and the means of production are all eliminated, or at least radically compromised, are we not then at the threshold of a whole new technological change in the very essence of cinema as a public media? I tend to believe that because of the increasingly individual nature of cinematic production, as well as spectator ship, the cinema of the 20th century will become the literature of the 21st century. Are we then attending an historical moment when cinema is being in effect


eulogized? Is cinema about to die? Francois Truffaut made a film about the death of literature with the appearance of cinema. If Truffaut were alive today, would he not be tempted to try it again and make a film about the death of cinema at the hand of author digital? Or would he not imagine the granddaughter of Tarkovsky or Ford preserving the films of their grand father some where in the North Pole? I tend to think that the digital revolution is really the latest achievement of technological knowledge and not the summation of what artists still have to say. It is as if this revolution has been launched against certain cinema-related professions, and not against cinema itself. We will continue to have the centrality of scenario, creative editing, mis-en-scene, decoupage, and acting. Perhaps the most affected aspects of the digital revolution will be the actual act of filming, light, sound, and postproduction laboratory works. But certainly not cinema itself. In the last decade of the 20th century, the unbalanced relation between the artist and the technician had reached a critical point that could have very well resulted in the death of cinema. Today, though, the relation is reversed and the technological advancements of the instruments of production may in fact result in the death of cinema as an industry and once again give the priority to cinema as an art. The digital revolution will reduce the technical aspect of film making to a minimum and will, instead, maximize the centrality of the film maker. Thus once again the centrality of the human aspect of cinema will overcome the intermediary function of its instruments, and film as an art form will reclaim its original posture. It seems to me that with the priority of cinema over technique, we will begin to witness the birth of real auteur film makers. We still lack the presence of artists, philosophers, sociologists, or poets among the film makers. Cinema is still in the hands of technicians.

Samira Makhmalbaf

Most film schools throughout the world teach the technical rather than the creative aspects of film making. Of course the question will always remain whether or not the creative aspects of film making can really be taught. Whatever the case may be, the cinema is today by and large limited to those who have access to expensive cameras. For about six billion inhabitants of the world, today we produce something

Letยนs imagine a world in which painting a picture would be asdifficult as making a film and that the ideas of Dali, Van Gogh, or Picasso were to be implemented by a group of technicians. The digital revolution is like giving the potential equivalents of Van Gogh and Picasso a brush for the first time. If Photo Shop or Windows 98 software programs can render Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Cezanne, or Matisse

If the camera is turned into a pen, the film maker into an author, and the intervening harassment of power, capital, and the means of production are all eliminated, or at least radically compromised, are we not then at the threshold of a whole new technological change in the very essence of cinema as a public media? around 3,000 films every year. Not more than 1000 cameras are the instruments of this sum of annual cinematic production. When the demographic number of digital cameras improve dramatically, a massive number of camera-less authors will have an unprecedented opportunity to express their virgin ideas. Under the emerging technological democracy, political and financial hurdles can no longer thwart the effervescence of this thriving art.

redundant, then the digital camera can also make Truffaut, Ray, and Bergman redundant. The digital camera is the death of Hollywood production and not the death of cinema. We can of course very well imagine that with the digital revolution we will witness the death of the technicians, when operating the camera will become as easy as unbuttoning oneยนs own shirt. Then will come the death of censorship because "screening" will be as easy and as direct as putting oneยนs film on the Internet in DOCUMENTARY TODAY 21


world. Nor would the inexpensive availability of digital camera mean the disappearance of the creative film maker. But cinema as an art will certainly lose its multitudinous audience. The general appeal of cinema may thus be fractured into more specific attractions, and a division of labor and market may take place in world cinema. Gradually, in fact, the audience, as consumers, may begin to dictate the terms of its expectations, and cinematic narrative may begin to be deeply affected by the expectations of its viewers.

Samira Makhmalbaf speaking at the Cannes Film Festival soon after her film received an award.

the privacy of oneยนs home and having it watched anywhere in the world. And finally will commence the death of capital because the inexpensive means of production will render it redundant. But would an astronomical increase, thus facilitated, in the number of auteurs not result in the death of the very idea of the auteur? The ease with which just about any one can become a film maker will undoubtedly result in an astronomical increase in the annual and per capita film production in every society. The increase in the supply of films will result in a decrease in demand. This will lead to an aggressive competition to overcome the generated noise that levels everything. The competition 22

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among the producers will be translated into competition among film makers and the potential audience will soon find itself in a huge supermarket, incapable of choosing a favorite product. By the end of the 20th century, the film makers were in a position of power and choice. Would the digital revolution and its ancillary consequence of a massive increase in film production result in a stalemate where there are more people to make films than those who are willing to sit quiet in a dark room for a sustained period of time and actually watch a film? What if buying and operating a camera is as easy as buying a pen and writing with it? Certainly there has never been as many great creative writers as there have been pens in the

In its technological growth, the camera gradually metamorphosed into a monster that in order to register the reality that faced it first had to kill that reality. Remember the scene where the camera and the band of technicians behind it are all gathered to register a close-up of an actor, while the director was trying to convince the actor that she was alone and had no hope of meeting anyone for the longest time. The wretched actor was put in the unenviable position of trying to ignore the platoon of people behind the camera. But now the smaller the camera gets the less it will impose its distorting presence on the nature of reality facing it. The observation of reality will become more direct, more intimate, to the point that the camera can now be literally considered as the very eye of the film maker. If despite all its democratic intentions, Italian Neo-realism could not surpass the technical limitations of cinema and witness the daily, routine realities, today such movements as Dogma 95 take full advantage of such technological advancements and reach for what Italian Neorealism could not achieve. We may very soon reach a point when a visual journalism will be possible, and cinema, just like journalism, may be able to perform its critical function in safeguarding democracy. An event may take place on a Saturday, on the basis of which a film maybe made on Sunday, screened on Monday and thus have an immediate effect on the daily making of history.


Will the digital revolution result in a situation where cinema becomes an increasingly individual form of art? If feature films can now be produced with a small digital camera and then watched on Internet in a personal computer, will that technological marvel result in the elimination of the very idea of a collective audience as the defining moment of a cinematic experience? Imagine a set of state-of-the-art home audio-visual equipments with screens as big as a wall of a living room. In such cases one may in fact think of cinema, just like literature, to become an individual form of art and lose its social function. If the concentration of the means of production in the past had thwarted the creative imagination, cinema still had a particularly social function because of the communal nature of its spectator ship. Any artist, at the moment of creation, imagines herself in front t of an audience. That is constitutional to the creative act. If imagining this collective audience is denied the artist then the result will have a catalytic effect on the creative process. On the part of the audience the effect is equally detrimental. If we deny the audience the pleasure of watching a film in the presence of others, cinema will lose one of its distinct and defining characters. I believe that cinema has much benefitted from the social nature of humanity and will not abandon it easily, neither will technological advancement so swiftly change our communal character. Today, most French people have coffee and coffee-makers at their home. Why is it that street-side cafes are so full of people? It is the same urge that will bring people to movie-houses. Cannes is yet another good example. Although cinema is still a very social event, the need to be part of an even larger crowd brings us together here at Cannes. The pleasure of watching a film here at Cannes is incomparably higher than watching the same film in a smaller festival, in a more modest theater, and in the company of only a few people.

Thus whatever the status of technological innovations, private screening, production and spectator ship, this collective urge will continue to guarantee the social function of cinema as an art form. The social nature of creative imagination will prevent the radical individualization of cinema even beyond the privatization of the means of production and spectator ship. The creative act has a vested interest in its remaining social, because eliminating the audience from the mind of an artist will thwart the creative process. Art is ultimately intended and targeted towards its audience. In this respect art is very much like religious practices. Believing individuals can practice their piety in the privacy of their homes. But the social function of religion inevitably brings people out to communal practices. If from performing onešs religious rituals to drinking a cup of coffee continue to be social acts despite the abundant possibility of their privatization then the collective need to watch movies in the presence of a crowd will also persist. The irony of this whole development is that in its historical growth cinema gradually found itself in a predicament that like

The poster of Samira Makhmalbaf’s second film Blackboards

political control in some countries (particularly in the East), and of financial control in others (particularly in the West). There is another, equally important, consequence to the digital revolution. People in the less prosperous parts of the world have so far been at the receiving end of cinema as an art form. The history of cinema begins with wealthy and powerful nations making film not just about themselves but also

I believe that cinema has much benefitted from the social nature of humanity and will not abandon it easily, neither will technological advancement so swiftly change our communal character. architecture every aspect of its execution was contingent on something else. With the digital revolution, cinema can now retrieve its own status as an art form and yet by virtue of the same development it sees its own social function endangered. What would be the relationship among the digital revolution, the civil function of imagination and the possibility of a more democratic cinema? By far the most significant event in the digital revolution is the reversal of the

about others. This is a slanted relation of power. Today, one hundred years into the history of cinema, this undemocratic and unjust relation of power shows itself by the fact that not a single film is shown from the entire African continent in Cannes this year. Does Africa have nothing to say? Are Africans incapable of expressing themselves in visual terms? Or is it the unjust distribution of the means of production that has denied African artists this possibility. Another example in the unjust DOCUMENTARY TODAY 23


distribution of the means of production is comparing my own family with a nation-state like Syria. During the last year, Syria has produced only one film, and in my family two and a half feature films! With the same logic that the per capita production of film in my family was increased by my father sharing his knowledge and facilities with the rest of his family, the digital revolution too will put such knowledge and facilities at the disposal of a larger community of artists. Imagine new, more diversified, and far more democratic

remote village they would attribute its origin to heavenly sources. When books became abundant, this absolute and sacred assumption was broken and earthly auteurs lost their heavenly presumptions. In the age of the scarcity of cinematic productions, "Titanic" has the function of that heavenly book, and our world very much like that small village. The prevailing cinematic view of the world is that of the First World imposed on the Third World. Africa has been seen from the French point of view and not from the African point of view, nor

I am a citizen of the world. Because from now on the global citizenship is no longer defined by the brick and mortar of houses or the printed words of the press, but by the collective force of an expansive visual vocabulary. sections of the Cannes Film Festival in the year 2010, all occasioned by the digital revolution. Another crucial consequence of the digital revolution is that cinema will lose its monological, prophetic voice and a far more globally predicated dialogue will emerge. Right now some 3,000 films are produced annually for a global population of some 6 billion people, that is to say one film per twenty million people . But not all these 3,000 films have the opportunity of actually being screened. Competition with Hollywood is intense in just about anywhere in the world. National cinemas are putting a heroic resistance to Hollywood cinema. Many movie theaters are monopolized by Hollywood productions. There are movie theaters that are reserved for yetto-be-made films in Hollywood, while the national cinemas are on the verge of destruction. When books were not too many, people considered what was written superior truth and if a book was found in a 24

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have the French and Americans been seen from the African point of view. The digital revolution will surpass that imbalance. The First World will thus lose its centrality of vision as the dominant view of the world. The globality of our situation will no longer leave any credibility for the assumptions of a center and a periphery to the world. We are now beyond the point of thinking that we received the technique from the West and then added to it our own substance. As I film maker, I will no longer be just an Iranian attending a film festival. I am a citizen of the world. Because from now on the global citizenship is no longer defined by the brick and mortar of houses or the printed words of the press, but by the collective force of an expansive visual vocabulary. A certain degree of techno phobia has always accompanied the art of cinema. One can only imagine the fear and anxiety that the first generation of movie-goers felt. Or when for the first time the French saw Lumierยนs train on the screen. The cinema of our future will not be immune

to technological challenges and opportunities that are taking place around us. Beyond the techno phobia of the previous generations, however, the new generation will play with these technological gadgets as toys of a whole new game. It seems to me that this very conference is convened out of a techno phobic impulse and as a collective mode of therapeutic exercise to alleviate this techno phobia. Whereas I believe we should consider this event a ritual funeral for technology. Technology has now progressed so much that is no longer technological! All we need in order to master the operation of a digital camera is how to turn a few buttons, as if unbuttoning our jacket in a dark room. Thatยนs all. We really need not have a great technological knowledge to do so. One of our conclusions at the closing of this conference could very well be that after the digital revolution we are all cured of our techno phobia. A new fear will now preoccupy film makers, and that is whether or not I as an artist have something to say that other people with a digital camera in their hand do not. There is a story in Mathnavi of Rumi, one of our greatest poets, that once a grammarian mounted a ship and headed for the sea. Upon the calm and quite sea he had a conversation with the captain and asked him if he knew anything of syntax and morphology. "No," answered the captain. "Half of your life is wasted," retorted the learned grammarian. A short while later, the ship is caught in the middle of a huge storm. "Do you now how to swim," asks the captain from the grammarian. "No," says the grammarian. "All your life is wasted," assures him the captain. Twenty years ago if someone wanted to enter the profession of film making she would have been asked if she knew its technique. If she did not, she would have been told that she was illiterate of about half of the art. Some twenty years later the only question she needs to answer is if she has an art.


LOST CLASSICS

Rediscovering a Gandhi film An abridged version of a long-lost documentary on Mahatma Gandhi, with the commentary in English, is traced in the United States. But the original T amil and the T elugu and Tamil Telugu Hindi versions remain elusive. T. S. Subramanian THE film opens with images of Buddhist monuments in India, signifying non-violence. The following scenes show the flag of the United Nations being lowered and lakhs of people grieving at a funeral. The narrator asks: “Who was he then, this man, that the whole world should mourn him?” and marvels at how millions of people mourned his passing away, especially when he was “without the power of wealth or gun.” Then follow scenes of Gopalakrishna Gokhale’s visit to South Africa in 1912 and with him is seen Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, dressed nattily in a suit; Jawaharlal Nehru spinning a “charka” (wheel); a shot of a beaming Mahatma Gandhi playing with a child; and Gandhi taking a bath in the sea at Dandi at the end of his 1930 march to gather salt. These scenes are from a documentary film in English on Gandhi, made in Hollywood in 1953 by Tamil writer and journalist A.K. Chettiar. Mahatma Gandhi: Twentieth Century Prophet, thought to be lost for more than 40 years, has now been discovered in the United States by Dr. A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Chennai. A.K. Chettiar, who belonged to Kottaiyur near Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu, was a great admirer of the Mahatma. He was influenced by the

The child in Gandhi... Bapu knew how to adjust himself with people of any age group. Here he is seen playing with a child

Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, satyagraha and passionate humanism. He was a simple, self-effacing man, and never sought the limelight. He was also an admirer of Subramania Bharathi, the great Tamil nationalist poet, and C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji). A.K. Chettiar trained in photography at the Imperial College of Photography, Tokyo, and the New York Institute of Photography. He was the foundereditor of a Tamil monthly magazine,

Kumari Malar (1943-1983), in which he gave prominence to articles on Gandhian tenets such as wearing of khadi, prohibition, combating untouchability, and establishing Dalits’ right to enter temple. It was on October 2, 1937, Gandhi’s birthday, when A.K. Chettiar was travelling on a ship from New York to Dublin, that it occurred to him that he should produce a documentary on Gandhi. DOCUMENTARY TODAY 25


According to Venkatachalapathy, over the next two and a half years A.K. Chettiar made stupendous efforts to collect films on Gandhi shot by more than a hundred cameramen across the world over three decades. He travelled more than one lakh miles across the world, found 50,000 feet of film shot, edited them into a 12,000-foot documentary and released it in 1940. A.K. Chettiar’s visits to collect the footage included trips to South Africa and Europe. “Chettiar was 26 years old when he began his efforts. He was 29 when he completed the film,” said Venkatachalapathy. The documentary was released first in 1940 with a Tamil commentary, and then dubbed into Telugu. Later, the film was withdrawn from theatres because of a threat of government repression. It was screened with a commentary in Hindi just before Independence in August 1947. A.K. Chettiar re-edited the film in Hollywood with a commentary in English and screened it in the U.S. in 1953. For long it was thought that these films, in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English,

were lost. But when Venkatachalapathy got in touch with A.K. Chettiar’s friends, they were sure that the film was there somewhere. They thought it might be found in the National Film Archives in Pune, but no one had seen it in several decades. R.A. Padmanabhan, Gandhian and A.K. Chettiar’s contemporary, watched it in the 1940s. What set Venkatachalapathy on his search was the experience of editing, two years earlier, A.K. Chettiar ’s Tamil book Annal Adichuvattil (In the Footsteps of the Mahatma), which is about his experience of making the film. The book, with a foreword by Venkatachalapathy, has been published by Kalachuvadu Pathipagam, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu. Its English version will be published by Orient Longman. S. Theodore Bhaskaran, writer and film historian, was also searching for the film. In an article “The making of Mahatma Gandhi” published in The Hindu on September 29, 2002, Theodore Baskaran dealt with how A.K. Chettiar laboured over the production of this documentary through the years of the Second World War. After A.K. Chettiar returned to Chennai from Dublin, he founded a

Mahatma Gandhi was an inveterate writer of letters

Mr. Venkatachalapathy who discovered the film

company called Documentary Films Limited and set about realising his dreams. The article says: “He decided to collect the already existing... material on Gandhi from various sources - archives, news agencies, studios and individuals - then shoot contemporary scenes and string these precious visual records together. First, he searched Indian studios and then travelled abroad, to places where Gandhiji had been, to unearth previous footages. In Chennai, he was able to salvage precious footage of 1927 Congress. It showed Srinivasa Ayyangar leading Gandhiji to the dais, followed by Sarojini Naidu and Nehru... “At the end of his travels, Chettiar found that after three years of work and travel over four continents, he had 50,000 feet of material. From this, he edited a 12,000 feet long film. The editing work got under way in Mumbai in January 1940. Even as his team was working, Ahmed Abbas of Bombay Chronicle wrote a piece about the film and many other dailies, including The New York Times, carried stories on Chettiar’s film. The film was released on August 23, 1940.”

