Independent filmmaker Sanjay Kak talks about what to expect from his panel in The Hindu Lit for Life discussions today

The Hindu Lit for Life, scheduled to be held on February 8, 2014, is going to celebrate much more than just the written word. In a session titled My Frame, Sanjay Kak, along with his co-panellists Amar Kanwar and R.V. Ramani, will discuss what they know best, the world of documentary cinema. To begin with, Kak did wonder about the presence of a panel on documentary cinema in a literary festival. But now, he sees it as an acknowledgment. “I can only guess at what the organisers are thinking. It was a question asked intitially – why would you have this session in a literary fest? But to me what is exciting is that it is an acknowledgment of the fact that in the documentary world today, it is possible to see a range of work which is actually influenced by and influences, quite a wide range of practices, including literature.” Kak finds this reassuring, and adds, “As a documentary filmmaker to understand where they are coming from, is gratifying. Usually, we have a different sphere in which we work. We are aware of how widespread it is and what is the character of the audience and the practice.” The panel at the festival, Kak feels, underlines the fact that documentary cinema has a discourse that is very distinct and it is having an impact on the world around us.”

Of course, Kak admits that this impact has not been fully examined, but now, its effect has spread from merely reportage and activism to other creative forms like art and literature. “Especially a lot of stuff happening in Bombay and Delhi is impacted by documentary cinema,” Kak says.

For the filmmaker, this is a much more important factor to examine, compared to the influence of other art forms on documentary cinema. “That is not a point that needs to be reiterated, it is what’s happening the other way around that is interesting”

On the panel with two other respected veterans in the field, Kak says that there was no need for the panellists to meet before the festival. “Most of us who work in documentary films know each other’s works for the last 20 years. It’s not like going to international events where you meet and see people’s work for the first time. Even if we work in markedly different fields, we have a lot of respect for what the other person is doing.” He adds that he especially didn’t want to over-rehearse their conversation because for him, meeting and discussing cinema with these people is as much an exercise for the panellists as well as the audience.

For Kak, the most interesting thing about documentary scene today lies in the relationship between filmmaker and audience. “That’s not to say that they are moulding their work to gain audience. That’s the work of commercial cinema, but it’s the discovery of an audience that makes it possible for the filmmaker to experiment.

“I’m not going to just talk about my work but also its reception. For me that is something the audience needs to be brought up to speed on. They need to know who these people who see these movies are”. The idea is for the panel to talk about what’s topmost in their minds, and unpack the documentary space for the audience. “We don’t have to come to consensus about what a documentary cinema is.”