The ongoing Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival comprises films that highlight issues of livelihood from India and beyond

In a city where film festivals are a dime a dozen, Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival has carved out a distinct identity by focusing on issues of livelihood.

It was started 10 years ago to complement the work done by Centre for Civil Society, an independent research organisation that champions “limited government, rule of law, free trade, and individual rights”. “Not all people read research papers and books, so how do you take these issues to common people and make them talk and initiate a debate? That is why Jeevika was created and promoted by the think tank,” says Manoj Mathew, festival director.

This year, 38 films, from shorts to features, are being screened at the four-day festival which started on Thursday. The subjects range from solar engineers of Tilonia (“NO PROBLEM! - Six Months with the Barefoot Grandmamas” by Yasmin Kidwai) and the threatened spaces of street food (“Daane Daane Pe” by Nitya Menon) to the efforts of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank towards helping the poor in Bangladesh (“The Impact of One” by Holly Mosher) and the emergence of a ‘homeless generation’ in Malaysia (“M-C-M: Utopia Milk Siapa” by Boon Kia Meng).

“It started by looking at India, then moved to South Asia, and over the last six years we have been looking at the whole of Asia because the issues of livelihood are similar in many of our neighbouring countries,” Mathew adds.

The films are chosen from a longlist by an independent jury on the basis of criteria like “thematic adherence to livelihood, storytelling, out-of-the-box thinking,” among others. The film screenings are free of cost, and are followed by discussions where the focus is not on the technical aspects, but policy matters.

In addition to film screenings, the festival will play host to panel discussions and workshops. On the opening day, a panel discussion titled “Realising the potential of the bamboo sector in India” was held. This panel reviewed the regulations which restrict bamboo-based livelihoods, which the think tank has been lobbying against for a while. Panels in the upcoming days will focus on issues of economic freedom and skill development in India.

On Sunday, Mumbai-based crowd funding platform Catapooolt will hold a workshop on how crowd funding can be used effectively by filmmakers and performing artists. The film festival will end with an illustrated talk and musical performance by Vidya Shah about women musicians over the years and the times they lived in.

Films to look out for

Fire in the Blood (Friday, 10 a.m.)

An intricate tale of ‘medicine, monopoly and malice’, Dylan Mohan Gray’s documentary tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments blocked low-cost AIDS drugs from reaching Africa and the global south in the years after 1996 – causing ten million unnecessary deaths – and the improbable group of people who decided to fight back.

Chronicles of Oblivion (Sunday, 1.10 p.m.)

‘Odisha’ translates as the ‘land of the people’, but women from marine fisher communities have historically been a dismissed lot. Against a backdrop of depleting fish catch and unsustainable fisheries, the documentary by Priyanjana Dutta attempts to raise the ‘other’ questions — of skewed economics, of gender-discrimination policy and the struggle to overcome discrimination and oblivion.

Angels of Troubled Paradise (Sunday, 5.20 p.m.)

India and Pakistan have fought several wars over Kashmir where there are children whose fathers were killed, were arrested, or have gone missing. Raja Shabir Khan’s documentary tells the story of Aadil, one such boy who collects tear gas shells fired by police at protestors and sells these to a scrap dealer to earn money and help his family survive.