Filmmaker Joshy Mathew talks about his new children’s adventure film Black Forest that won the national award for Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation

The name ‘Black Forest’ does immediately bring to mind images of tropical forests teeming with wildlife, much like those you would find on the slopes of the Western Ghats bordering Kerala. At the same time though, juxtaposed against these green and slightly ominous images is one of a scrumptious black forest cake, a sweet and playful image, if any. This interplay of imagery, “of greenery, nature, sweetness, fun and adventure,” is exactly what veteran filmmaker Joshy Mathew wanted to convey when he named his new children’s film Black Forest. The film won the award for the Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation at this year’s national awards and also the award for the best children’s film at the Kerala State Film Awards. Black Forest is Joshy’s sixth feature film after critically acclaimed films such as Nakshatrakoodaram (a children’s film and his debut feature), Oru Kadankatha Pole and Pathaam Nilayile Theevandi.

Of all his films, Black Forest, says Joshy, is closest to his heart. “It’s not because it gave me my first national award, which, of course, is the icing on the cake. I’m very happy to get the award and the resultant perks such as national and international exposure too. But this film is something that has been on my mind for the past 20 years, ever since I started visiting forests in Kerala with my good friend and renowned cinematographer Venu. Over the years we’ve gone to just about every forest in Kerala from Parambikulam and Silent Valley to Muthanga, Top Slip and Thekkady, revelled in the beauty of nature, rejuvenated our minds and souls, and realised how blessed our State is to have such lusciousness to call its own. However, we have also witnessed first-hand the degradation of the forests, of how acres of green cover are increasingly being felled in the name of development and the ecological imbalance that encroachment brings with it,” says Joshy.

Black Forest focusses on the lifestyle of tribals in the Western Ghats. It unfolds the mysteries of the forest and reflects on the dying environment through the adventures of three children – a tribal boy Panchan and city-bred kids Mittu and Milli. Panchan, who has been taught by tradition to worship and protect the forest, leads the two orphans on a path of discovery as they go in search of his missing father, a tribal activist named Erayappan. “As they encounter a cross-section of indigenous life hidden in the forest, Mittu and Milli learn about the importance of conservation of nature and natural resources, even as they try to bring out the humane side to their wild-child uncle, Luke, who is now their guardian. Erayappan and Panchan, meanwhile, find themselves grappling with rapid changes that make them question their traditions and their very identity,” says Joshy.

Manoj K. Jayan, Dineshan, Meera Nandan, Ashokan, Kalabhavan Shajon, child artistes Chethan, Akash and Parvathy are part of the cast. Suresh Rajan, a graduate of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, has captured the arresting visuals of the 100-minute film that was shot in 22 days in the heart of the green acres in Vandiperiyar, Peerumade, Sathram, Sabarigiri, Thekkady, and the like. Mohan Sitara has composed the music.

“The cast and crew often had to travel by jeep for hours on end and then walk the rest of the way, carrying all the equipment, including the Jimmy jib crane, through unmarked forest paths, rain and jungle, to reach most of these remote locations. Everyone got bitten by leeches. By the end of the shoot we must have used up at least 10 sacks of salt to get the leeches off our legs!” recalls Joshy, with a laugh. “The climax was shot at Ramakkalmedu, a hill station in Idukki district – perhaps a first as a location in Malayalam cinema,” adds Joshy, who is the executive director of Nav Yug Children’s Theatre and Movie Village in Kottayam. “I’ve been working with children for several years now and I understand their pulse. Children these days are not only concerned about their studies, they are very aware of the world around them too. It’s relatively easy to nudge them in the right direction, especially when it comes to serious issues such as saving and protecting the environment. We need films such as Black Forest to get them thinking about the issue.”

A family affair

The script and the dialogues of the film were written by Joshy’s son Sudip and his daughter-in-law Geetika. They also co-directed the movie. “I thought they would write a documentary feature. They took the bare idea, spent a lot of time in research and brought in so much more depth to it, weaving together tribal myth and tradition, environment degradation, human conflict, and much more,” says Joshy.