[Reader-list] Documentray filmmakers against censorship

Jeebesh Bagchi jeebesh at sarai.net
Sat Jan 31 03:26:19 IST 2004

Documentary filmmakers from all over the country have been fighting for the 
last 6 months on Censorship. The campaign has been run through emails 
compilations, distributed meetings and pro-active actions of withdrawals. 
Remarkably it has able to provide a new way of working that combines 
discussion, debate, opening of new creative posssibilities and yet focused 
actions. They will bring out a comiplation of all the emails and it will be a 
great asset for any movement. 

For more information write to MIFF CAMPAIGN <khel at vsnl.com>

Enclosed is an article on the latest in this campaign.....
Not Merely 'