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Op-Ed

Need to create a documentary culture

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By EMN Updated: Oct 31, 2014 11:01 pm
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Rahul Jain

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he absence of a film culture in the country, especially in the Northeast is being talked about and felt by all and sundry. Film culture here does not refer to the burgeoning and ever growing Hindi film industry, euphemistically called Bollywood, of which this is not the space and time.
Film culture means the ability of the masses to distinguish between the good and bad. For layman, not initiated in the world of cinema, there are two types of films: art and commercial. Indeed there are two types of films for critiques as well but they are good film and bad films. Either a film is good for all or it is not good for anybody. Period.The domination by commercial entities of the media industry and their subsequent venture into the world of films has made sure that films are marketed to succeeded irrespective of their values, artistic or otherwise. Caught in this crossfire was documentaries, another genre of film which started its journey almost at the same time as its illustrious cousin, but somehow would not scale its way up. Yet, the fact remains that some of the best known filmmakers started as a documentary filmmaker or also made documentaries while the who’s who of documentaries also transited to feature films from time to time.
The state of documentary film in India is hardly anything to write home about, if one purely goes by commerce or money. Each year, some 3,000-odd documentaries are produced and almost all of them end up losing money and goes unnoticed. Yet, passionate individuals, who are also conscience keepers of the world, (mind you, documentaries go beyond boundaries like sports, art and any form of culture) continue to make them telling everybody the truth.
The essence of any documentary is the absence of bias, just as any form of good journalism is. In that sense, for many, documentary is an extension of journalism. Yet, in a society that is so much in love with spectacle, the genre has suffered many a times, but continue to rise like a phoenix to make its presence felt, and make itself wanted. The medium is not bound by time or space. Almost each one of us has a story to tell, but how we translate it to the screen makes it documentary an art of telling truth.
As Nagaland gets ready to receive its first ever documentary film festival, in the form of Kohima Documentary Film Festival, the air is pregnant with expectation. Yes, it is a festival like any other because it involves the amalgam of ideas, individuals, groups. It is a festival because it leaves recipients wanting for more after having ‘tasted’ a few. It is a festival and therefore must be celebrated. Globally, a few documentary festival have earmarked a special place for itself while documentaries are themselves part of all major film festivals around the world. It underscores the importance of the medium come what may. In India, among the major film festivals is also included the Mumbai International Film Festival, a once in a two-year event that has become one of the biggest documentary film festivals in Asia, if not the world. As more and more creative individuals from the region go and take part in them, the more creative juices shall flow in their society back home. Hence, any documentary film maker is entrusted with an enormous responsibility of being one of the sentinels of society. For years, nay decades, there has been very little effort on the part of independent documentary filmmakers and producers, hamstrung as they are because of resources.
The responsibility also lies with the masses because it is for the masses and of them that good documentaries are always about. It is in that sense their responsibilities to promote and protect the art of documentary.
India never had the market for documentaries which would have made them a mainstream medium and given returns to their makers or producers. Failing this, filmmakers have been forced to look for alternative means of finance for their missions than being self-sufficient through gate-money receipts. This has not only dampened the enthusiasm of many in the fraternity but, at times, has also acted as a barrier to young talents from giving expression to issues close to their hearts.
One also feel that not enough has been done to promote documentary films in the rural and backward areas of the country, from where a majority of subjects for documentaries come. By its very nature, a documentary is an empowering medium and hence needs to be screened in these areas so as to serve its actual intent. It must be understood that such projects can create a better society and that their role in nation-building is second to none.
The other area where the state in tandem with documentary makers or a representative body of theirs needs to work on is schools and colleges. This would not only spur creation of a big untapped ‘market’ but would also complement, in a number of ways, the education of children.
Documentary is a vital educational tool. No wonder, countries like Greece have cinema under the education ministry. Schoolchildren and college students are the bulwark of a democratic and progressive India and need all possible support towards the pursuance of holistic education. The Sarva Siksha Mission, which has drained thousands of crores in pursuit of education, has failed to tap the power of documentaries. But all is not lost. What is needed is a projector, documentary DVD and community hall, which, in this case can be a school, for real education to begin.
One hopes that this beginning in Kohima is a fresh departure for many, including policymakers, educators, civil society individuals, parents, and most importantly students. Yes, I have not forgotten film makers!

(The writer is a journalist and a documentary enthusiast. He is the secretary of Film & Cultural Society of North East, the organiser of the Kohima Documentary Film Festival)

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By EMN Updated: Oct 31, 2014 11:01:35 pm