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A new take on documentary films

By Kalpana Sharma

MUMBAI, FEB. 5. They gave the sort of lessons in film-making that even experienced film-makers could not question. The most unusual entry at the ongoing Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF 2004) that is showcasing documentary films from across the world, is a set of films by a team of women from a village in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh. The video unit of the Deccan Development Society's (DDS) Community Media Trust amazed everyone with their grassroots approach to documentation and to the media.

Their entry was included at the initiative of the film-maker Vijaya Mule, last year's recipient of the V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award. She had visited the DDS in Pastapur, Medak district.

``These women should be visible to people who think only the elite and the privileged can make films,'' she said. As a result, a group of 10 women have travelled to Mumbai and introduced a novel approach to film-making to a festival that has otherwise been dogged by controversy.

The women have been trained for three years by the DDS to use the camera. In their short film, Sangham Shot, these unlettered women explain their approach to the media and to technology as a whole.

For instance, they have formulated their own terms for different types of shots. The ``Patel'' shot is the one you take looking down at your subject, the ``slave'' shot is taken looking up at the subject, and the ``Sangham'' shot is at the eye level because the Sanghas, or women's groups formed under the DDS programme, believe in equality and equal rights.

The women also point out why the film medium is particularly relevant to their needs. To write in newspapers, you need to know how to read and write, says one of the film-makers, Chinna Narasamma.

But through the medium of films you can communicate with everyone. She says that when an outsider comes to film them, they shoot selectively and do not speak the same language.

As a result, the end-product may not reflect what the people want to communicate. As village women trained to use the camera, they find that people are comfortable with them and willing to speak to them freely. As a result, their films can deal with subjects that are relevant to the communities.

One of the films the group screened is titled ``Why are Warangal Farmers Angry with BT Cotton?" Over several months, the DDS video team followed the progress of a handful of farmers who had decided to use the transgenic BT cotton variety because they were fed up with the pests that attacked their cotton crop.

This simply-made film provides a devastating indictment on the false promises held out by BT cotton. The film records the initial excitement of the farmers and their gradual disillusionment as they end up using the same amounts of pesticides on the BT crop as on non-BT crops and settle for lower yields on the BT crop compared to the non-BT variety.

Finally, even the market price for the BT crop turns out to be lower than that for the non-BT crop. The film has no trick photography or ideological statements. The reality is conveyed through the words of the farmers.

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