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Documentary filmmakers mull over need to set up peer support group at Open Frame Film Festival

Filmmakers Prantik Basu, Priya Thuvassery, Priyanka Chhabra, Saba Rehman, Sandhya Kumar and Sridhar Sudhir were part of a panel discussion titled 'A Voice of My Own: Documentary Conversations'.

Prantik Basu, Saba Rehman, Reena Mohan, Sandhya Kumar, Priyanka Chhabra, Priya Thuvassery and Sridhar Sudhir

Abhija Ghosh

A panel discussion at the PSBT Open Frame Film Festival 2018 focused on the ways in which young and experienced documentary filmmakers have crafted their practice and whether there is a possibility of forming a film collective.

The panel titled 'A Voice of My Own: Documentary Conversations', moderated by senior filmmaker and practitioner Reena Mohan created an interesting space for conversations on the documentary form across several generations.

Mohan opened the session by pointing out that the fundamental difference between the documentaries made a decade ago and those screened at the Open Frame this year was the predominant use of the personal in narrating stories.

There was a time in documentary practice when the subject itself was presented as content because such non-fiction form was driven by the need to excavate and present realities that were otherwise unrepresented. However, today the distance between the documentary subject, the camera and the personal subjectivity or presence of the filmmaker has almost dissolved resulting in newer interesting forms of non-fiction filmmaking.

The filmmakers on the panel were Prantik Basu, Priya Thuvassery, Priyanka Chhabra, Saba Rehman, Sandhya Kumar and Sridhar Sudhir. These young talented filmmakers narrated their personal journeys from the film and design schools to the realities of the field.

Speaking about their craft, Basu and Rehman expressed how much they relied on their material to inform their formal choices. Thuvassery found that while the subject shapes the choice of
narration, it was also important to inject variety into documentary practice.

For Kumar and Chhabra, it was not only a matter of deliberation, but also of discovery, as they explored the temporal qualities of the non-fiction form. Sridhar Sudhir spoke emphatically on how his own practice has evolved from questions of pure form to that of connecting with his viewers.

Many questions on the language and ethics of documentary filmmaking came in the conversations. Basu explained that it was a complex yet fine line that he had to tread, as a young, urban, English-speaking man, while filming and conversing with the Santhali community. One wants to speak about indigenous and languishing folk forms but there is also a conscious attempt to never fall into patronizing patterns of narration.

Similarly, Kumar also expressed concerns about imposing another worldview onto the other for the sake of content.

Chhabra’s work engaged with questions of personal memory and loss which brought her to certain ethical concerns of representation. Rehman emphatically spoke of a certain ease with which the personal mediated through social media or cinema was the language of the present times. There is something to be said about the ways in which we are becoming accustomed to sharing pictures of what we eat, what we wear and where we are. Therefore, the subjects of non-fiction are also changing.

For instance, Thuvassery had never expected that she would be able to conceptualize an underwater film or be able to find women cinematographers skilled in underwater camerawork. However, much to her surprise, she was able to connect to other women filmmakers through Abhija Ghosh's peer network on social media.

All the filmmakers on the panel unanimously agreed on the need for them to share and receive feedback on their work from peers.

Thinking aloud on the possibility of a film collective of independent and documentary filmmakers, most of the panelists agreed that while convergence of intellectual and art practices under one rubric was difficult to achieve, a peer support group was desirable.

The panel discussion on 'A Voice of My Own: Documentary Conversations' was held on 18 September at the India International Centre as part of the Open Frame Film Festival 2018.

Related topics

Open Frame Film Festival