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Theodore Baskaran asked: “Now the question is... where is the film? Chettiar had once told me that he had handed over a print to the Films Division. But it is not with them. I drew a blank with the Pune Film Archives... A man who never sought fame and wealth, Chettiar would be least concerned to know that due place has not been accorded to him in the history of Indian cinema. But what he produced is a valuable visual record and a priceless heritage. It has got to be salvaged.” Venkatachalapathy’s meticulous search has now unearthed the English documentary, a “discovery” that he says is “really exciting”. The copy was acquired with the help of Whitney Cox and Blake Wentworth, doctoral students at the University of Chicago. But the other versions are yet to be found. “Importantly, the original Tamil version made in 1940 should be located,” he said. The Hollywood version that has been traced is an abridged one made in 1998 from the 81-minute version of 1953. This one, produced by Edith Martin for the American Academy of Asian Studies, runs for about 50 minutes. There are two separate title cards giving credit to A.K. Chettiar. One says: “Film material collected by A.K. Chettiar”. The other calls him “Technical Adviser”. The narration is by radio personality Quentin Reynolds. All those involved in the making of the original Tamil version - especially leading cinematographer P.V. Pathy are recognised with the card “Acknowledging the cooperation of”. Pathy, who graduated from Sorbonne University, was the technical director of the film. The earliest footage in the film, acquired from Gandhi’s South African friend H.S.L. Polak, is of Gokhale’s visit to South Africa in 1912. Gandhi, dressed in a suit, is photographed with Gokhale. Perhaps this is the only film footage available of Gokhale, who died in 1915.

Before he became a Mahatma... Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as he looked when he returned to India from South Africa

In the film, the narrator often emphasises Gandhi’s tenet of nonviolence and calls it “a great force that has its own laws, that should be used scrupulously”. There are superb scenes of the Dandi March: they show how when “a slight man of 61” began the march to gather salt, he was accompanied by “a group of 79” but was “joined by thousands” as days went by. The narrator says: “From all over the world, reporters came to report this march.” He adds that every village on the way was decorated to receive the marchers, with shouts of “satyameva jeyate” (Hail the truth). Another scene shows Nehru spinning the charka and the narrator says: “Spinning bound India together.” A highlight of the film is the massspinning sequence shot by A.K. Chettiar himself at Tirupur, the hosiery town in Tamil Nadu. It shows 2,000 women spinning the charka with the song “Aadu Ratte” (Let the spinning wheel turn) sung in the background by Carnatic singer D.K. Pattammal. It is a patriotic poem in Tamil written by freedom fighter Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai. A.K. Chettiar paid daily wages from his own money to the 2,000 women who took part in the spinning sequence.

There is footage of the Madras Congress of 1927, the Lahore Congress and the Round Table Conference held in London. According to the narrator, the message was clear at the Madras Congress: “Towards using the technique of trying the non-violence... “ A scene shows Devdas, Gandhi’s son, massaging the latter’s feet. Subhas Chandra Bose, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Rajaji, J.B. Kripalani, Sarojini Naidu and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan are some of the personalities who figure in the documentary. Venkatachalapathy is in search of the copyright-holders of the film so that copies may be made available to important libraries in India. He said: “The original documentary film should be traced because it is a two-hour film that includes shots of Tilak’s funeral, and of Romain Rolland and Madame Montessori recording their views on Gandhi.” The Tamil original and the Telugu and Hindi versions continue to be elusive. “The search for them should continue so that an important part of our heritage is preserved,” he said. A.K. Chettiar was 72 years old when he died on September 10, 1983. DOCUMENTARY TODAY 27


BEST NON FEATURE FILM NATIONAL FILM AWARDS 2006

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I first saw Riding Solo To The Top Of The World when I was doing jury duty at the Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films (MIFF) 2006. The film is about Gaurav Jani’s solo motorcycle journey from Mumbai to one of the remotest places in the world, the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, bordering China. The film is even more extraordinary for the fact that Jani was a one-man film unit. The film floored all of us – three hardened critics who had probably seen films from every filmmaking country in the world – and when we came down to the final choice, it was unanimous: Riding Solo was the film which should get the Critics Award. And it was no surprise that the other jury also thought likewise and awarded it the Golden Conch. Soon after the awards ceremony Gaurav Jani came around getting the jury members to sign a poster of the film – “as a remembrance”. Tall, broad with long curly locks framing his face, he looked every inch the biker that he was. But his voice was surprisingly soft and gentle. I remember we spoke for a few minutes before his admiring circle of friends dragged him away probably for an impromptu post-awards celebration. Our judgement was further confirmed when the film went on to garner awards at all sorts of festivals – Indian and international (see box). And even more gratifying is that the film has again bagged the top award at the 53rd National Film Festival whose results, considerably delayed, have just been announced. When I rang up Gaurav for an interview, almost a year after our first fleeting meeting, there was little chance that he would remember me. He didn’t, but did agree to speak to me and answer a few questions for Documentary Today. Now that the film has bagged so many awards, do you feel any pressure on you as a filmmaker? Yes, there is some pressure with respect to the next film as many people know about my work, so their combined expectations and my efforts to perform better with my next film is adding pressure apart from the usual juggle to complete a documentary. But there have been some advantages. The stupendous success of the first film has smoothened the path for my next film. Finances are better – not much but still better than before since I am now a known entity. Also, I now know the difficulties of being a one-man film unit. I have just finished filming One Crazy Ride, set in the militant-infested terrain of the North East. Postproduction work is in progress and the film should be ready for release by March-April 2008. What is the genesis of the film? I was into biking much before I thought

of making a film on it. The idea was to make a 52-part television series about a group of bikers on a two-year journey to the remote parts of India. The plan was – five bikes, five riders, no back up vehicle, no film unit. The travelers would film their own journey. There would be no pre-planned screenplay, locations or events to cover and of course minus the reality television situations. I tried to get a few financiers for the project but the concept was considered dangerous, as it was “a twoyear on the road” project. It was also rubbished for not having a proper film crew and a pre-planned screenplay and plots. So, I decided to go ahead on my own. There was no money so I embarked on a solo journey to make the film.

sound but yes, I had worked in films. Even as a kid I wanted to tell stories and, given the times I was living in, cinema seemed to be the best medium. During my college days I was associated with the theatre and would also choreograph fashion shows. When I moved to Mumbai I began to work as an assistant on teleserials. I worked on a popular TV show called Sunday Ke Sunday. The first documentary I was associated with was about a psychopathic killer. I then worked as the chief assistant director with Ram Gopal Verma for Road and Jungle. Ram Gopal Verma is known to given an opportunity to his assistants...

True, and I learned a lot from him but I was not too keen on making mainstream films. I had a deep abiding Did you have any cinematic passion for filmmaking but I wanted experience before beginning the to experiment and keep total control. BEST DOCUMENTARY film? cinema requires a lot of NationalMainstream Film Awards 2007 No. I did not have any experience of teamwork. So I struck off on my own. handling the camera and recording the I was already into biking and had DOCUMENTARY TODAY 29


The colourful Hemis Festival is a special highlight of the film

Awards Received by the Film • Jury Award at Vatavaran Nature and Wildlife Film Festival. • Audience Award at Independent South Asian Film Festival in Seattle, USA • Nominated for Best International Documentary Award at the Bollywood and Beyond Film Festival - Germany • Best Non-Feature Film at the 53rd National Film Awards, India 2006 • Technical Award for Sound Design - Dwarak Warrier at the Indian Documentary Producers’ Association (2006). • Technical Award for Editing - Sankalp Meshram at the Indian Documentary Producers’ Association (2006). • Documentary - Gaurav Jani at the Indian Documentary Producers’ Association (2006). • Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (2006) • Nominated for Best International Documentary at the Calgary International Film Festival (2006) • Recipient of Golden Conch for Best Documentary at the Mumbai International Film Festival (2006) • Recipient of National Critics Award at the Mumbai International Film Festival (2006) • Recipient of Best Documentary Award (Biography Category) at the Signs Film Festival, Kerala (2006) 30

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founded this community called 60kph… What is this biking concept? There are many people who own bikes. They use their bikes to go to work and back. And then there are those who like to take the road beyond their office or their home. They are bikers. They just want to travel, zip along that path of concrete. I am one such biker. I love to travel and for me it’s all about losing one’s identity and becoming part of the land and the people. That is something that can never be achieved in a closed and confined vehicle as a car. So bikes are the best bet. Bikes allow you much more freedom and you can interact with ease with the locals. I am not alone in my belief. There are other people across the world who share the same philosophy. That is why I set up this biking community called 60kph. The idea struck me when I was biking through Rajasthan. I wanted to create a network


of dedicated riders all over India who would help each other, share routes and maintenance tips. All of us are likeminded bikers who love seeing different places, especially remote places and who don’t think it is a crazy idea to do a 50-day trip. We have even got a website of our own: www.60khp.com. So the film is actually an extension of your passion? In a way! Conceptually, the film was very simple. I wanted to reach the Changthang plateau in Ladakh, which is an inhospitable terrain spread over 30,000 square kilometres at an average altitude of 15,000 feet between the Himalayas and the Karakoram range. It is accessible by road only for four months in a year. But actually “going there” is not so simple. I knew it was going to be an act of daring. I just loaded my bike with 100 kilograms of equipment/supplies and back-up spare parts because I knew I was going to all alone. And the camera equipment? There was just enough space for a footlong mini DV camera. In any case I was going to do it all by myself. Digital technology has made life simple for documentary filmmakers. It would have been impossible to make films like these if the cameras would have as bulky or expensive as they were even a decade ago. Digital cameras provide video which is good enough for screening in theatres and they are reasonably inexpensive. The cost of a tape is Rs120 and you can shoot for 63 minutes. What can be cheaper than that? And it is not cameras alone. With editing software such as Adobe premier and AVEC DV Express becoming easily available, filmmakers are beginning to take editing studios out of the post-production equation. From subtitling, colour correction and sound-mixing, to making the master tape and DVD, it can all be done at home.

narration more direct and simple. Simple images and simple words telling a story of an experience which transformed me. In what way? The journey to the Changthang plateau was in itself an experience. And then I met the Changpas, the nomads who live in one of the highest altitudes in the world. Staying with them for 40 days helped me to see life in a new perspective. I had been a city boy all my life. Stayibng with the Changpas I realized how hard their life is. I met Tsewang, a Changpa who refused to give up the only way of life he had known all along. Once the Changpas accepted the fact that I was not an anthropologist wanting to study them but merely wanted to share and experience their lives they accepted me – going to the extent of naming me as “Motorcycle Changpa”. I was inspired by their resilience and charmed by their simple lives. It was almost a spiritual revelation. It changed me. When did it begin? I began the journey in June 2004, and the entire journey took up 70 days, making my way through 2,000 kilometres of some of the toughest

roads in the country at altitudes that go sometimes to 18,000 feet, where often there is not even enough oxygen in the air for the fuel in the bike to burn. Yes, there were low points like the time when I was without water for two days, when I was not well and times when I was terribly lonely and pined to talk to my friends. But I persevered. Was the process of putting together the film easier than shooting it? It was a different kind of adventure. I returned to Mumbai 70 days later with 40 hours of recordings and absolutely clueless about what was to be done next. There was no money but friends and even strangers joined in and put in their energy, money and time. It took months to bring the material down to a viewable 93 minutes. And now, of course, all the hard work and patience has finally paid off. Apart from the innumerable awards it has garnered Discovery Channel has bought the telecast rights of the film for India. We have received hundreds of e-mails from people who have seen Riding Solo at film festivals or the online trailer, appreciating and relating to our efforts. - S. N.

