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Poignant images

Children fascinate Rachael Turner. Her latest project with TEACH India brought her to Chennai. SAVITHA GAUTAM talks to the young U.K.-based journalist-filmmaker.

CLAD IN a green T-shirt and a well-worn pair of jeans, with a bright red towel around her wet hair, Rachael Turner could easily pass off as a typical tourist, exploring the ruins of Mahabalipuram or the idyllic backwaters of Kerala. But she is more than just a tourist; in fact she's a journalist-filmmaker.

But what was she doing in Chennai? She was filming, of course, and this time her camera was turned on the issue of education for underprivileged children.

Well, documenting people's lives and music are among Rachael's many passions. Taking time off from her employer, BBC, Rachael visited some of the city's corporation schools ("I had to get special permission from them") and many a slum, trying to capture the aspirations and the ground reality in the lives of many poor children and their parents. The project she is working on has been commissioned by TEACH India, a charitable institution, which works to provide Internet and IT training to underprivileged children. In fact, TEACH has sponsored 500 computers for school children in the first phase of a project, which is to be launched shortly.

Rachael, who is doing an honorary job for TEACH India, will be editing whatever she's filmed over the past six weeks, into a 28-minute film in the U.K. TEACH India hopes to show the film at appropriate venues and also on the Internet.

For the petite 24-year old film-maker, who hails from Manchester, life has "been a roller-coaster ride." Short stays in Trinidad and New Zealand widened her perspective of life. Even though she studied Architecture and Art History later, she was destined to wield the camera and be in the midst of excitement... be it political or social or just of the artistic kind.

She joined BBC three years ago and has been a programme developer. Ever since, she has been documenting social and political issues in the U.K., her most recent effort being interviews with the parents of the nine-year old boy who disappeared in August last. (It made headlines in the U.K. His body was found recently). She enjoys "reporting national as well as local news." It would be appropriate to add that Rachael won the BBC `Talent in 2000' — a nationwide search for new programme developers.

"Actually, the project with TEACH India came about when I responded to an advertisement, which I noticed on the Net. I wrote to TEACH India, and they chose me. I think they were impressed with my previous work," says the sensitive Briton with an infectious smile. "I have always loved to work on issues that dog society. Like the one I did on women with drinking problems. It was harrowing."

Rachael met several parents, who had many a heart-rending tale to tell. She also visited corporation schools, getting some candid and some not-so-candid shots of life at these schools. "It was a learning experience for me. I have about five stories in place as of now," she recalls.

Talking about her work in Chennai, Rachael recounts the tale of a woman who is educating her three children single-handed. "She walked out on her husband after being subjected to severe physical and emotional abuse. She borrows from one person to pay another, and is therefore, constantly in debt. What's more, nobody, either family or friends, supports her decision to send her children to school. But she is determined to see that they are able to fend for themselves when they grow up."

A 13-year-old boy who sells files to make a living captured Rachael's heart. "He was trying to sell me five files for the price of three, or so he said. He was really cute." Yet another woman was married off at 13, had a child at 14 and by 20, was a wreck. Such stories have stirred Rachael deeply. "The case is similar in Britain too," she quips. But ...

The youngster, who relished her dosais, spinach and potatoes (she says palak with a heavy accent) as much as making and watching documentaries, hopes to sell her film to BBC or ITV.

Her favourite docu films? "I simply loved "Dark Days", about the New York underground and the people who've lived there for years. The other favourite is "Long Night's Journey into Day" about apartheid in South Africa."

How does Rachael chill out? "Just listening to music." She is now busy trying to promote a musical exchange programme. "I am hoping to bring some Indian bands to play in Britain and vice versa."

Rachael, who got a whiff of the State when she travelled to Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram, hopes to come back to India for more stories, "may be on the conversion issue." Yet another story is on a dance competition. "Well, it's like putting together styles of the 1950s and 1990s and find out if there is a link." Sounds like fun!

Her dreams? "Oh! All I can say is I want to continue making films... of different kinds, be it national, international or even Indian."

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