Documentary filmmakers want greater access to public funds

MUMBAI: It is ultimately up to the makers of documentary films to strengthen their position in society and build credibility where they are able to make the kind of films they want without any hindrance.

However, organisations like the Films Division from the government side and the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA) can help the filmmakers in their work.

This was the general consensus at a full-day seminar on ‘Empowering the Documentary Filmmaker‘, organised by the IDPA as part of the ongoing Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF).

A large number of filmmakers and others addressed the four sessions: ‘Re-defining the Documentary‘; ‘Working Environment of the Documentary Filmmaker‘; ‘Establishing the Credentials of the Documentary Filmmaker; and Creating a Mechanism for Government Accreditation for Documentary Filmmakers. The proceedings were conducted by Indian Institute of Mass Communications director Sunit Tandon.

Festival director and Films Division chief producer Kuldeep Sinha said he was prepared to sit with the IDPA to prepare some kind of format for accreditation of documentary filmmakers but asked the Association to bring forward a proposal in this regard. He agreed that there was need for a strong organisational structure and it was up to the filmmakers to strengthen IDPA or set up another body.

Reacting to some speakers, he said one has to decide if he or she is a filmmaker or an activist. Documentaries are like text books that can preserve history and give something to the society in the long term.

Meanwhile, he added that the Division had again begun commissioning films to outside directors and had received a sum of Rs 200 million including Rs 80 million for Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast for this purpose. He said a total of around 120 filmmakers had already been shortlisted by a Committee comprising outside experts.

In a position paper, IDPA Vice President Ramesh Tekwani said documentary filmmakers had a crucial role to play and this format was crucial to a civilized society. This was the reason for seeking accreditation and the IDPA wanted a comprehensive action plan for this purpose. IDPA President Jahnu Barua said the documentary filmmaker could establish his identity only through a strong organization, and also said accreditation could be considered.

Manoj Srivastava, Chief Executive Officer of the Entertainment Society of Goa which hosts the International Film Festival of India on behalf of the state Government, suggested that the IDPA could have a nodal officer in each state capital interacting with the local Information Department to get permissions etc. for any potential filmmaker who sent in a request to the Association. The main office of the IDPA in turn could interact with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. He said that the ESG had devised a single window system in Goa for permissions for shooting.

Senior filmmaker Mani Kaul said every generation tries to redefine cinema. He appreciated that the majority of the documentaries being made in the country were in the private sector and also said it was good that unlike the west and even Europe, Indian was not dominated by Hollywood . But he said it was important to point out that the art cinema or the documentary cinema had drawn its sustenance from the fact that there was a strong mainstream cinema in the country. He wanted the Films Division to re-orient itself and open up to private filmmakers.

Noted filmmaker Anand Patwardhan wanted to know why there was a need to redefine documentary. He said there has to be a broad approach to the documentary filmmaking. He said that he had sometimes added fiction to the film if it furthered the purpose of his film. Kaul added that this was okay if the character was playing himself.

But Anand said he was disturbed by the fact that funding came from outside sources and this curbed the freedom of the filmmaker, creating a new kind of cinema which was determined elsewhere.

Referring to his own films, he said he had initially made them for himself but when they were refused exhibition then he had gone to Court and won the cases which had led to their exhibition on television channels.

Noted filmmaker Dr Jabbar Patel said documentary filmmakers were history writers and so they needed recognition and accreditation. But any proposal in this regard has to be made after careful study.

Filmmaker Bishakha Dutta said the documentary has always been political, explicitly or implicitly. But she said the advances in technology had given birth to a new kind of cinema. She wanted a regulatory environment for documentary filmmakers, budgets to be more flexible and better distribution.

Madhushree Dutta, also a filmmaker, said any documentary will find its own audience if it had something meaningful to say - even if this is through net-based videos.

Filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj said it was interesting how young people were also getting interested in seeing documentaries, and filmmakers should capitalize on that. She wanted greater access to public funds.

R V Ramani who also makes documentaries said it was unfortunate that the Films Division did not encourage private filmmakers or build a documentary culture outside the MIFF. He also wanted an environment where he is owner of his own film whoever may have financed it. Relating his own experience, he wanted to know why censorship has to be re-obtained if one switches from one technology to another.

Miriam Menacherry said the documentary filmmaker was treated neither as a journalist nor as a feature filmmaker and therefore had to face greater obstacles. This was a matter of identity, she said.

Gargi Sen of Magic Lantern Foundation said the Films Division could register filmmakers and give them greater identity.

Beena Paul of the Kerala International Documentary Film Festival and filmmaker Reena Mohan said certain criteria would have to be worked out to identify documentary filmmakers for accreditation, but this should not become an exclusive club. Reena said separate cards may help in some fields.

Filmmaker Krishna Mohan said documentary filmmakers were a parallel fourth estate and should have the same privileges as journalists.

Tandon stressed that it was erroneous to presume that the cards acquired by mediapersons were all-pervasive and gave them powers. He said journalists including freelance journalists often had to face huge obstacles despite having cards. But he agreed that IDPA could be strengthened.

He said he had noticed a proliferation of large groups of documentary filmmakers in Delhi and other metropolitan cities.

Meanwhile, Nandita Das who is currently Chairperson of the Children‘s Film Society, India , released the book ‘From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond: India in International Cinema‘ by veteran filmmaker and author Vijaya Mulay.

Published by the Seagull Foundation of Kolkata, the book is a personalized account of Indian and international cinema from the early part of the twentieth century to the present day. Ms Mulay, who is in her late eighties, said the book was meant to be archival record of the most important moments of cine history of the last hundred years. She has made documentary films and TV programmes for educational purposes and bagged the V. Shantaram lifetime achievement award for documentaries in 2000 and the Vikram Sarabhai lifetime achievement award for educational communication. Her films include ‘Ek, Anek, Aur Ekta‘ which is still very popular.

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