Filmmaker Gaurav Jani can be seen seated with the Changpas

Did the lack of proper cinema infrastructure bother you? On the contrary it simplified the process of the film. It made the DOCUMENTARY TODAY 31


ESSAY

The E volution of Experimental D ocumentary Evolution Documentary By D eborah Girdwood Deborah Early documentary filmmakers were scientists, drawn to experiment with the form and technology of cinema. One of the earliest filmmakers on record, Eadweard Muybridge, spent a portion of his life recording movement, photographing nude men and women in motion. He regarded the moving image less as a tool for creating distraction than as an extension of the Renaissance impulse to anatomize human bodies. Muybridge recorded horses for the same purpose, to study motion, and to answer science-based

questions about the human world and the forces that glued it together. Early ethnographic filmmakers wondered about the social world. Explorers, such as American filmmaker Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North, 1922), marveled at the possibility for representing reality, and saw themselves as objective recorders of life, though Flaherty at least some of the time staged scenes. Flaherty’s documentary experiment was to make a biography of a typical Eskimo family living in the Canadian North over the course of one year. The development of long-focus lenses enabled him to record life from a distance; for awhile, the long lense seemed to introduce the concept that filmmakers might portray a true story without affecting it. “I had used the telephoto lens on my first picture, Nanook of the North, notably in the animal episodes, such as the walrus hunt,” he later wrote in 1934 (cited above). “In the South Seas,” Flaherty continued, “it was in filming intimate scenes, and particularly in making portraits, that I learned the true value of the long-focus lenses. I began using them to take close-ups, in Nanook of the North (1922)

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order to obviate self-consciousness on the part of my subjects. The Samoans, I found, acted much more naturally with the camera thirty or forty feet away than when I was cranking right under their noses — and in this I am sure the Samoans are no different from other folk.” But almost magically, scenes unfolded in Nanook of ordinary yet intense survival. Flaherty’s experiment proved the innate drama of life, which stimulated world-wide interest in nonfiction film. At the same time, Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov experimented in documentary with a concept called “kinopravda,” an artistic movement to photograph reality without preconceived notions. In Vertov’s legendary The Man With the Movie Camera (1928), the viewer is made conscious of the camera’s power as a witness to one individualss perceptions of collective urban life. The film starts with an empty movie theatre. The lights go on, and the projectionist gets to work exhibiting the film — the story of a waking city and shots captured throughout the titular cameraman’s day: leaves rustling down the street, a woman sleeping, traffic, machines, dogs, people at work and later at play — concluding with the cameraman’s bow, and a wild montage which ends with the final shot of a human eye superimposed on the lens of the camera. This was his idea: a direct encounter with uncontrolled life in which portraiture and poetry rule over ideology, and in which documentary filmmaking may be acknowledged as a legitimate modern art form. But what about sound? People may be photographed yards away. But incorporating words has been one of


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the largest ethical, philosophical, and aesthetic challenges for documentary filmmakers. In Representing Reality, the writer Bill Nichols observes that “at best, images may illustrate a point that must finally return to words for its meaning or implications.” Technically, filmmakers use sound and picture and make them “synch,” which is an illusion. “Direct Address” documentary established the traditional narrative voiceover, and the popular

common social concerns of the 1960s: the sensibility, in particular, of questioning authority and making discoveries for themselves rather than being told by authorities what was true. Soon audiences began going to the cinemas to see arresting documentary films that gave the illusion of capturing the real conditions of situations such as political campaigning, youth culture, mental institutions, and the intensity of the films had the effect of fiction. With

The direct cinematic encounter came to be known popularly as cinema verite — so named by French filmmaker Jean Rouch to mean the direct recording of life without rearranging or staging — and also known as Direct Cinema. style of “Interview Documentary” is familiar to us as “talking heads,” commonly employed by television news stories and most television documentaries that rely on experts to tell the story. In the beginning, most common documentaries demonstrated simplistic and often awkward incorporation of sound and spoken text with documentary photography. Implicit is a sense of sober authority. These traditional forms of documentary mimic the textbook, the formal essay, the museum exhibit. Incorporating sound and as Nichols says, words, to nonfiction cinema underscored the importance of understanding the documentary as a subjective art form rather than objective media, and introduced a long history of cinematic experiment with capturing the truth. The direct cinematic encounter came to be known popularly as cinema verite — so named by French filmmaker Jean Rouch to mean the direct recording of life without rearranging or staging — and also known as Direct Cinema. Direct Cinema took off in the U.S. in the early 1960s with a group formed by Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, and later Frederick Wiseman. The Direct Cinema makers were inspired also by 34

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the times, documentary evolved to be concerned less with issues or events than with the impulse that a person could be interesting. Films such as D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1967) and Albert and Robert Maysles’ Salesman (1969) were built around characters — Bob Dylan in the first instance, Bible salesmen in the midwest in the second. But their work was

criticized, because like today’s “reality television,” the reality effect was contrived, an illusion presented as true life. As much as verite was celebrated for avoiding narration and voiceover, skeptics found the films cold and exploitative. But the process involved filmmakers spending hours on end with the subjects, and thus a gradual breaking down of the “fourth wall” began to occur. That is, something happened once the documentary subjects came to know the filmmakers. Examples are when the mother and daughter begin to address Al Maysles in Gray Gardens or when the grandmother of the Loud family mentions the filmmaker’s birthday in An American Family. In these instances, the science that direct cinema was created to support appears to break down. A filmic first person appears, and some members of the audience saw it as hypocrisy: the process of editing mountains of footage constructed an authorcontrolled reality. A decade and a half after the emergence of direct cinema, a group of filmmakers based in Boston began to explore subjectivity itself, and in so doing

D A Pennebaker, one of the early proponents of the Cinema Verite movement


created the personal documentary. So in the middle 1970s Ed Pincus, Robb Moss, and Ross McElwee emerged from Boston’s finest film programs (MIT, Harvard), taught by some of the great verite directors (D.A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock), and found themselves in the right place at the right time to exploit Boston’s strong relationship with Public Broadcasting. They constructed autobiographical documentaries in response to what they perceived as the exploitative nature and unavoidable pretense or dishonesty of old school cinema vérité. The pioneers of “Personal Documentary” contributed to a new force in documentary asserting the filmmaker in the telling of the story. Yet their experimentation in documentary parallels a broader, collective turn from scientific experiment to personal experiment in our culture, a movement which as evidenced by the continued exponential growth of autobiographical or “First Person” cinema, has not yet died. The social and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s called for greater experimentation across the board: with social order, domestic order, sexual relations, personal growth. Identity politics made the stories of individuals known as a way of standing for larger issues affecting minority groups. Feminism took domestic and personal relationships to implicate large-scale issues with the dictum, “The Personal is Political.” Personal Documentary makers took the message to heart and more than ever their documentaries stood as portraiture, but what was new was the establishment of the mutable nature of the filmmaker’s point of view according to time of day, state of mind, personality, and background. Of the Boston group, Ross McElwee has garnered the most critical praise and the most significant reputation. In his three major works to date — Sherman’s March, Time Indefinite, Six O’Clock News — he has specialized almost exclusively, and comically, in autobiography. In each film, part of the

Agnes Varda, Director of arthouse classics like The Gleaners and I and Vagabond

humor is that he wears sound and 16mm camera on him, as he visits family, talks to old friends and strangers, and meets (or tries to meet) women. Eventually, as the films document, he also gets married and has children. In an interview with Scott McDonald in Film Quarterly (Summer 1988), McElwee reveals his artistic method through a discussion of “scenes” as they emerged in his portraits of people from his travels in the South, where he grew up, in Sherman’s March: “It’s an amazing moment. It happened totally unpredictably. I was there because the car with its mechanical woes was becoming a theme I thought I might be able to develop. It’s pretty much a single unedited shot that takes you from a discussion of the car to his son to his daughter’s death to my mother ’s death. To me, that’s preferable to piecing together

five different shots to create the same impression. This way you can see the emotional shift in his eyes, hear it in our voices, as we move from discussing something that’s mundane to something that’s of profound importance to both of us. It’s the kind of thing you could never set up ahead of time because people will put up their defenses. If I’d said, “I’d like to talk a little bit with you about the death of your daughter,” he might have done it, but it would not have happened organically the way it did. That’s something I feel very

Jonas Mekas

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strongly about. Another instance of this is when I’m talking to Mary, the fashion model, near the opening of the film. I haven’t seen her since we were kids. We start off talking about something very superficial—when we used to play Superman—then the conversation turns to her kids, then to her feelings about divorce. Again, it’s all one shot and you can track the development of the dialogue in her eyes. There’s a moment of real sadness there that to me is absolutely amazing.” In an interview with Scott McDonald in Film Quarterly (Summer 1988), McElwee reveals his artistic intentions while defending the criticism that his portraits of southern women in Sherman’s March are unbalanced: “I’m not sure I have the sociological background to even begin to define who’s eccentric and who’s not, who’s conventional and who’s not. And yet I feel somehow that the women I filmed are somewhat out of the norm, and that’s why I decided to film them. I can only say that I wasn’t attempting to make any statement about the status of women in the South or in the United States. I felt no obligation to select a group of women who were somehow representative of something. I think the women in the film are wonderfully individualistic; some are eccentric, some seem quite normal to me. A lot of them are struggling with life, and I’m interested in that kind of struggling. We all do it. I’m doing it in the film. I was interested in capturing some of that. A lot of documentaries try to package things very neatly from an ideological point of view. In some ways it leaves the viewer with a false sense that problems have been solved, points of view have been neatly defined. I think that’s very dangerous. Life isn’t like that.” The risks of personal filmmaking are great. For the filmmakers there is the ever-present possibility of going to far, of risking embarrassment at so much disclosure and intimacy with audiences. They film constantly, at least some of the time at the expense of their loved ones. Yet personal filmmakers sacrificed comfort and the 36

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Chris Marker’s (above) essay films critiqued ethnographic form and added text specifically to insert the personal perspective. San Soleil (below) is a good example

sanctity of personal relationships in order to answer the basic contemporary questions: If the authors of official history can’t be trusted, who can? Can we ever know ourselves? or another? What does it mean to be honest? Is it possible to tell the truth? The questions have some filmic history themselves: in 1950, the great Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, released Rashoman, his fictional experiment in which four victims of a crime tell conflicting versions of the events, and all claim to be telling the truth.

Experimental documentary confronts the basic problems of making sense of words and images, and asserts the presence of the all-controlling, subjective filmmaker as author and artist who still makes nonfiction film. any experimental documentary artists cite the lack of appropriate categories to check on festival applications. In a recent Northwest Film Forum seminar in Seattle, contemporary experimental filmmaker Greta Snider summed up the curator’s typical response, “It looks and feels experimental, but there are too


many words.” Do photographers suffer the same need for distinction between fact and fiction in their art? In making avant-garde or experimental film, it is most clear that the images and recordings may be reassembled in time and space into whatever order the filmmaker desires. They are often seen as complementary or antagonistic forms of expression, and “synch” is disregarded as unimportant. In fact, Experimental documentary makers often celebrated their manipulative abilities by putting dischordant sound to picture often to a disturbing or humorous effect. Experimental filmmaker Craig Baldwin in effect “samples” found documentary footage and sound, exaggerating mid-century paranoia into conspiratorial idealogy. This effect makes clear the control of the filmmaker, and moreover establishes his or her aims as artistic. Less scientific, more artistic, the Avant Garde filmmakers have had more in common with songwriters, activists, poets, and painters of their time than fiction or nonfiction filmmakers. They were interested in making poetry, but also concerned with bringing their stake and role in the work to the foreground. Outside of America, this form is better appreciated and understood. In the early 60s, the British Film Institute began sponsoring “Free Cinema,” supporting noncommercial experiments in film style, technique, or subject. Chris Marker’s essay films (San Soleil is a good example) critiqued ethnographic form and added text (letters written aloud by a woman) specifically to insert the personal perspective. More recently, Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I found the octegenarian director of Vagabond and other arthouse classics wandering the French countryside and Paris with a new digital video camera, telling the story of agrarian and urban gleaners respectively and pausing to film and discuss the wrinkles on her hand.

fiction forms. The political and social movements of the 1970s resulted in a flowering of self-analysis and self expression. Diary films entered and remain strongly in the world of the avant-garde filmmaking. Jonas Mekas (Chelsea Girls) has made personal diary films for decades, and Stan Brakhage (Water Moving Window Baby) made experimental films of moments witnessed in his life including the home birth of his daughter. Yet in the 1980s, rapid evidence of a growing

experiments of our time. Seattle filmmaker Lilith Piri subverts documentary with an experimental piece, Mirror Box Stories (2001), on her personal experience as a sex worker. The video is set in the filmmaker’s place of employment — a mirrored room surrounded by coinactivated windows for customers to see a group of dancers. Piri interviews her co-workers and then has them interview her. She photographs them with a digital video camera and has

The political and social movements of the 1970s resulted in a flowering of self-analysis and self expression. Diary films entered and remain strongly in the world of the avant-garde filmmaking. materialist and media-blitzed society encouraged deconstruction and gave rise to extremely theoretical experimental work by more subversive and academic filmmakers such as Trinh T. Minh Ha (Reassemblage) and Peggy Ahwesh (Martina’s Playhouse). Today, a new strain of experimental documentary incorporates the history of nonfiction cinema with real

them photograph her. Her words appear as written text, not voice. The result is personal but there is an idealogical investigation as she tries to deconstruct not so much the industry as herself. Experimentation in documentary today incorporates new expressions of the personal voice found in today’s tech world (personal websites and

Stan Brakhage made experimental films of moments witnessed in his life including the home birth of his daughter. (Water Moving Window Baby)

The filmmaker-artist was just another rebel of his or her times, seeking to shake up traditions in nonfiction and DOCUMENTARY TODAY 37


Posters from two experimental films. Chelsea Girls and Chain Camera

chatrooms) as well as the flourishing urban art scene of ‘zines, performance, comics, and pirate radio. If the goal of experimenting with documentary is to use the question and answer method, what are the larger questions are being asked now? Is it too idealistic for a mediasoaked and conscious world to continue to use the form in this way? What are people concerned about today? Kirby Dick made Chain Camera at Marshall High, a high school in Los Feliz, near Los Angeles. Following the chain letter method, he had ten students pass around digital video cameras for one school year to record their collective life, focusing on sixteen individuals. Like Wiseman’s High School (1968), the result is a complex portrait of an alive organism of humans held in the shell of an institution and a key to understanding and foretelling the future of contemporary youth. “On the whole,” Kevin Thomas of the Los 38

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Angeles Times writes, “Chain Camera is encouraging. A number of its 16 young people and their friends may face serious challenges, but their forthrightness suggests they’re in touch with their feelings.” Caveh Zahedi is a contemporary Iranian-American filmmaker who has used filmmaking and video diaries to set up many autobiographical studies including one recently in In the Bathtub of the World, in which he tapes one minute of every day leading up to the millennium. The documentary serves almost as philosophical inquiry into the nature of his relationship, exhibiting scenes with the filmmaker’s partner Mandy who does not want to be his subject and is very self-conscious and aware of the unnaturalness of the camera. Moments of revelation as to why they are fighting or crying are juxtaposed with scenes of simplicity and contentment, such as reading in the sun.

Today’s cinematic self-explorations are studies or experiments that pioneer Robert Flaherty would have perhaps understood and admired. One hundred years into the history of cinema, filmmakers still endeavor to prove again and again a very humanist experiment: that despite all the struggle, there is innate beauty in the human drama that is reality, or life. Subjective documentary experiments can only prove what the heart and mind can discern, by what Flaherty’s wife called, “that high moment of seeing, that flash of penetration into the heart of the matter.”


NEIGHBOURING

CINEMA

C I N E MA WITH A C AU S E CA By Alamgir Kabir & T anvir M okammel Tanvir Mokammel (This is the first in a series of articles on the documentary cinema of our neigbouring countries. In this issue we discuss the documentary cinema of Bangla Desh.) After the partition of 1947, Dhaka, which was then a deglamourized ancient capital turned into a provincial town and became the capital of the East Pakistan province. Bengali Muslims woke up to find themselves within Pakistan but with Bengal’s cultural capital, Calcutta, lost to India. Soon they realised that everything had to be started from scratch, all over again. In the realm of cinema, however, the loss was the least as there was really nothing to lose. The province then had about 120 cinema halls showing Indian (Hindi) and West Pakistani (Urdu) films through local distributors and exhibitors. But many of them had closed down as their Hindu owners left for India. There was no question of making films as not only was there a serious dearth of filmmakers but also trained film technicians and filming equipments were virtually nonexistent.

The cultural base of the region was truly laid following the historic language movement of 1952 accompanied by the political disillusionment of our people about Pakistan and its imposed religion based communalism. Thus the people of East Bengal began their first genuine search for their national and cultural identity. It was Nazir Ahmed who played a pioneering role at a time when no one knew anything about filmmaking in East Bengal. His works can be undisputedly acknowledged as the first efforts at making short films and documentaries in East Pakistan. Being an official of Radio Pakistan, he recorded the arrival of Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Dhaka in 1947. He had hired a movie camera from Calcutta to record this momentous occasion. He also made a

short film called Salamat, a 4,000 ft film on the daily life of a real-life street mason. Untill the 1971 war of national liberation, a number of documentaries were made by Zahir Raihan, Rokeya Rahman Kabir and Daud Khan Majlis – mostly with government funding and within government imposed rules portraying the so-called “Islamic” culture. Rokeya Rahman Kabir’s film Sermons In Bricks was based on her research on the Hindu temples of Bangladesh. It was an excellent film with good colour photography by Syed Bazley Hussain. She was able to make such a film with the funds of an extremely communal government only because of her personal influence in capital Rawalpindi. But even she failed to get the film screened in Pakistan.

