I had been to a film festival yesterday. People’s Film Festival they called it. The aim was to view documentaries, chat with the film-makers, and hold panel discussions. Sounded very interesting to a guy like me, especially since it had been a long time since I was in a discussion/debate regarding the critical aspects of film-making.

The first movie began as I walked into the room, where — to my pleasant surprise — most of the seats were taken. No sooner had I entered the hall, that the lights went off, and I sat down on the first seat I could find empty. Even as I sat there trying to enjoy the first film — it had some problems with the audio — I could not help but feel good that there were so many documentary enthusiasts in the hall.

Barely had 20 minutes passed into the screening of the movie, the film-lovers started to slowly move towards the door, never to return back. By the time the lights came on again, half the chairs were empty. And so I moved on to another chair… to get a better view, and also to get under the fan.

The second movie was dealing with the life and plight of a particular tribal race, the original inhabitants of the fiorests of South India. This was very different from the topic of the first film, which dealt with the special kind of bonding displayed at the Wagah border between India & Pakistan. Even as I was thinking about the kind of topics being chosen for the film festival — I believe documentary screenings should always be topic/subject driven — the film-maker himself was called to the front and the floor was thrown open for questions.

He was bombarded with questions, that one would usually expect in such gatherings. How was your experience while filming this? Did the tribals treat you well? How did you stumble on this story? blah blah blah. The poor guy also had to listen to how he could have made it a better story, a better film, etc.

There was one very good question — I salute the person who posed the query — that left the film-maker a squandering for words, “What was the tribal’s involvement in the story, and what was the extent of your involvement in the views expressed by them?” And there I was seated with my arm raised, with another question in mind… “What kind of people or organisations are involved in organising the tribals in their struggle againt the government authorities”. But alas, I never got to ask this query — an important one I thought — as the organiser/emcee did not give me a chance to express my query.

I guess one of the reasons I did not get the chance was because I was dressed in a t-shirt, and not a psuedo-khadi kurta. Well, today that is not going to be the case… for I am going there in a Khadi Kurta ­čśë

Anyways, what followed was the panel discussion. It is this discussion that has prompted this writing – for it was during the discussion I realised that the people gathered there were as psuedo intellectual as their Khadi Kurtas.

One of the topics that was dealt at great length (unnecessarily, may I add?) was whether there was any difference between documentary films and feature films. The discussion turned into a debate (and a rather personal one) when one of the panelists expressed his opinion that documentary films were the same as any other film. They should all be entertaining, he added.

This expression of opinion though in line with the topic of discussion — Viewers’ perspective on documentary films — was not taken in good spirit by one of the film-makers, who proceeded to educate the panelist and the gathering on the intricacies of the great art of documentary films vis-a-vis commercial films.

Just when I thought I had had enough ‘intellectual’ talk for a day, came the icing on the cake. The panel co-ordinator came out with his bombshell of a question – “How is a documentary film different from a propaganda film” ! And there I sat, shell-shocked for a moment, for I truly realised that I was in the midst of people who thought they had seen-it-all and thus knew-it-all having done-it-all.

I wanted to raise my hand, take offense, and point out that one cannot categorise the art of film-making as Documentary Films and Propaganda Films. I wanted to explain the origin of the phrase “documentary” and explain the essence of “cinema verite”. I did not do that yesterday.

While raising a point later, in context of viewers’ worries regarding documentary films, I said that “most documentary films take a stand, they have a message. To me this is the danger in documentary films as these messages are either propagandistic or hegemonistic, either leftist or rightist. Very seldom do you come across a film that presents the Truth as the truth”.

But my opinion was lost on the panelists and film makers. May be it is because I am a student of Media. May be it is because I look at Communication as a topic of research, a topic that holds unlimited subjects for discussions and debates. May be because they were film-makers. May be because they were intellectuals.

I am going there again today… the second day of the four day film festival. Some good films are being screened today… including ane by Anand Patwardhan.

But today I am going there wearing a Khadi Kurta, instead of my t-shirt… Being a regular wearer of Khadi Kurtas, today is the first time I am wearing it to drive home a point… and may be a little theory on ‘Cinema Verite’


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