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IFFI 2017 Open Forum: 'Social media an enabler, not competitor for documentary filmmaking'

Panellists, however, added a caveat that the authenticity of videos needs to be verified as they have the potential to create social unrest.

Dheep Joy Mampilly, Shashwat Gupta Ray, Manish Desai, Siraj Syed, Prachi Ingle at IFFI Open Forum. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Blessy Chettiar

The open forum organized by IDPA (Independent Documentary Producers' Association) on Sunday, 26 November, was the topic, 'Crowding the social media: Is documentary only source of genuine information?'

Shashwat Gupta Ray, resident editor, Gomantak Times moderated the session and saw the participation of Manish Desai, director general, Films Division; senior film jounalist Siraj Syed; Prachi Ingle, assistant editor, Outlook India and Dheep Joy Mampilly, deputy director (social media cell), Press Information Bureau (PIB).

“In my view, social media is just like any other medium — radio, print, TV and documentary is a film genre. The concern is whether the content generated is trustworthy,” Ray said, listing out the pros and cons of documentaries and social media.

He said documentary is conventional media, more structured, controlled by watchdogs, has a monitoring mechanism, and an authenticity to it, while the hunting audience to be heard was listed as a con. “These are few things that put off a potential filmmaker. On the other hand is social media, which is free to air, there’s no third party dependency, no need to hunt as there’s a massive audience, no censorship fears and no costs. But the problem is, it is unregulated, which makes it less trustworthy and hence has potential to create social unrest.”

Desai from Films Division spoke about how the definiton of documentary itself had changed dramatically with the advent of the digital age. “The digital revolution has totally redefined documentary filmmaking. Anyone with a smartphone can be a documentary filmmaker. Over a period of time and with the advent of social media, the trend of micro documentary filmmaking has come to the forefront. Structured documentaries have their own set of rules, they want to bring about a change in the society. They stick to parameters. These have to be there. At the same time, it’s not enough to only make documentaries, you need platforms to even show them. That is where social media, instead of being a competitor, becomes an enabler.”

He went on to highlight that with social media, amateur documentaries were becoming ubiquitous. “Today you can make a documentary and put it on social media and you get a worldwide audience. With social media, the micro and amateur documentary filmmaking is become an everyday affair. Also, we are self documentary makers.” He was referring to exhibition of personal life on Facebook, Instagram etc.

Veering the conversation on a different path, journalist Ingle said that it was important to just take a breath before accepting what’s given to you. “We are just not pausing. it’s always difficult to find credibility. It is the onus of the reader to verify the content. Verification does not mean your freedom to express is being taken away. If you make a documentary film, but it does not have an author or director or writer who is not so established, we still need some kind of credentials. When you write an academic article, you always have a bibliography in the end. Once if a documentary has all that, it’s fine. If it does not, there can repercussions in the public domain.”

She also stressed on the need for resources for documentary filmmaking. “More bodies life the NFDC, platforms like the Film Bazaar are needed."

Dheep from the social media section PIB, who handles social media for the government body, said, “We don’t focus on speed. We believe speed is important, as people these days are impatient. But we cannot compromise on accuracy because of it. This is manifested during elections when official figures will always lag behind because we wait. We don’t sensationalize. The abundance of information has created a deficit of attention. We don’t believe that presentation is more important than accuracy.”

While the panellists debated the need for regulation of social media, it was agreed that it was easier said than done. “The very nature of social media is such that it is difficult to regulate it,” said Desai.

The bottomline, they all agreed, was self-regulation as no freedom is absolute.

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