Tareque Masud shooting for one of his documentaries DOCUMENTARY TODAY 39


Some of the Bangladesh intellectuals who were martyred during the 1971 war of liberation

The East Pakistani Governor Abdul Manem Khan, a servile follower of the then Pakistani dictator General Ayub Khan, used his clout to ban the film from being screened in Dhaka. The negatives are now with Pakistani authorities. As expected by analysts for years, the Pakistani Armed Forces launched a ruthless campaign of genocide suddenly and with unprecedented ferocity on the night of March 25, 1971. From that fateful night it was no longer a fight to destroy the electionwinner – the Awami League party and its leader Bangobandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – but to destroy the backbone of the Bengalis as a nation. Bengalis were subjected to indiscriminate arson, loot, rape and mass-murder whether they were with the Awami League or not. NonMuslims suffered the same fate as the Jews during Hitler’s Final Solution. It was a situation that called for revolutionary filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini but where were they? The Bangladesh Government, temporarily headquartered in its Calcutta sanctuary, opened a Department of Films & Publications on traditional lines. It was headed by 40

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Dhaka-based director Abdul Jabbar Khan who had no idea about the free-length cinema format let alone cinema under revolutionary war conditions. Other professional film directors who had fled from the Pakistani occupation were Subhash Dutta, Narayan Ghosh and Zahir Raihan. Neither Dutta nor Ghosh had any known political commitment nor

The viewing of all these films appeared to hit him between the eyes. For reasons better left unsaid he never got a call from DFP but was eagerly funded with a very limited amount of Indian rupees by Indian friends of Bangladesh Revolution to make a film on Bangladesh genocide and the violation of human rights. The result has been one of those rare and happy occasions – like Rosselliini’s Paisa. With very little filmic material at his disposal, Zahir made the celebrated Stop Genocide virtually on the editing table. His almost insane preoccupation with the film and consequent innovativeness easily reminded one of the agit-train and agit-boat film-makers of the Soviet Revolution. It was truly the first freelength, that is, short film of Bangladesh of which one could justifiably feel some national pride. The film’s universal humanist approach went over the heads of jealous groups of idle film people and a section of the right-wing Awami Leaguers. But educated and knowledgeable Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed’s swift intervention swiftly cleared the mess, Even the Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was visibly moved by the film and ordered that Films Division to buy and circulate it internationally.

Until the 1971 war of national liberation, a number of documentaries were made mostly with government funding and within government imposed rules portraying the so called “Islamic” culture. an idea about war-time filmmaking. Zahir Raihan, a fellow traveller of the Pakistan Communist Party’s cultural wing, had the political vision and will but not the know-how. It was sheer coincidence that exactly at that moment Zahir Raihan saw Andrejz Wajda’s Ashes & Diamonds and some Cuban films including those made by the wizard Santiago Alvarez. Zahir was not a trained but he was born a filmmaker who could visualise a whole film without having to write down a single word on paper.

In June 1971, about halfway through the war, the provisional government assigned Zahir Raihan to produce three short films over-riding obstructions from its own film department. The production fund meant, in reality, a paltry Rs 40.000 but then, it was a war situation and Zahir faced it as such. During the following weeks three 19minute war documentaries were made. These were: Liberation Fighters, directed by Alamgir Kabir, Innocent Millions directed by Babul Choudhury, and A State is Born directed by Zahir


Raihan himself. Made on a shoe-string budget, these films hardly qualify for high grades in the craft of filmmaking but the authenticity of the sincerely filmed material now imparts them with

filmmaking technique. A number of unsuccessful commercial film directors adopted these ‘documentaries” as a back-up source of earning though they did not have any idea about either

Pogrom in Bangladesh incorporated the more vivid documentary evidence of mass-murder, torture and similar violations during the Pakistani Army’s occupation. It was to be used as filmic evidence in the war crimes trial. rare archival value. After the liberation on December 16, 1971, the government slowly moved back to Dhaka and set up offices. On January 31, 1971, Zahir Raihan suddenly disappeared in the collaborator-infested Mirpur suburb of Dhaka city – never to be seen again! In 1973 Alamgir Kabir was assigned to make a sequel of sorts of Stop Genocide, incorporating the more vivid documentary evidence of mass-murder, torture and similar violations during the Pakistani Army’s occupation. It was to be used as filmic evidence in the proposed war crimes trial. The film was titled Pogrom in Bangladesh and, once again, the filmmaker.had to be made after overcoming incomprehensible obstructions from some individuals inside the film department. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs assigned another film to Kabir on a similar theme and for a similar purpose. It was made in a relatively better atmosphere but before its completion the idea itself had to be suddenly re-cut and edited to suit the Government’s development programme. A very frustrating experience for any filmmaker. It was titled Long March Towards Golden Bangla (1974).

propaganda theory or about the art and craft of the short film format, To ensure maximum profit, work orders were issued by the number of reels, by greasing the right palms in the right quarters. Apart from two or three films based on subjects concerning the arts and crafts of Bangladesh, the scores of documentaries made in the shorter format proved to be a sheer national waste. Alongside all this, the commercial film industry made a steady nosedive to the lowest point of degeneration ever. Discerning audiences were literally driven away from the cinemas. In this gloomy atmosphere the only ray of hope appeared from the direction of the cine club movement. Unlike in most countries, the cine club movement here

took upon itself the additional task of initiating a socially responsible cinema alongside creating a sizable clan of discerning audience. Thanks to its relentless efforts the government set up a film archive which provided the nucleus for the growth of a new generation of young film-makers. Their technical expertise is still in the early formative stage but some appear to have successfully grasped the role that cinema is really meant to play in a country constantly plagued with innumerable economic, political and social problems. The documentary scenario in Bangladesh today is thus: each year the Department of Film & Publication (DFP) produces some crude propaganda “documentaries” – rather, call them footages. DFP is quite unlike the Indian Films Division which has produced serious films made by directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Mani Kaul. Neither is it like the West Bengal State Government’s Film Production Unit, which, even with its limited resource, has produced such well-meaning documentaries as Tomorrow is Too Late, Kabitar Ananta Jatrapathe, Meeting a Milestone, Scroll Paintings of Birbhum, etc.

A still from the 1995 documentary classic Muktir Gan, directed by Tareque and Catherine Masud

Since the violent change of Government in 1975, the Department of Films and Publications and various other ministries engaged themselves in the production of propaganda documentaries. This resulted in the growth of an extremely shoddy DOCUMENTARY TODAY 41


A good documentary can be a purely journalistic one or it can elevate itself to a poetic level (who can forget the synchronisation of the superb rhythm of Auden’s poetry with the wheels of Nightmail?). But the quintessence of a documentary, I think, is truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, the government-produced documentaries in Bangladesh are hardly truthful. Thousands of feet of official footages that DFP churns out each year are mostly endeavours to picturise falsified images of the person at the top cutting tapes or delivering speeches. But due to the myopic sense of history of our governments, all these “important”(!) footages of any previous government soon become redundant during the

tenure of the next government. Nobody even takes care to preserve the footages of the fallen gods!

commissioned filmmakers, A filmmaker’s qualification to obtain a DFP commissioned film contract does

A good documentary can be a pure journalistic one, or it can elevate itself to a poetic level. But the quintessence of a documentary, I think, is truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately the government-produced documentaries are hardly truthful in Bangladesh. Regarding other subject-oriented “documentaries”(!) that DFP occasionally produces, unholy alliances are often conspicuous between the DFP personnel and the

A still from Faris Kermani’s Bangladesh Story: Under Three Flags, which is a vivid account of Bangladesh’s troubled history.

not necessarily depend on his competence as a filmmaker but on his linkages in the omnipotent Ministry, These films have merely turned into a source of “left hand” earning of some failed feature filmmakers, A good amount of the money gets siphoned off even before a project takes off. As a result, the film suffers and the taxpayer’s money goes with the wind! Among other government-financed bodies, Shishu (Children) Academy sometimes ventures into some film endeavours but nothing worthwhile has so far come out from the organization. With the state of things being what they are and with the complacent nonperceptive bureaucrats up in the Ministry, the chances of a major breakthrough for better cinema in Bangladesh seems bleak. Since 1984-85, when Agami Hooliya showed the way, several dozen short films followed suit. Subsequently a new vista opened up in the alternative horizon of Bangladesh filmdom, Though still in a embryonic stage, these young filmmakers have succeeded in building up an alternative distribution channel of their own. From raising funds to visualizing a film to managing its proper distribution and sometimes even running the projector himself, the alternative filmmaker of Bangladesh has to undergo the whole cycle of filmmaking. Generally these films are shot in 16 mm. Thus the choice between the use of 35 mm. and 16 mm. has become not

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only a choice between two formats but a choice between two approaches to filmmaking, two attitudes, two ideologies. Among all the arts, cinema has the least chance of being a product in a vacuum. Film is essentially a product of specific socio-economic realities, involving money and human labour. So the condition of a given society is bound to be imprinted on the body of a film, and in the case of our films, what naturally gets imprinted are the muddled realities of contemporary Bangladesh. In some Third World countries, a kind of technically slick ‘alternative’ films are made with some western festivals in mind. In Bangladesh, alternative films are not made with an eye on some tacky festivals (we hardly even know the name of these festivals!), but are aimed at the Bangladeshis. These films, though technically flawed and amateurish, have therefore succeeded since they have “a touch of the soil”. Actually some of these short-films do not invite the audience for an aesthetic experience – often the aim is to incite the audience, like the agit-prop films. During the late 60s and the 70s a kind of alternative cinema emerged in

A still from the film Agami Hooliya which paved the way for the short film movement in Bangladesh

evident as most of these young filmmakers were in their boyhood, in their most sensitive formative years during 1971. So, the trauma they had experienced then resulted in 1971 appearing in their films again and again, almost like a leitmotif It often happens in our sub-continent that the inclusion of a few permissive erotic scenes is a sort of financial guarantee for the success of avantgarde films. In Bangladesh, it is the

It seems it is our destiny that we grow with the political movement of our country. Whoever is in power, the ethos of Bangladesh statehood remains the same—communal, bureaucratic and philistine. By becoming a film-activist each of us essentially ends up being a political activist too. Calcutta centering around the symbol of an angry young man amidst decadence of middle-class idealism: Padatik, Interview, Pratidwandi, Dooratwa, Daur. In Dhaka, the symbol is often that of a youth amidst the decay of the values of the 1971 liberation war. It is curious to see that most of these short-film makers began their career by venturing a film on the 1971 Liberation. The reason seems self-

emotion of challenging the existing political taboos which make these films popular. But these political nuances are so typical and topical of Bangladesh that “outsiders” can hardly discern what is so exceptional about these otherwise flawed and amateurishly made films. The Bangladesh audience has also, by now, formed a tendency to transform any subversive element in a film which has escaped censorship into

a pleasurable entertainment. Hence, it is no wonder that these short films tend to be screened more in the months of December-March, which are the months of hectic political activism in Bangladesh. It seems to be our destiny to grow with the political movement of our country (maybe we also perish along with it!). Actually we know pretty well that whether the Jatiyos or the Jatioytabadis are in power, the ethos of Bangladesh statehood remains the same – communal, bureaucratic and philistine. So by becoming a filmactivist each of us essentially ends up being a political activist too. At the same time, we refuse to be marginalised and patronisingly patted as mere “short film makers” by the establishment. We are independent filmmakers, realistic filmmakers, true filmmakers, the rest are … well, businessmen! Though we mostly work in the film format – largely, 16mm – we do appreciate the potency of the medium of video. I think any alternative filmmaker of our times has to learn to work on and off with video as well. There should be no watertight compartments. Some filmmakers might working on both formats for different contexts and subjects. With digital DOCUMENTARY TODAY 43


support from any such bodies as NFDC or Doordarshan, like our neighbouring Indian alternative filmmakers may have, fund-raising for well-meaning films in Bangladesh remains a labyrinthine process. The concept of a government grant for better films is still a mirage to us. The joke goes around the city that if you find a young man with a pathetic face moving around asking for loans from everyone he knows, be sure he is a short filmmaker!

A still from a mother’s lament directed by Yasmine Kabir recounting the tragedy of a 16-year-old boy picked up by the police

effects, a sea change has taken place in the development of the visual quality of video and now a highly professional format of tapes are being researched upon for the preservation of film. With these new technical developments and with more and more sure to come, video can, in certain aspects, uphold documentation much better in its pristine form, in what Grierson would like to call the “creative treatment of actuality”. Video has, willy-nilly, performed one good subversive act, that is, it has rendered all the censor codes redundant. A brief visit to any videoshop around the street corner will show you what I mean. An alternative filmmaker has to learn to exploit this alternative possibility politically. The film movement is often compared to the Group Theatre movement in Bangladesh which by now has come of age and has carved a niche at home and abroad, But I think the conditions between the two are organically different. Film is much more an expensive and cumbersome medium than theatre. Besides, film is a technological medium and, in Bangladesh, the technology is monopoly-owned by a philistine 44

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government. But the most significant difference between the two lies in the fact that group theatres in this country do not have to compete with any established commercial theatre which simply does not exist in Bangladesh, But alternative filmmakers, at every step, have to counter the enmity of a

Even if someone gets hold of the money, the production hassles make one handicapped due to a lack of proper 16mm infrastructure facilities in this country. Scarcity of raw materials is another hindrance, as availability of both 16 mm. negative and positive films, magnetic tapes, even obtaining a splicer may often become an acute problem. With the FDC proceeding at a snail’s pace towards fully realizing its long-pledged 16 mm. infrastructure, and the hackneyed machines of DFP deteriorating fast into mere junk, a film with technical perfection is still a dream for us. Look at the picture and

With digital effects, a sea change has been taking place in the development of the visual quality of video. To ignore the present video-boom is to hide one’s face like the proverbial ostrich. Let us once forever grow out of the film versus video debate and learn to live with both. powerful commercial establishment.

film

So this is backdrop against which short films are being made in Bangladesh. But there are several problems and they are of a variegated nature. Paucity of fund remains the most acute problem, Nothing moves without money, at least, not in cinema. Although Bangladeshi films are made on a shoestring budget, even raising that small amount of money is a Herculean task in itself. Not having

sound quality of our films! The prints are scratched or pin-holed, the images are muddy and the soundtracks are often inaudible. Regarding technical quality, sincerity alone is not enough and we the film makers cannot disown our shore of responsibility too. I think the days of amateurishness should be over by now, and the alternative film-makers have to show professionalism in handling their stuff. Another impediment in the development of Better Cinema in Bangladesh is the insular and


anachronistic censor codes. All the existing censorship acts of Bangladesh basically emanate from the Cinematograph Act of 1918, codified in British-India. Though the Raj days have long been fossilized into memory, all the censorship acts – Film Rules of 1972, Film Rules of 1977 or the New Codes introduced in 1985 – are as antidemocratic as the rules of the British days and brazenly exude the colonial legacy. Most well-meaning films were stopped by the censor boards and one film, Nadir Nam Modhumati even had

our bandwagon, Beware of these intruders! Some well-meaning short filmmakers may gradually succumb to the more lucrative and safer video business of the NGO-world and may get carried away – just as India has already lost some of its FTII graduates to the money-spinning world of corporate and ad-films. Actually our battle is multi-pronged. Cinema is a conglomeration of different art forms. Unless other forms

Fund-raising for well-meaning films in Bangladesh remains a labyrinthine process. The concept of government grant for better cinema is still a mirage. Even if someone gets hold of the money, the production hassles handicap us due to a lack of proper infrastructure. to go to the high court to obtain a release. Since permission is needed from the local administration for any film screening outside the normal theatrical circuit, alternative film-makers often also have to suffer from the bureaucratic hazards to exhibit their films. It seems that lot of the problems of alternative cinema in Bangladesh are actually the problems of underdevelopment. But it has its positive side, too. Due to the underdevelopment of capitalist relations here, we are still able to retain the ownership of our films. It remains to be seen if we will be able to own and exhibit our films according to our own free choice once the market economy becomes fully operative.

of art prosper in a society one should not expect much from film alone. What is the condition of our serious literature? Or classical music? Dance, painting and so on? It is true that some films are being made and some of these films may have some finer points, yet there is so much to be desired, Out of

the films made so far very few are even presentable. Besides, to compete with the 35 mm mainstream cinema, we have to make 16 mm full length films. Short films alone cannot provide the complete alternative. We are aware of the fact that cinema is an exceptional form of art, an art akin to an industry which requires not only artistic skills, but money, equipment, raw material and manpower, An independent filmmaker, being the producer of his own film, has to be a good entrepreneur as well – or at least have some entrepreneurial skill. One hopes that one day these young fledgling film activists will gradually turn into seasoned filmmakers with social insight and consummate technical skill and will learn to work both within and without the FDC, both within and without the establishment – a tricky art that any alternative filmmaker will have to master in order to survive and to get going. The awareness of the fact that Zahir Raihan was pressurized into compromising and Alamgir Kabir had to waver has taught us one important lesson: to avoid the establishment, that is, the 35 mm. format. Because of its low-budget and availability of

Tareque Shahriar’s The Black House (1999) portrays the inexorable effect of an unfit environment on working children

These are the problems of all filmmakers but there are problems specific to short filmmakers, too. With pure commerce in mind, some unscrupulous short filmmakers, whose films are just short in length but contain all the saucy elements of the mainstream cinema, often sneak into DOCUMENTARY TODAY 45


should be: from short films to all kinds of films. Short filmmaking cannot be an end-in-itself. For a full-bloomed alternative cinema movement there has to be alternative full-length films. With this scenario in mind, let us spell out some of our demands.

