A flame in the forest

  • K. Pradeep
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ENVIRONMENT Documentary filmmaker Lygia Mathew tells K. Pradeep that rapid cultural shifts and changes in ecosystems demand more engagement from filmmakers


It is not unusual for documentary filmmakers to go a step beyond the film and get involved in the issues. For Lygia Mathew it has been no different. She provides a ray of hope for ecosystems under threat.

Lygia who comes from the picturesque village of Mulanthuruthy, in the suburbs of Kochi, spent most of her childhood in Kolkata and cut her teeth in filmmaking in Mumbai, is back in her hometown. This time she is here to make “a series of short films” on environmental issues; to call attention to them from a simple view point.

“This will be a series of films which will go to different places starting from Kerala where there are burning environmental issues; to people who are doing good work and need support to sustain that work. We came across Ajey, an exceptional, young man from Kochi, who has been working on environmental projects and talks the language that should be understood. He and his dog, Bambi, will be the mascots (see box) for this sensitisation campaign through which we are trying to emphasise that the joy of human life does not come from human relations alone but man-animal relationships and relationships with Nature,” informs Lygia, whose documentary films have won worldwide acclaim.

Lygia’s oeuvre

Her films on Kerala like Light on the Water , A Memory of the Sea and E for Elephant , have won Lygia national and international honours. She began her career with Doordarshan doing weekly ‘live’ programmes for the youth, then moved on to make ad films, finally branched out to independently making corporate films, documentaries and some popular television series for private channels. She is currently working towards completion of a documentary on the pastoralists of Rajasthan, the Rabaris.

An active member of the Indian Documentary Producers’ Association (IDPA), Lygia finds that there are just a handful of ‘full-time’ documentary filmmakers in the country. “The IDPA is trying to change that. There is an urgent need for content, internationally. So there is value for good content. We have a competition every year, invite entries and from that make a themed package which we have been showcasing. It becomes a revenue-earner for the filmmaker and we get good films.”

Films and filmmakers should, Lygia thinks, look for meaningful content and not look through their viewfinder objectively. “What I realised is that most of what I had seen, for instance, aspects of culture and nature that we had recorded had gone when we came back. This made me ask whether one should get involved or not and do something rather than just make films and forget? We have decided to pitch ourselves into the environmental battle providing our solutions for sustainable development,” explains Lygia.

With a group of like-minded people, that includes names like Mike Pandey and Shaji N. Karun, Lygia has started two projects in Nelliyampathy and Nilambur where they aim to provide sustainable solutions for environmental problems to these eco-fragile systems.

“With the assistance of professionals, we plan to set camera traps in buffer zones in these places. This will enable us and the society at large understand the value of wildlife and the bio-diversity of these places. It can be used as a ‘live’ feed linking it to touristy and such public places to create awareness.”

Along with this, Lygia and her group, also attempt to involve the local community in the protection of the area. “What we have found is that most of the forest offenders in these areas poach because they are jobless. We have involved the local community, told them we will employ them in various jobs inside our property. But once we get to know that an animal is killed, their jobs will go. It has been fairly successful so far.”

They also intend to set up a voluntary carbon standard in these areas. This, they say, will be a pilot project, which can be taken to the whole State later. “The Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) can be the validators to see if a place is carbon credit worthy. They can set the formulae. We are involved in six states along the Western Ghats. Kerala, we feel, should be the first to adopt this.”

This project work will form the major thread of Lygia’s forthcoming series. “These are steps to a bigger goal. Ajey, our young mascot, has got the passion, the anger. Our generation is on the way out. It is now up to his generation,” says Lygia.




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