Jeebesh Bagchi on Tue, 10 Feb 2004 00:49:29 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Censorship and it's opposition

Interview with Sanjay Kak (filmmaker). Sanjay's film 'Words on Water' 
was removed from the Mumbai International Film Festival after being 
selected. The film documents the long and tortuous resistance story in 
the Narmada Valley against displacement and unsustainable development 

Q. How did the Campaign Against Censorship (CAC) begin?

Sanjay: The CAC has emerged as an action platform of over 275
documentary filmmakers from all over India. It was triggered off when
MIFF introduced a dangerously discriminatory clause asking for Indian
entries for the festival to submit censor certificates. In a matter
of a few short weeks, more than 200 filmmakers had grouped together
to express their outrage, and filmmakers from the world over joined

But beyond the MIFF issue, the Campaign represents a spontaneous
release of energy from the growing and vibrant documentary filmmaking
community in India.

 Q. Though MIFF was forced to withdraw the censorship clause, the
subsequent selection process sidelined most films that were remotely
?political? or critical of the establishment. Was Vikalp a reaction
to this deliberate sidelining of alternative voices?

Sanjay: Vikalp is not simply a reaction. MIFF is a small irritant
around which a lot of mobilization has materialized. There are 30
rejected filmmakers with a wide range of subjects. Normally we don?t
even show our films in the same places, but there?s enough common
ground. Vikalp is a platform of people with shared concerns, a broad
area of common understanding. It is provoked no doubt by what
happened ? the censorship clause, etc. - but it is important to
recognize the moment. Something like this would not have been
possible even 10 years ago, simply because there were not enough
people in documentary filmmaking then. But the development in
production, in technology, and its impact on filmmaking practice, the
growing self confident community of filmmakers, not just in cities
like Delhi and Bombay, but in small towns all over the country, not
to forget, the growing audience - all these have contributed to
creating an enviornment where a protest like this is possible. But
if we recognize this flexibility, this proliferation of production
and the audience, so does the sarkar. The state is taking note of it,
is cracking down on newspapers, magazines and television channels
that are critical of the establishment, so much so that even a
magazine like The Outlook has been brought to heel. Today any large
monolithic media structure is vulnerable. But we documentary
filmmakers, to quote Arundhati Roy, are like machchars (mosquitoes)
on the back of a big buffalo - how are they going to stop us?

 Q. There's been some talk of taking this package to different
educational institutes, of turning it into a traveling festival like
Film South Asia.

Sanjay: Yes, we could take the package to different institutes, or we
could ask them to choose specific films that they would like to
screen. The important thing is to preserve the independent character
of the festival, to prevent it from becoming dependent on the State
or on any one funding organisation. Because when that happens, you
become vulnerable to pressure. So forming another IDPA or MIFF is
useless. The trick is to let the big festivals be - MIFF can be
revamped, cleaned up - but this impulse, this alternative space
should not be tampered with. For every large institution, there must
be a counter institution. I firmly believe that this kind of
amorphous, loose, spirited and engaged mode of working, this attempt
at a kind of democracy and transparency is very essential. We have
proved that we can do it in 20 days. If we get 6 months, we can come
up with something truly fantastic.


Vikalp is alternative. It is a new! possibility. It is not just a
festival that is staged as a protest to the MIFF. It is a movement of
filmmakers. It is a collective that has the ability to provide new
directions to the independent film making community (documentary &
short) in India . The formation of this collective can play a crucial
role in making independent Indian films accessible to all, and
provide a platform for filmmakers. In the recent years the
digitalization of filmmaking practice has made it a democratic
medium. This has led a to substantial leap in the number of films
being made in the country. Most of these are independently produced
without funding from the state, TV channels or production houses.
More and more individual filmmakers are going out and making films.
Vikalp can intervene in this area by providing a platform for all
Indians independent filmmakers to exhibit their work not just in
Indi! a but the world over. Some initial ideas:

--- Package of some of the films shown in this festival should travel
across the country. This should be done on a non-profit basis.

--- The same package should be publicized through the Internet and
made available to universities and community groups all over the
world, especially in the US and the UK. This has tremendous potential
and can be done on a profit basis, so that we can cross-subsidize the
distribution of films in India.

--- A financially viable distributive mechanism should be formed,
which allows filmmakers to sell their films in India and all over the
world. Given the deep penetrative power of the Internet this can be
made possible even with meager resources.

 Some long-term possibilities:

--- To build an archive of independent films. If the state is not
keen to show our films, obviously it will not be interested in
archiving them. So there is a need to have an independent archive to
preserve these films for the future.

--- To set up multiple permanent spaces for exhibiting independent
films all over the country. This can be a unique platform for a
deeper interaction between audiences and filmmakers, and amongst
filmmakers themselves.

--- To set up permanent production and post ? production facilities
for filmmakers who don?t have access to equipment. These can be made
available on a non-profit basis.

These are not new ideas, and neither are they impossible. Filmmakers?
collectives like Vikalp exist all over the world, and they not only
exhibit films and distribute them, but also provide a space for the
production and archiving of films. Let us collate the energies that
have emerged together in the making of Vikalp and keep the momentum
on to have a larger impact of Indian independent filmmaking on the

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