King For a Day (2000) is a video documentary on Bill Clinton’s visit to Dhaka

exhibition facilities within the country, the quintessence of our movement is 16mm. Actually the very process of short-film making in 16 mm has democratised both the processes of film-making and its distribution. It has also demystified the concept of cinema as a whole in our country. With the advent of video technology this process of democratisation is gathering further momentum. Some of our films are popular because people see in these films certain aspects of their lives which they do not normally see in the run-of-the-mill commercial productions. Even the severest critic would admit that these films at least try in earnest. to reflect the pangs, pathos and aspirations of our people. The one advantage that we have in Bangladesh is the newness of our statehood. While in some part of the world, the film society movement has long been fossilized, in Bangladesh the film society movement is still a force to reckon with. The reason perhaps is that things are new in this country. Activism of the film society movement continues to provide a breeding ground for aspirant filmmakers who are generally eager to embark on the alternative path. Half-a-decade ago we rightfully felt 46

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that the bond of good camaraderie among us has to be institutionalised and hence we formed the Bangladesh Short Film Forum. One success that this body can boast of is the alternative distribution network that we had envisaged which, though still in an embryonic form, is quite operative now. Cultural organisations, student and youth organisations, trade unions, mass organisations in the districts and sub-districts have provided us with a

One can only dream of having benevolent institutions like the National Film Board of Canada or the National Film Development Corporation in Bangladesh! We demand the reintroduction of government grant for short and documentary films. A grant for ten short films a year should not cost more than two crore takas which is peanuts for the government exchequer considering that it annually earns around thirty crore takas from the revenue of film trade. I think the time is already overdue for the government to prove its pledged commitment to support better cinema in real terms. According to the 1972 Cinematograph Act, theatres have to compulsorily allocate twenty minutes for screening government newsreels. The allocation of screening time should be extended and instead of insipid government

Some films are popular because people see in them certain aspects of their lives which they do not normally see in commercial productions. Even the severest critic will admit that these films try earnestly to uphold the pangs, pathos and aspirations of our people. parallel non-theatrical network. We were pushed to a corner but we have now learned a few tricks to outmanoeuvre the philistine censor board and a lethargic bureaucracy – with a few guerrilla tactics(!). But then, remember, during 1971, this was a land of gritty guerrillas! Although an alternative cinema in Bangladesh is developing through the short film movement, there is no going back to square one. The approach

propaganda newsreels, quality short films should be screened. It is one of our age-old demands to establish a National Film Centre in Bangladesh. The proposed National Film Centre is to be a complex with a multi-gauge 1,500 seat auditorium, a smaller one of around 200 seats with video projection facilities, and a good research library. The British Film Institute or Nandan of West Bengal provides perfect examples of what we


demand. The creation of this film complex is a long-standing need of the cineastes of this country and if the government continues to pay no heed, we will establish it by ourselves, someday, God willing! We also demand repeal of all black laws against the film society movement. The film society movement has to be strengthened since it provides the launching pad for all filmmakers, and also the much-coveted ideological bond among the alternative filmmakers of this country.

programme of non-fiction films followed by a discussion? But experience shows that whenever these very reasonable demands of ours are forwarded to the appropriate authorities we are met with a Sphinxlike silence. But we still hope that the government policy makers will not push us to the extreme, to conduct our filmic activities in underground. Any wellmeaning government should realize that the voice of an independent film-

Any well-meaning government should realize that the voice of an independent film-maker is also the voice of democracy, We hope that both political and civil society leaders in Bangladesh will realize the potential of the film medium. Bangladesh Television could be a potential outlet for films made by independent film makers. It is annoying that Bangladesh Television (BTV) which is run by the taxpayer’s money has turned into a mere governmentmonopolised propaganda media. Having been outmoded by CNN and Cable Television, BTV tends to escape more and more into those goody-goody middle-class soap operas which they call TV serials. It is a pity that like the other government film-related body DFP, the name of BTV is also greeted with derision, and justifiably so, in concerned circles.

maker is also the voice of democracy, We hope that both political and civil society leaders in Bangladesh will realize the potential of the film medium and will encourage film to be a vigilant force of our nascent democracy.

Since independence, so many things in our polity and society have changed but the fatuous condition of our mainstream cinema has not changed at all The condition of the Seventh Art, or as Bela Belazs would like to call it, the Tenth Muse, remains simply pathetic. The only ray of hope in the otherwise dark filmdom in this country is the endeavour of the alternative film makers to make and distribute their films through alternative channels. The wheel is still spinning. It is too early to prophesy the finale, but we believe that through these endeavours a socially and artistically committed alternative cinema will emerge in Bangladesh. But we are also aware that we live in, and thrive along, with the democratic and progressive aspiration of our people. Let us never alienate our art from this bond, not in the name of pure art, nor of sophistication nor of any other purpose whatsoever. That may lead us to few prizes in some tacky international festivals, but if the umbilical cord with the peoples’ movements is severed, the days of the alternative filmmovement in Bangladesh will be numbered.

A still from The Women of Kisani Sabha (2001)

We cannot leave such a powerful medium to the whims and unimaginativeness of some nonperceptive television bureaucrats. We want democratisation in the electronic medium as well. It is a pity that BTV has no coherent or accepted pattern in its film programming. It seems keen to show trash commercial films of FDC but hardly shows a well-meaning short film made in this country. On the rare occasions that BTV shows a documentary, it is shown merely as a filler between two programmes. Cannot BTV envisage a special DOCUMENTARY TODAY 47


CURTAIN

RAISER

M.I.F .F 00 8: A F east of Films M.I.F.F .F.. 2 200 008: Feast the spirit of competition and the search for excellence. Every edition of M.I.F.F. is wellattended by delegates from various parts of the globe. M.I.F.F. 2006 had the congregation of more than 4500 delegates from India and abroad. The main support base consists of committed youth and students, social engineers, intellectuals, journalists and also enthusiastic common-man. The reach of the festival in terms of participation of films in competition and other sections is wide and far. More than 40 countries take part in every edition of M.I.F.F. Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, then Vice President of India, inaugurates the first ever Bombay International Film Festival for Short Films held in 1990

A veritable feast of films awaits the discerning cineaste at the forthcoming tenth edition of the Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films, which will get underway in Mumbai from February 3, 2008 at its original venue at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. The festival will end on February 9, 2008. As many as 228 films from 37 countries were entered for the International Competition section while 543 Indian films were entered for the Indian Competition section. The selection process is now over and the results will be announced shortly. Apart from the Competition sections the festival will also have the usual Retrospective Section as also several Special Packages (see box). The topics (Delegate cards for the festival are available at the Registration Unit, M.I.F.F. 2008, Films Division, 24 Dr Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg, Mumbai 400028 on the payment of Rs 100 for delegates and Rs 50 for student delegates.) 48

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of the Seminar and the daily Open Forums (conducted all through the festival) are also being finalized. M.I.F.F. has always been receptive to experimentation in form and content and recognizes the creative output of technological advancement. It is a bridge between different societies and idea, serving as a platform to promote

Over the years the M.I.F.F. has grown in both size and stature and is currently ranked the third largest documentary festival in the world. It also offers the highest prize money among nonfeature film festivals. The festival is being organized biennially since 1990 by the Films Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in collaboration with the Government of Maharashtra.

Mr. Vijay Chandra, Director of BIFF and Chief Producer Films Division, chats with Mr. Homi Sethna just before he was conferred the V. Shantaram Award for Lifetime Achievement


Special Packages At M.I.F.F. 2008 SOUTH AFRICA - FROM THE MARGINS TO THE CENTRE Special Package of films from South Africa reflecting the socio-cultural and political development of the country since the dismantling of apartheid. SAARC FILMS Documentary & short fiction films from Sri Lanka” Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives will feature in this special package. FILMS FROM BRAZIL A Package of Documentary, short and Animation films from Brazil made by its prominent filmmakers. This package is presented with the help of the Ministry of Culture, Brazil. BEST OF FESTIVALS Selected films from somc of the renowned documentary, short and animation film festivals and Oscar winning & nominated films. JURY’S RETROSPECTIVE This section comprises films made by the Members of the Jury CLASSICS: FILMS OF GREAT MASTERS OF DOCUMENTARY FILMS This section comprises of films made by the Great Masters like, Bert Haanstra, Robert J. Flaherty, Francois Truffaut, Istvan Szabo, Krist of Zanussi and Ritwick Ghatak. This package will be organized with the support of National Film Archive of lndia. FILM MEMOIR Biographical films made on great filmmakers like, Andrei Tarkovsky, Bergman. Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy will feature in this section. ADULT CARTOONS A collection of animation films made for adult viewers by National Film Board of Canada. FILMS ON SECOND WORLD WAR This package comprises the rarest film records of the Indian troops in action at variolts part of world during Second World War. This will also feature the battle of Britain, Russia and other major incidents of that period. This package is being organized with the help of the Armed Forces Film & Pholo Division, Delhi. FILMS FROM THE NORTH - EASTERN INDIA Films from all eight states of the entire North-East of India including Sikkim, reflecting the lives and sociocultural and political milieu of the people. FILMS FROM JAMMU & KASHMIR This special package of films will depict various aspects of the state through the eyes of the filmmakers from Jammu & Kashmir. GLIMPSES OF FILMS DIVISOIN This section will showcase the films on the entire spectrum of development of India made by Films Division’s Directors since its inception in 1948. HOMAGE Films Division will pay tribute to the filmmakers who passed away in the recent past

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NEWSREEL

Bagher Bac hc ha to open P anorama Bachc hcha Panorama The non-feature section of the Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India, to be held in Panjim, Goa, from November 23 to December 4, 2007, will open with Bishnu Deb Haldar’s Bengali “Bagher Baccha” (The Tiger Cub). The other selected films are Aribam Syam Sharma’s Rajashree Bhagya Chardoa of Manipur, Supriyo Sen’s Hope Dies Last In War, Meren Imochen’s Nokpokliba (all English), Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Naushad Ali – The Melody Continues, V Packiriswamy’s Pandit Ramnarayan, Ladly Mukhopadhyay’s Whose Land Is It Anyway?, Ashok Rane’s Masti Bhara Hai Sama, Manisha Issrani Misra’s Joy Ride, Bipin Chaubal’s Mubarak Begum (all Hindi), M A Rehman’s M-Tyude Kumaraneloorke Kulangal, Vipin Vijay’s Poomaram, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s The Dance Of The Enchantress, Dhiraj Meshram’s Harvilele Indradhansh (all Malayalam) and Haobam Paban Kumar’s Ngaihak Lambida (Manipuri). The non-feature film jury, headed by filmmaker Arun Khopkar, selected only 15 entries for the Panorama out of the 149 entries received. Stills from Rajashri Bhagyachandra of Manipur, directed by Aribam Syam Sarma (below) and Mubarak Begum, directed by Bipin Chaubal (right)

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A still from Pandit Ramnarayan, directed by V. Packiriswamy


Aranyam 2 00 7 strikes an alarming cchord hord 200 007 Aranyam 2007, a three-day festival of environment films curated by ActNow, struck a rather alarming chord with documentaries that detailed not only what we have done to the world but also the retribution that is forthcoming. There were several noteworthy films produced by the BBC and the National Geographic on display but the most interesting were a set of Indian documentaries commissioned by the UK government as part of the UK Environment Film Fellowship.

Concern looked at the quickening pace of glacial melting in Ladakh, while A Green Agony looked at the pitiable fate of the Sunderbans and the havoc being played on them due to increasing salinity and sea-level rise. Climate’s First Orphans detailed the submergence of coastal villages in Orissa at an alarming rate. Though these films made many important points one felt that some of them could have benefited from more scientific rigor and less rhetoric.

The Weeping Apple Tree by Vijay S. Jodha traced the northward shift of the Himalayan apple growing belt in Himachal Pradesh due to the region’s rising temperatures. A Degree of

The other big focus of the festival was on the threats to various species of wildlife posed by increasing deforestation and human development. Leopards in the Lurch by Gurmeet Sapal for instance, was a moving, poignant tale of the retribution doled out to leopards for desperate attacks on humans and domesticated animals, resulting from loss of habitat and prey. The most horrifying point, however, were made by films that focused on the poaching of animals for the sake of human greed. From the gentle tuskers of Silenced Witnesses by P. Balan to the ephemeral butterflies of Once There Was A Purple Butterfly by Sonia Kapoor, one felt the pain of a variety of creatures killed, sometimes excessively cruelly, for no reason other than possessing objects that humans coveted.

Films on Painters Chitrakoot, Kolkata’s modern and contemporary art gallery, recently released a DVD called Eight Artists comprising eight 10-minute films on noted Bengali modernists. Documentary films on artists have always been a favourite with Kolkatra audiences but the trend seems to have taken off in recent years. Several years ago films were made on artists like Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose and Binode Bihari Mukhopadhyay. An award-winning film, The Graven Image, was crafted on the renowned sculptor Chintamoni Kar. Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta also created two documentaries on veteran painters Ganesh Pyne and Rabin Mondal. There is also a documentary on painter Wasim Kapoor. Recently, quite a few films have been made on Indian artists. K Bikram Singh has been one of the prominent film makers in this field. There have been films on the progressive group of artists like Akbar Padamsee. — Ashoke Nag

Of course, there was also some beauty in the middle of all of the sorrow. Wild Dog Diaries by Krupakar and Senani, the premiere film of the festival, provided wonderful insights into the elusive dhol of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. These animals have always been the underdogs of the forests in the South, treated as vermin and dismissed as unimportant, when compared to more majestic creatures such as tigers and leopards. Also moving was Cherub of the Mist, which followed the successful attempts to release into the wild two red pandas raised in captivity.

David Attenborough

The other interesting films shown at the festival included the two-part series Are We Changing Planet Earth? and Can We Save Planet Earth? featuring David Attenborough and the National Geographic documentary Strange Days on Planet Earth: The One Degree Factor, hosted by actor Edward Norton. The latter documentary tracks changes as the fall in caribou population in the Arctic, the drying up of Lake Chad in Nigeria, the rise in asthma cases in Trinidad, and thus establishes a definite link to the sudden rise in temperatures in varied regions across the globe. On a parallel note was Global Dimming by the BBC, which discusses a process running alongside global warming in which particulate matter from vehicular and industrial emissions has reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface and has affected the earth’s climatic patterns in unusually disastrous ways, including possibly causing the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s.

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7 Indian documentaries telecast on Japanese TV

Tirthankar Dasgupta’s film Borno Paricahy is about College Street, Kolkata’s book district

Seven Indian documentary films were telecast in the last week of September by NHK, one of Japan’s largest television networks. The festival was held in co-operation with the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) of Kolkata. The central idea was to see India beyond the customary matrix of “progress, poverty and culture” and take a closer look at contemporary India, both rural and urban, through the prism of the vast changes sweeping through India. The idea was to select films which chronicled change from a personal point of view. Thus Tirthankar Dasgupta’s film Borno Paricahy was about College Street, Kolkata’s book district, where “literary, political and academic aspirations meet, interact, mature or perish”. The film is an intensely personal and individualistic look at a cultural phenomenon which is typically Kolkata. Another film with a specific Kolkata flavour was Anirban Dutta’s Chronicle of an Amnesiac. According top the director the film “takes a fond look at characters who are in the process of disappearing into the domain of amnesia”. The film is centred around 52

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three characters: Pradip Chatterjee, a collector of abstract street sounds; the 92-year-old disillusioned Communist who has seen and gone through the tumult of change; and the monkey man, whose business has fallen foul with changed laws. “All three represent a culture that is getting morphed by shifting times,” says the filmmaker. Even more interesting was Bharath Murthy’s film: The Jasmine of Mysore, which took a close look at “the

emergence of amateur, self-filmed pornography and the coming of age of the voyeur in India”. The film takes off from a well-publicised incident in Bangalore, Karnataka, when a selfmade film (Mysore Mallige) by two lovers is leaked on to the internet and the MMS circuit and gains a certain amount of cult popularity among a section of the population. The film attempts to retrace the route taken by the key players of the incident, including the couple, the editor of the magazine that ‘broke’ the news and young viewers. Claims Murthy, “The film chronicles a phenomenon of modern Indian society. If Bangalore is known internationally as an IT hub, this is its underbelly.” Two women cauight in a dilemma were depicted in two other films: Subhadeep Ghosh’s film Through the Ground Glass, centred around on Basanti Devi, a lady from a remote corner of Jharkhand’s Dumka district trying to break the hierarchical-feudal shackles of heartland India, while Sudipta Bhowmick’s Shadows of Forgotten Melodies, focussed on Anindita, a young member of North Bengal’s Rajbongshi community who is torn between her fondness for mainstream

Strange Days on Planet Earth, shown at Aranyam 2007


popular entertainment and her community’s expectation of her carrying the torch of a long tradition in folk music, were two other films that were screened. Nilanjan Bhattacharya’s Jodi Brishti Ashey follows three generations of a Sikkimese family. Shot over nine years, the film, through different phases, the film weaves in the tale of an elderly Lama renowned as a rainmaker in the region, his son, well-known as a maskmaker but with a pronounced inclination towards gambling, and the Lama’s grandson, under societal pressure to learn the patriarch’s rainmaking skills even as Sikkim is shown gradually wilting to the charms of change. And finally there was Mumbai-based filmmaker Kanu Behl’s Mila Kya? about the stigma attached to the family of a runaway child. The search for the child is a physical as well as a spiritual journey for the three friends, including Behl, who search for their childhood friend who had run away years ago. All the directors whose films were telecast regretted that Indian television was yet to provide a similar platform for them. “The big difference between most developed countries and India is that whereas documentary films run parallel to mainstream entertainment there, in India it is either seen as activism or as a luxury. Most channels there have dedicated time slots for documentaries, whereas serials dominate the fare in Indian channels and there is no space for alternative thoughts,” said Tirthankar Dasgupta. “That Japan or any other advanced nation would evince interest in such intrinsically Indian issues is not unique since for them to go outside their social and cultural boundaries is about gaining in experience, wisdom and knowledge. Unfortunately, in India, there is no support mechanism for such knowledge sharing,” regretted Nilotpal Majumdar, head of the editing department at SRFTI. — Shamik Bag

Priyanka Chopra to star as animated superhero Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra will portray a superhero princess with mystical powers in a new series of graphic novels, to be developed by Virgin Comics, which is a year-old venture involving British billionaire Richard Branson, self-improvement guru Deepak Chopra and Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. Virgin is still working on a title for the series and a name for Chopra’s character. However, initial images show the curvaceous Priyanka Chopra clad in a fitted gold and black suit with billowing black hair, and another shows her wearing silver armour over a wispy white blouse.

projects our team has worked on,” he said. Virgin sees India, with its one billion plus population, as an important market for its novels, covering genres from horror and fantasy to super hero adventures. “I love cartoons and animation,” said Chopra in a statement, “so being able to create my own original superhero ... is a dream come true.”

Suresh Seetharaman, president of Virgin Comics, India, said that the company was also working with the former Miss World to develop an animated film and game based on the books, to be launched next year. “Collaborating with Priyanka to create a character around her brand -- one that is bold, beautiful and smart — has already been one of the most exciting

Rajnikanth as Sultan the Warrior Another star who will soon be seen as a animated superhero is the Tamil megastar Rajnikanth. His daughter Soundarya who runs the animation company Ochre Studios in Chennai is all set to write and direct her larger-than-life father in a 1 hour 45 minute 3D animation film Sultan The Warrior. “The film, which is in the storyboard stage, will be packed with masala, songs, romance, fights and the music will be scored by A.R. Rahman,” reveals Kartik G., chief Marketing Officer of Ochre Studios. The film is expected to be ready by 2008. DOCUMENTARY TODAY 53


C N BC-Arena A wards for Excellence in Animation Awards CNBC TV18 and Arena Multimedia have joined hands to institute The Golden Cursor Excellence in Animation Awards. The awards will felicitate animation developers into two basic categories - amateur and professional. The professional entries will be further divided sector wise which includes films, TV commercials, mobile entertainment, TV channels and animation games. An expert team constituting of a panel of Animation experts from The Cell (The TV18 graphics & animation team), AnimationXpress.com editorial team and the Tech2 editorial team will shortlist entries on the basis of predetermined parameters This is the first time that excellence in the animation industry is being recognized. The award has been conceptualized with the objective of enhancing and shaping the future of the Indian Animation industry and creating a unique foothold in the international animation arena. According to NASSCOM, the Indian animation market is slowly catching up with global markets with about $345 million in 2006, a growth of 24 per cent over the previous year. The sector is forecast to reach $869 million by 2010 at a CAGR of 25 per cent over the 20062010 period. “The Indian animation industry is currently driving on two key factors a large base of highly skilled labour and low cost of production. There are around 300 animation companies’ in India employing 12,000 employees. While the industry is gaining prominence, awards like Golden Cursor Excellence in Animation Awards will bring to light some of the best work that this industry has projected in the last few years,.” said Ajay Chacko, marketing head of CNBC Universe. 54

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The Thinker

3 N outh Asia NII D documentaries at Film S South Three Indian documentaries made by students of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, were among the films unspooled at the biennial Film South Asia festival held at Kathmandu from October 14, 2007. The three films were Akhila Krishnan’s Words In Stone, Nayantara Kotian’s Casting Shadows and Megha Lakhani’s Prakash Travelling Cinema. Akhila Krishnan’s 22-minute documentary uses the tomb of a seventeenth-century Gujarati poet Vali Gujarati as a metaphor to trace the root of communal violence in Gujarat. The poet’s tomb in Shahibaug in Ahmedabad was razed during the 2002 riots. Vali Gujarati is a leading figure of Urdu poetry and his impact on Urdu ghazal is immense. He is said to have died in Ahmedabad city in 1707 and his tomb, built on a road in the city, was a historical attraction of the city. “When

I spoke to people here, I was shocked to learn that Vali was a forgotten figure until his tomb was razed. Through the film I have tried to establish who Vali was and why he wrote, what his ghazals conveyed, and its relevance vis-à-vis the communal violence that he fell prey to,” says Akhila. The documentary, which had earlier won the second prize at the IDPA (Indian Documentary Producers’ Association) Awards last year, recalls the culture, language and history of Gujarat in the light of the changed environment of riot and hatred.. Lakhani’s Prakash Travelling Cinema is a story of two brothers who are keeping alive the tradition of street entertainment through the kaleidoscope. Kotian’s Casting Shadows is an interesting concept which deals with Amitabh Bachchan’s doubles. — Kumar Anand


New D ocumentary Documentary Series on N DTV ND NDTV’s new programme Documentary 24x7 kicked off on October 18, 2007 with a telecast of Amar Kanwar ’s Many Faces of Madness, a short film on the reality of ecological destruction in India today. The series, a first of its kind on a news channel, will feature an array of cutting edge and path-breaking documentaries that explore contemporary issues. Documentary 24x7 will provide a platform for documentary films that have had a restricted audience in India. The series will move beyond the realm of headlines and breaking news to create a dialogue on broader and more enduring concerns The programme will be aired every Thursday at 9.30 pm with a repeat telecast every Sunday at 1:30 pm. The series will air a mix of award winning works by seasoned filmmakers, both from India and from across the world, that reflect a wide range of subject, style, content and form. Some of the chosen films include Sonali Gulati’s Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night based on the BPO industry from an American immigrant’s perspective; Safina Uberoi’s Brides of Khan, which portrays Sydney-based photographer Alan Khan, famous for his wedding photographs of Indian, Greek, Lebanese and Chinese immigrants in Australia; and Paromita Vohra’s Where’s Sandra which delves into Christian stereotypes.

CM S V atavaran 2 00 7 H onours The B est CMS Vatavaran 200 007 Honours Best Twenty-two awards were given in National category and eight awards were given away to International films at the CMS Vatavaran 2007, a National Competitive Environment and Wildlife Film Festival which concluded on September 16, 2007 in New Delhi. The awards, presented by Mrs Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, were given to the productions that most effectively and creatively used the medium of moving images to advance appreciation of the natural world and also highlight various environment and wildlife issues of importance. CMS Vatavaran is a biennially competitive and traveling film environment and wildlife festival, which is an initiative of the Centre for Media Studies and supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). A host of eminent personalities are associated in organizing of the festival. In the Indian category Senani Hegde Wild Dog Diaries bagged the Best of Festival 2007 with a Trophy, citation and Rs. 1.5 lakhs. It also received the award for Best story telling. Krishnendu Bose’s Tiger – The Death Chronicles won the coveted award in the Wildlife Conservation Category with a cash prize of Rs one lakh. The Delhi Chief Minister Award in the Environment Conservation Category was awarded to Earth Calling - Episode Coorg, directed by Rita Banerji and Shilpi Sharma with a cash prize of Rs one lakh.The CMS Academy Award for Young Environmental Journalist (Print and Broadcast) with a cash prize of Rs 25,000 was given to Amar Jyoti Baruah from Assam and Bahar Dutt from CNN IBN respectively. The Queen of Trees, directed by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone bagged Best of the Festival in the newly introduced International Competitive Category. A trophy and citation was given to eight other films in six categories. The other new initiatives of the Festival included the recognition of achievements in the technical excellence category. Awards for technical excellence went to Suresh Elamon’s Angels in Tigerland for Best Cinematography and Umesh Aggarwal’s The Whistle Blowers for Best Editing. “72 nominated films from both Indian and international category were screened apart from a panorama of climate change films which included Happy Feet, The Day after Tomorrow and Inconvenient Truth. The summit on climate change, seminar on state of rivers in India, panel discussions on conservation and livelihoods, films for campaign and advocacy, framing policies for wildlife filming were the main highlights of the festival. Five workshops on wildlife filming, story telling, nature photography, animation and eco-friendly practices were also added attraction,” of the five days festival commented the Festival Director Alka Tomar.

Most documentary films go unnoticed by a majority in the country due to issues in distribution and marketing of this genre. There has long been a niche but avid fan base for documentaries in India. Documentary 24x7 aims to nurture this growing interest and give the filmmakers their deserving due. The series taps talents and issues from across the globe and makes the best of documentaries accessible to a wider audience base. DOCUMENTARY TODAY 55


5 3rd N ational A wards for N on F eature Films National Awards Non Feature BEST NON-FEATURE FILM: RIDING SOLO TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD (English) Producer: Gaurav.A.Jani & P.T.Giridhar Rao of M/s. Dirtrack Productions Director : Gaurav.A.Jani Citation The Award for the Best Non-feature Film of the year 2005 is given to Riding Solo to the top of the World. Made in the best tradition of cinema verite, personal, vivid and natural. The film leads the viewer from revelation to revelation giving us an opportunity to come to love and know the “Changpas” and their unique lifestyle. BEST FIRST NON-FEATURE FILM OF A DIRECTOR: JOHN & JANE (English) Producer & Director: Ashim Ahluwalia Citation The award for the Best First Non-feature Film of a Director for the year 2005 is given to John & Jane for an evocative film capturing the essence of call centres in urban India, its pressures and the dualities of life in this new reality. BEST ANTHROPOLOGICAL/ ETHNOGRAPHIC FILM: SPIRIT OF THE GRACEFUL LINEAGE (English) Producer : Bibi Devi Barbarooah Director : Prerana Barbarooah Sharma Citation The award for the Best Anthropological/Ethnographic film of the year 2005 is given to “Spirit of the Graceful Lineage”. An interesting documentation of the unique matrilineal society of the Khasis of Meghalaya. BEST BIOGRAPHICAL/HISTORICAL RECONSTRUCTION / COMPILATION FILM: HANS AKELA-KUMAR GHANDHARVA” (Hindi) Producer : Films Division, Mumbai Director : Jabbar Patel Citation The award for the Best Biographical Film of the year 2005 is given to “Hans Akela-Kumar Ghandharva” which is made with a deep sense of understanding of classical Music. This well researched film sensitively evokes the unique personality and contribution of Kumar Gandharva and shows the human face of his outstanding creativity. BEST ARTS/CULTURAL FILM: NAINA JOGIN (Hindi & Maithili) 56

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Producer & Director : Praveen Kumar Citation The Award for the Best Arts/Cultural Film of 2005 is given to Naina Jogin. A seamless film aesthetically blending fact, fiction and reconstruction with perceptive interviews bringing out the life of the Madhubani painters of Bihar. BEST SCIENTIFIC FILM /ENVIRONMENT/ CONSERVATION/PRESERVATION FILM: UNDER THIS SUN (Bengali) Producer & Director: Nilanjan Bhattacharya Citation The award for the Best Scientific Film/ Environment Conservation / Preservation film of 2005 is given to “Under this Sun”. A thought provoking film on environmental diversity with excellent Cinematography, Music, Editing and Sound Design. BEST PROMOTIONAL FILM: No award is given BEST AGRICULTURE FILM: SEED KEEPERS (Telugu/English) Producer : Rajiv Mehrotra, M/s. PSBT Director : Farida Pacha Citation The Award for the Best Agriculture Film of 2005 is given to the film Seed Keepers for its simple, honest portrayal of the lives of the women farmers in Andhra Pradesh and their need for addressing pertinent issues through selfempowerment using media and Technology. BEST FILM ON SOCIAL ISSUES: WAY TO DUSTY DEATH (Hindi/English) Producer : Rajiv Mehrotra, M/s. PSBT Director : Sayed Fayaz Citation The award for the Best Film on Social Issues for the year 2005 is given to “Way to Dusty Death”. A Film on a little known subject that stirs the conscience and emotionally involves the viewers in the lives of the workers. BEST EDUCATIONAL/MOTIVATIONAL/ INSTRUCTIONAL FILM: No award is given BEST EXPLORATION/ADVENTURE FILM: No award is given BEST INVESTIGAVE FILM: THE WHISTLE BLOWERS (ENGLISH)


Producer : Rajiv Mehrotra, M/s. PSBT Director : Umesh Aggarwal Citation The award for the Best Investigative film for 2005 is given to “The Whistle Blowers”. A small film with a big impact! In the best traditions of Investigative reportage, the film highlights the burning issue of hazards to health and pollution norms.

BEST SHORT FICTION FILM: THACKKAYIN MEEDHA NAANGU KANGAL (Tamil) Producer : Doordarshan & Ray Cinema Director : Vasanth Citation The award for the Best Short Fiction Film of the Year 2005 is given to Thackkayin Meedha Naangu Kangal for its moving and realistic depiction of pride, deprivation and emotion in a small coastal village of Tamil Nadu.

BEST ANIMATION FILM: KACHUA AUR KHARGOSH (Hindi) Producer : Ramesh Sharma & Uma Gajapati Raju Director: C.B. Arun Animator: Moving Picture Company Animation team

BEST FILM ON FAMILY WELFARE: No award is given BEST DIRECTION: VOICES ACROSS THE OCEAN (English/Hindi) Director : Ganesh Shankar Gaikwad

Citation The award for the Best Animation film for 2005 is given to Kachua Aur Khargosh for its delightful adaptation and twist to the well-known Hare and Tortoise story using apt voices, lively dialogues and the latest 3D animation technique skillfully in an Indian setting.

Citation The award for the Best Direction for the Year 2005 is given to Voices Across the Ocean. This sensitive film uses simple, masterly non-linear storytelling to take us through a nostalgic journey of BBC’s association with India’s key defining moments in the nation’s history.

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: FINAL SOLUTION (Hindi/ Gujarati/English) Director: Rakesh Sharma

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Paramvir Singh for the film Parsiwada, Tarapore Present day (English / Gujarati) Laboratory processing the film: Ad Labs

Citation Special Jury Award for the year 2005 is given to the film Final solution for its powerful, hard-hitting documentation with a brutally honest approach lending incisive insights into the Godhra incident, its aftermath and the abetment of largescale violence.

Citation The Best cinematography award of 2005 is given to Parsiwada, Tarapore Present day for its visually poetic depiction of the decadent Parsi community, with imaginative use of great lighting and compositions.

Shyam Benegal receives the Dadasaheb Phalke award for Lifetime Achievement (left) and Buddhadeb Dasgupta recives the Best Film Award (right) from Mrs. Pratibha Patil, President of India, while Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, looks on

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BEST AUDIOGRAPHY: Anmol Bhave for the film Closer Citation The Best Audiography award of 2005 is given to Closer for its outstandingly imaginative use of sound design complementing an equally breathtaking visual wizardry. Closer leaves its audience with a sense of beauty and awe. BEST EDITING: Vibuti Nathjha for the film Naina Jogin (Hindi/Maithili) Citation The award for the Best Editing for the Year 2005 is given to Naina Jogin for its skillful editing. It is difficult to make out where one sequence ends and the other begins! BEST MUSIC DIRECTION: No award is given BEST NARRATION /VOICE OVER: Ajay Raina for the film Wapsi (English/Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi/ Kashimiri) Citation The best Narration/Voice Over award for 2005 is given to Wapsi. Spoken in the first person, the Director literally brings his personal voice into its making. SPECIAL MENTION The Special Mention for 2005 is made for the Director (Vibhu Puri) of the film Pocket Watch. A director’s film with competent execution of a good concept with great art direction, cinematography and performances. The Special Mention for 2005 is made for the Director (Bidyut Kotoky) of the film Bhraimoman Theatre for its fascinating picture of a cultural subworld of Assam, capturing true moments of emotion and joy. (The Non Feature Film Awards Jury comprised: Siddharath Kak (Chairperson), Chinmoya Nath, Sangeeta Tamuli, Kishore Dang, Kireet Khurana, A.B. Tripathi.) 58

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Museum of M oving Image Moving to be set up within the F D C omplex FD Complex A Museum of Moving Image is proposed to be set up at the Gulshan Mahal in the 4.5 acre complex of the Films Division in Mumbai on the lines of similar film museums in the USA, UK, France and Germany. The Museum will principally develop a permanent display of rare archival material like cameras and other technical equipment, costumes worn by artistes in milestone films and other rare artefacts of Indian cinema which will help film scholars, cineastes and cinegoers detail the development of cinema as a medium of artistic expression. The Museum will also have exhaustive libraries and continuous screenings of archival films and documentaries in the central hall. Seminars and workshops will also be arranged for film enthusiasts. The film industry in India is more than a hundred years old and yet, there has been no systematic attempt to bring together these rare material under one roof. Since it is impossible for any one in the private sector to take up such a stupendous venture, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has taken the initiative and is not sparing any expense to make the proposed Museum a grand success. A tentative outlay of Rs 340 crores has already been made under the 10 th Five year Plan for the purpose. The project is an ambitious one and its aims and objectives have been spelt out in the initial concept paper: • to provide a focal point in Mumbai for Industry enthusiasts and

visitors alike by establishing a permanent Museum for artefacts, many of which are valuable heritage items, connected with film making, exhibiting the work of the noted directors, producers, institutions, etc. for the benefit of visitors/film enthusiasts • to develop a research centre focusing on the effect of cinema on society • to encapsulate the socio-cultural history of India as revealed through the evolution of cinema • to acquaint the contemporary generation with the evolution and journey that Indian cinema has undertaken • to arrange seminars, workshops for film makers and film students, and thereby make it a ‘living’ entity • to generate interest in the future generation in the field of film movement. The Museum will have the following sections: • A section on the plurality of Indian cinema • Homage to the stalwarts of Indian cinema • Thematic trends • A section devoted to the history of music and evolution of lyrics • A section on the technological progress in cinema • The thematic progress in fashion and costumes; • Evolution of the censorship policy • A section devoted to hands-on training in filmmaking


The Museum will also have a shop which will sell replicas of vintage items as well as books and booklets on the noted film makers of India/ world. The research centre will have a Book Library, Video Library and Film Library where films will be available in digital as well as the video format. Old feature films as well as documentaries available with the National Film Archive of India and the will be converted into digital format so that film scholars can access these films. The Museum will be housed in the Gulshan Mahal which is itself a heritage structure recognized by the Archeological Society of India. Gulshan Mahal was built by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1830 and was bought by Cassam Ali Jairazbhoy Peerbhoy of Kutch around 1860. The family lived there till the mid 1940s till it migrated to the United States. It was temporarily known as Gulshan Abad during this period. The last direct descendant Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy lives in Los Angeles.

Soon after the Second World War, in 1946, it was requisitioned by the Government which converted it into a hospital for soldiers returning from the War. After Independence, it briefly housed the Jai Hind College and then the Documentary Films of India. Films Division inherited it when it was formed in April 1948. Gulshan Mahal was evacuated in 1976 when a new building was constructed for the Films Division and thereafter remained unoccupied for a long time till it was restored and renovated in 1994 during the 9th Five Year Plan on the recommendation of the Directorate of Archeology and Museums. The colonial structure was restored because of the spirited efforts of the Public Works Department and architects Ulhas Rane and Subodh Tari. They used photographs of the original stately construction as a guide as also the skills of traditional artisans to revive the structure to its former glory. Gulshan Mahal blends the British colonial look with features of a contemporary Nawab’s residence. From a distance one can see the Mangalore-tiled roof with one tower reaching the height of three storeys.

The building has arches, brackets, railing and carvings. On entering one sees the main porch which has beautiful columns with a railing over the roof/terrace of the porch. On the right is a wooden staircase which leads up to the upper storey. The porch opens into several large halls with high roofs and false ceilings. The exquisite floorings are of dada covered with miniature china clay tiles with beautiful patterns and coloured glasses. The ventilators have beautiful coloured glasses. There is a beautiful cast iron spiral staircase on the back side of the building. Apart from the Gulshan Mahal the construction of an entirely new block has also been suggested. The ground floor of the proposed block will have two cinemas seating 117 and 250 persons as also a large thousand square foot museum shop. The first and second floors will be the Gallery Area while the basement will be used as the administration office and storage area.

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NEW FILMS INDIA UNTOUCHED (K.Stalin/108 minutes) This film is perhaps the most comprehensive look at Untouchability ever undertaken on film. Director Stalin K. spent four years traveling the length and breadth of the country to expose the continued oppression of ‘Dalits,’ the ‘broken people’ who suffer under a 4000 year-old religious system. The film introduces leading Benares scholars who interpret Hindu scriptures to mean that Dalits “have no right” to education, and Rajput farmers who proudly proclaim that no Dalit may sit in their presence, and that the police must seek their permission before pursuing cases of atrocities. The film captures many ‘firsts-on-film,’ such as Dalits being forced to dismount from their cycles and remove their shoes when in the upper caste part of the village. It exposes the continuation of caste practices and Untouchability in Sikhism, Christianity and Islam, and even amongst the communists in Kerala. Dalits themselves are not let off the hook: within Dalits, sub-castes practice Untouchability on the ‘lower’ sub-castes, and a Harijan boy refuses to drink water from a Valmiki boy. The viewer hears that Untouchability is an urban phenomenon as well, inflicted upon a leading medical surgeon and in such hallowed institutions as JNU, where a Brahmin boy builds a partition so as not to look upon his Dalit roommate in the early morning. A section on how newspaper matrimonial columns are divided according to caste presents urban Indians with an uncomfortable truth: marriage is the leading perpetuator of caste in India. But the film highlights signs of hope, too: the powerful tradition of Dalit drumming is used to call people to the struggle, and a young Dalit girl holds her head high after pulling water from her village well for the first time in her life. 60

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Spanning eight states and four religions, this film will make it impossible for anyone to deny that Untouchability continues to be practiced in India.

the present and future of democracy in India.

IN SEARCH OF GANDHI (Lalit Vachani/52 minutes)

54 Indian soldiers taken as Prisoners of War during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 are yet to return home. While waiting for them, some of the parents died, some of the wives remarried and some children lost hope and committed suicide. But the real ordeal has been for those who did not give up. For them life has become a tight rope walk between hope and despair. But they have fought the mental battle of attrition for almost four decades and are still not willing to resign. This film is a saga of these families’ struggle, spanning three generations, to get their men back. It records a tragic stalemate, sufferings of love and shining moments of humanity, courage and hope.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy of satyagraha inspired a mass movement of millions of Indians to rise u against the British colonial state and successfully agitate for the etablishment of a democratic and free India. But what kind of a democracy does India have today? In road-movie style, the film crew travels down the famous trail of Gandhi’s salt march, the remarkable mass campaign that galvanized ordinary Indians to join the non-violent struggle for democracy and freedom in 1930. Stopping at the same villages and cities, where Gandhi and his followers had raised their call for independence, the film documents the stories of ordinary citizens in India today. Although inspired by a historical event, In Search of Gandhi is not a journey back in time. Instead it is a search for The Lightning Testimonies

HOPE DIES LAST IN WAR (Supriyo Sen/ 80 minutes)

THE LIGHTNING TESTIMONIES (Amar Kanwar/116 minutes) The Lightning Testimonies reflects upon a history of conflict in the Indian subcontinent through experiences of sexual violence. As the film explores this violence, there emerge multiple


submerged narratives, sometimes in people, images and memories, and at other times in objects from nature and everyday life that stand as silent but surviving witnesses. In all narratives the body becomes central - as a site of honour, hatred and humiliation and also of dignity and protest. As the stories unfold, women from different times and regions come forward. The film speaks to them directly, trying to understand how such violence is resisted, remembered and recorded by individuals and communities. YUGANT: A DEAD CHIMNEY (Yashwant Ingavale/30 minutes) The documentary reveals how, for over a century, the mill area in Mumbai drew migrants from the countryside, fostered a politically powerful trade union movement and turned a cluster of fishing villages into India’s buzzing commercial capital. Today the mills are dead, the lots on which they stand are among the few patches of property available in a bursting city, and the debate over what to do with them continues. The mill issue has remained mired in controversy for years and there is no denying that the malls will some day replace the mills but the film questions development at the cost of disrupting lakhs of lives. Ingavale is himself the son of a mill worker and through his film he pays homage to all those who lost their jobs when the mills closed down 25 years ago following a strike heralded by the trade union leader Datta Samant. FLIGHT 208 (Parvez Imam/English/5.5 minutes) A satirical, experimental fiction! The film travels in space and time, spanning across more than two hundred persons, cutting across cultures and nations, in just about 5 minutes. This fast paced audiovisual experience reflects upon the pace of life and the death of reasoning around us.

The Bioscopewallah

The story unfolds through a dream and takes us through some hilarious moments of absurdity that we often accept with so much ease. A flight we won’t forget easily. The film was shot single-handedly by the film maker, in South America and India over 23 days. The slow and tedious process involved accosting people on the roads and convincing them to participate. The edit took more than 8 months. The result is a 5 ½ minutes long film spanning across more than 200 individuals from across the world. THE BIOSCOPEWALLAH (Prashant Kadam) The Bioscopewallah is a brief encounter with an entertainer, Rau Waghmare which is also a rare occasion for pure and simple joy for children. A Dalit folk artist, hit by an unfortunate drought Rau narrates in colloquial Marathi the story of his struggle for survival in the face of a natural calamity and migration. Rau’s cheerful singing and gestures, his unconditional pride in the bioscope stand in contrast to the lurking shadows of poverty and failing health. The film was shot entirely in natural and available light, without the conventional crew.

A BODY THAT WILL SPEAK (Sukanya Sen and Pawas Bisht /30 minutes) A film about not being perfect. A film about the never-ending attempts to make the body “speak for the self in a meaningful and powerful way”. A journey to move beyond disorders and discover the real women batting the fantasies around and within them. Fantasies, unsparing and hard staring down at them, telling them that they are never quite there that they should be trying harder. MOTHER COURAGEOUS (Debalina Majumdar/30 minutes) Each year 40000 women die in Uttar Pradesh alone due to pregnancy related causes. In a journey across seven districts in Uttar Pradesh, the film explores opinions of government official activists, ordinary men and women to reveal social discrimination and state sponsored neglect of women’s maternal health. BURU GARRA (Shri Prakash/30 minutes) Poignant stories of a tribal journalist and a poet in Jharkhand and how they express themselves through the new form and medium of self resurrection of tribal identity and culture. DOCUMENTARY TODAY 61


VIDEO

PRIMER

Understanding the W orld of V ideo World Video zeroes and ones can then be interpreted at the receiving end as the numbers representing the original information. (Figure 1).

A Analog signal

A Digital signal

A Binary signal

Figure 1: Video Signals Analog Versus Digital Video One of the first things you should understand is the difference between analog and digital video. Your television (the video display with which we are all most familiar) is an analog device. The video it displays is transmitted to it as an analog signal, via the air or a cable. Analog signals are made up of continuously varying waveforms. In other words, the value of the signal, at any given time, can be anywhere in the range between the minimum and maximum allowed. Digital signals, by contrast, are transmitted only as precise points selected at intervals on the curve. The type of digital signal that can be used by your computer is binary, describing these points as a series of minimum or maximum values — the minimum value represents zero; the maximum value represents one. These series of 62

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There are several benefits to digital signals. One of the most important is the very high fidelity of the transmission, as opposed to analog. With an analog signal, there is no way for the receiving end to distinguish between the original signal and any noise that may be introduced during transmission. And with each repeated transmission or duplication, there is inevitably more noise accumulated, resulting in the poor fidelity that is attributable to generation loss. With a digital signal, it is much easier to distinguish the original information from the noise. So a digital signal can be transmitted and duplicated as often as we wish with no loss in fidelity. (Figure 2). The world of video is in the middle of a massive transition from analog to digital. This transition is happening at every level of the industry. In broadcasting, standards have been set and stations are moving towards digital television (DTV). Many homes already receive digital cable or digital satellite signals. Video editing has moved from

Analog signal with noise

Digital (binary) signal with noise

Figure 2

the world of analog tape-to-tape editing and into the world of digital non-linear editing (NLE). Home viewers watch crystal clear video on digital versatile disk (DVD) players. In consumer electronics, digital video cameras (DV) have introduced impressive quality at an affordable price. The advantages of using a computer for video production activities such as nonlinear editing are enormous. Traditional tape-to-tape editing was like writing a letter with a typewriter. If you wanted to insert video at the beginning of a project, you had to start from scratch. Desktop video, however, enables you to work with moving images in muh the same way you write with a word processor. Your movie “document” can quickly and easily be edited and re-edited to your heart’s content, including adding music, titles, and special effects. Frame Rates and Resolution When a series of sequential pictures is shown to the human eye, an amazing thing happens. If the pictures are being shown rapidly enough, instead of seeing each separate image, we perceive a smoothly moving animation. This is the basis for film and video. The number of pictures being shown per second is called the frame rate. It takes a frame rate of about 10 frames per second for us to perceive smooth motion. Below that speed, we notice jerkiness. Higher frame rates make for smoother playback. The movies you see in a theatre are filmed and projected at a rate of 24 frames per second. The movies you see on television are projected at about 30 frames per second, depending on the country in


which you live and the video standard in use there. The quality of the movies you watch is not only dependent upon frame rate, however. The amount of information in each frame is also a factor. This is known as the resolution of the image. Resolution is normally represented by the number of individual picture elements (pixels) that are on the screen, and is expressed as a number of horizontal pixels times the number of vertical pixels (e.g. 640x480 or 720x480). All other things being equal, a higher resolution will result in a better quality image. You may find yourself working with a wide variety of frame rates and resolutions. For example, if you are producing a video that is going to be shown on VHS tape, CD-ROM, and the Web, then you are going to be producing videos in three different resolutions and at three different frame rates. The frame rate and the resolution are very important in digital video, because they determine how much data needs to be transmitted and stored in order to view your video. There will often be trade-offs between the desire for great quality video and the requirements imposed by storage and bandwidth limitations.

amount of time for the electron beam to scan across each line of the television set before it reaches the bottom and returns to begin again. When televisions were first invented, the phosphors available had a very short persistence (i.e., the amount of time they would remain illuminated). Consequently, in the time it took the electron beam to scan to the bottom of the screen, the phosphors at the top were already going dark. To combat this, the early television engineers designed an interlaced system. This meant that the electron beam would only scan every other line the first time, and then return to the top and scan the intermediate lines. These two alternating sets of lines are known as the “upper” (or “odd”) and “lower” (or “even”) fields in the television signal. Therefore a television that is displaying 30 frames per second is really displaying 60 fields per second. Why is the frame/field issue of importance? Imagine that you are watching a video of a ball flying across the screen. In the first 1/60th of a second, the tv paints all of the even lines in the screen and shows the ball in its position at that instant. Because the ball continues to move, the odd lines in the tv that are painted in the

Better quality Higher frame rate Greater resolution

More data

Interlaced and Non-interlaced Video If your video is intended to be displayed on a standard television set (as opposed to a digital tv or a computer monitor), then there is one more thing you should know about video frame rates. Standard (nondigital) televisions display interlaced video. An electron beam scans across the inside of the screen, striking a phosphor coating. The phosphors then give off light we can see. The intensity of the beam controls the intensity of the released light. It takes a certain

More storage More bandwidth

next 1/60th of a second will show the ball in a slightly different position. If you are using a computer to create animations or moving text, then your software must calculate images for the two sets of fields, for each frame of video, in order to achieve the smoothest motion. The frames/fields issue is generally only of concern for video which will be displayed on televisions. If your video is going to be displayed only on computers, there is no issue, since computer monitors use non-interlaced video signals. And, in any case, if you are using Adobe

Premiere software for video editing or Adobe After Effects software for motion graphics and visual effects, the frame/field issue will be handled correctly. Video Color Systems Most of us are familiar with the concept of RGB color. What this stands for is the Red, Green, and Blue components of a color. Our computer monitors display RGB color. Each pixel we see is actually the product of the light coming from a red, a green, and a blue phosphor placed very close together. Because these phosphors are so close together, our eyes blend the primary light colors so that we perceive a single colored dot. The three different color components — Red, Green, and Blue — are often referred to as the channels of a computer image. Computers typically store and transmit color with 8 bits of information for each of the Red, Green, and Blue components. With these 24 bits of information, over a million different variations of color can be represented for each pixel (that is 2 raised to the 24th power). This type of representation is known as 24-bit color. Televisions also display video using the red, green, and blue phosphors described above. However, television signals are not transmitted or stored in RGB. Why not? When television was first invented, it worked only in black and white. The term “black and white” is actually something of a misnomer, because what you really see are the shades of gray between black and white. That means that the only piece of information being sent is the brightness (known as the luminance) for each dot. When color television was being developed, it was imperative that color broadcasts could be viewed on black and white televisions, so that millions of people didn’t have to throw out the sets they already owned. Rather, there could be a gradual transition to the new DOCUMENTARY TODAY 63


technology. So, instead of transmitting the new color broadcasts in RGB, they were (and still are) transmitted in something called YCC. The “Y” was the same old luminance signal that was used by black and white televisions, while the “C’s” stood for the color components. The two color components would determine the hue of a pixel, while the luminance signal would determine its brightness. Thus, color transmission was facilitated while black and white compatibility was maintained. Should you care about the differences between RGB and YCC color? For most applications, you probably won’t ever need to think about it. If you edit with Adobe Premiere and create motion graphics and visual effects in Adobe After Effects, the software can mix and match video in the different formats without a problem. It is good to understand the differences, however, when you have honed your basic skills and are ready to tackle more sophisticated technical challenges like color sampling and compositing. If you are concerned with the highest quality output, you’ll want to work in 16-bit-per-channel color, (64-bit color), rather than the typical 8-bit-perchannel color described above (commonly known as 24-bit color). When you work with high-resolution images that use a narrow range of colors, such as when you’re creating film effects or output for HDTV, the difference is easily visible: transitions between colors are smoother with less visible banding, and more detail is preserved.

machines. You should understand the basics of analog video.

page outlines the basic analog video formats and their typical connections.

Because of the noise concerns mentioned earlier, in analog video the type of connection between devices is extremely important. There are three basic types of analog video connections.

Broadcast Standards

Composite: The simplest type of analog connection is the composite cable. This cable uses a single wire to transmit the video signal. The luminance and color signal are composited together and transmitted simultaneously. This is the lowest quality connection because of the merging of the two signals. S-Video: The next higher quality analog connection is called S-Video. This cable separates the luminance signal onto one wire and the combined color signals onto another wire. The separate wires are encased in a single cable. Component: The best type of analog connection is the component video system, where each of the YCC signals is given its own cable. How do you know which type of connection to use? Typically, the higher the quality of the recording format, the higher the quality of the connection type. The chart on the next

There are three television standards in use around the world. These are known by the acronyms NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Most of us never have to worry about these different standards. The cameras, televisions, and video peripherals that you buy in your own country will conform to the standards of that country. It will become a concern for you, however, if you begin producing content for international consumption, or if you wish to incorporate foreign content into your production. You can translate between the various standards, but quality can be an issue because of differences in frame rate and resolution. The multiple video standards exist for both technical and political reasons. The table below gives you the basic information on the major standards in use today around the world. The SECAM format is only used for broadcasting. In countries employing the SECAM standard, PAL format cameras and decks are used. Remember that the video standard is different from the videotape format. For example, a VHS format video can have either NTSC or PAL video recorded on it.

The basic analog video formats and their typical connections Tape Format VHS S-VHS, Hi-8 BetaSP

Video Format Composite S-Video Component

Quality Good Better Best

Appropriate Applications home video prosumer, industrial video industrial video, broadcast

Analog Video Formats At some point almost all video will be digital, in the same way that most music today is mastered, edited and distributed (via CD or the Web) in a digital form. These changes are happening, but it doesn’t mean that you can ignore the analog video world. Many professional video devices are still analog, as well as tens of millions of consumer cameras and tape 64

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Broadcast standards Broadcast Format Countries Horizontal Lines Frame Rate NTSC USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico 525 lines 29.97 frames/sec PAL Australia, China, Most 625 lines 25 frames/sec of Europe, South America SECAM France, Middle East, 625 lines 25 frames/sec much of Africa


Getting Video Into Your Computer

Video Compression

Since your computer only “understands” digital (binary) information, any video with which you would like to work will have to be in, or be converted to, a digital format.

Whether you use a capture card or a digital camcorder, in most cases, when your video is digitized it will also be compressed. Compression is necessary because of the enormous amount of data that comprises uncompressed video.

Analog: Traditional (analog) video camcorders record what they “see and hear” in the real world, in analog format. So, if you are working with an analog video camera or other analog source material (such as videotape), then you will need a video capture device that can “digitize” the analog video. This will usually be a video capture card that you install in your computer. A wide variety of analog video capture cards are available. The differences between them include the type of video signal that can be digitized (e.g. composite or component), as well as the quality of the digitized video. The digitization process may be driven by software such as Adobe Premiere. Once the video has been digitized, it can be manipulated in your computer with Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects, or other software. After you are done editing, you can then output your video for distribution. This output might be in a digital format for the Web, or you might output back to an analog format like VHS or Beta-SP. Digital: Digital video camcorders have become widely available and affordable. Digital camcorders translate what they record into digital format right inside the camera. So your computer can work with this digital information as it is fed straight from the camera. The most popular digital video camcorders use a format called DV. To get DV from the camera into the computer is a simpler process than for analog video because the video has already been digitized. Therefore the camera just needs a way to communicate with your computer (and vice versa). The most common form of connection is known as IEEE 1394. This is covered in more detail in a later section of this primer.

A single frame of uncompressed video takes about 1 megabyte (MB) of space to store. You can calculate this by multiplying the horizontal resolution (720 pixels) by the vertical resolution (486 pixels), and then multiplying by 3 bytes for the RGB color information. At the standard video rate of 29.97 frames per second, this would result in around 30 MB of storage required for each and every second of uncompressed video! It would take over 1.5 gigabytes (GB) to hold a minute of uncompressed video! In order to view and work with uncompressed video, you would need an extremely fast and expensive disk array, capable of delivering that much data to your computer processor rapidly enough. The goal of compression is to reduce the data rate while still keeping the image quality high. The amount of compression used depends on how the video will be used. The DV format compresses at a 5:1 ratio (i.e. the video is compressed to one-fifth of its original size). Video you access on the Web might be compressed at 50:1 or even more. Types of Compression There are many different ways of compressing video. One method is to simply reduce the size of each video frame. A 320x240 image has only onefourth the number of pixels as a 640x480 image. Or we could reduce the frame rate of the video. A 15 frameper-second video has only half the data of a 30 frame-per-second video. These simple compression schemes won’t work, however, if we want our video to be displayed on a television monitor at full resolution and frame-rate. What

we need is another way of approaching the compression problem… It turns out that the human eye is much more sensitive to changes in the luminance of an image than to changes in the color. Almost all video compression schemes take advantage of this characteristic of human perception. These schemes work by discarding much of the color information in the picture. As long as this type of compression is not too severe, it is generally unnoticeable. In fact, in even the highest quality “uncompressed” video used by broadcasters, some of the original color information has been discarded. When each frame of video is compressed separately, the type of compression is known as “intra-frame” or “spatial” compression. But some video compression systems utilize what is known as “inter-frame” or “temporal” compression. Inter-frame compression takes advantage of the fact that any given frame of video is probably very similar to the frames around it. So, instead of storing entire frames, we can store just the differences between certain frames. The compression and decompression of video is handled by something called a codec. Codecs may be found in hardware — for example, in DV camcorders or capture cards — or in software. Some codecs have a fixed compression ratio and therefore a fixed data rate. Others can compress each frame a different amount depending on its content, resulting in a data rate that can vary over time. Some codecs allow you to choose a quality setting that controls the data rate. Such adjustable settings can be useful in editing. For example, you may wish to capture a large quantity of video at a low quality setting in order to generate a rough edit of your program, and then recapture just the bits you want to use at a high quality setting. This allows you to edit large quantities of video without needing a drive large enough to hold the entire set at high-quality. DOCUMENTARY TODAY 65


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR for it. So let’s have a priced publication next time so that it is easily accessible to all those who want it. Did I tell you that we all simply loved the magazine. Keep them coming boss! Hari Kunjur, Bangalore BACK IN TIME

WANTED: DOCU STUFF Sir – The first issue of Documentary Today is very impressive indeed. Excellent printing and good articles but why is there so much of feature films? There are plenty of magazines and television channels which devote space and time to feature films. Is it because it was a special issue? When you have called the magazine Documentary Today then it must concentrate on documentary films. I am sure there is plenty to write on – particularly if you broaden your scope to include international documentary films. And maybe you should really expand your scope to include News Television and Internet blogs which are also nonfiction. In any case more power to your pen and many more issues in the future. Kumar Vivek, New Delhi ONE LANGUAGE AT A TIME Sir – Saw Documentary Today and liked it but half the issue is a waste for those who are not bilingual. Why this Hindi and English mix? Would have liked to see the issue in one language: English or Hindi so that it is paisa vasool. Oops! You are still not charging 66

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Sir – When I laid my hands on the first issue of Documentary Today I was transported back almost fifty years ago when Paul Zils – that doyen of the Indian documentary – brought out the first magazine exclusively devoted to the documentary film, Indian Documentary. It was then that it struck me that there hasn’t been a single magazine devoted to documentary cinema though the filmmakers themselves have multiplied. Kudos to you for filling in this gap and I hope the magazine survives beyond the first few issues when the fervour goes down and the realities of the circulation and advertising worlds strike you. One grouse, however. Why isn’t the magazine available to the man on the street? Why is it a giveaway and not a priced publication? I had to “steal” it from a documentary filmmaker who asking for it but I pretend deafness. I know you will not enjoy much of a circulation – or will you? – but do it as a social service. I don’t mind paying for it. Bhausaheb Datar, Mumbai COLLECTOR’S ISSUE Sir – The issue of Documentary Today was a collector’s item. It gives a wonderful idea about how the freedom movement was depicted in the cinema – both documentary and fictional. There were also a lot of rare photographs which are worth preserving. The article on Tamil films was really well researched and wonderful. My congratulations to Thiru S.Theodore Bhaskaran for a job well done! The photographs were also appropriate. Where did you get the

photographs of Thyagabhoomi and Bal Yogini? Are these films available for viewing on VCDE or DVD format? Keep up the good work. M.Selvam, Chennai MORE BOOK EXCERPTS Sir – As a lover of documentary films I would like to see more articles from Prem Vaidya and N.S.Thapa. Incidentally where does one get Mr Thapa’s book The Boy From Lambata? I have enquired in all the bookshops but no one seems to have heard of it. Can you give me the address of the publishers so that I can approach them directly? Also, would love to see a Book Reviews column or, better still, more excerpts from books on about and by documentary filmmakers. And please remember to add where we can buy the book. Also, why isn’t your magazine available on the stands? It can compete with the best so … how about it? Vishwanath Bidaye, Mumbai MORE FEATURES NEEDED Sir – Wonderful first issue but where do we go from here? What about a bunch of regular features? Books, Films, People, Interviews with filmmakers, News about documentaries. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to include the documentary films on news channels. After all, that is also documentary filmmaking. Give it a thought! All the best! Bhawna Ruparel, Mumbai SIMPLY LOVING IT!! As the advertisement goes: I am simply loving it!! My grouse is the periodicity. Can you not get enough stuff for a monthly? Okay, I’ll settle for a bimonthly. Three months is too long to wait for a magazine. So how about it? Dennis Pereira, Mumbai


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Documntary Today #2  

Documentary Today is a quarterly journal published by Films Division for Indian documentary makers who wish to keep in touch with the state...

Documntary Today #2  

Documentary Today is a quarterly journal published by Films Division for Indian documentary makers who wish to keep in touch with the state...

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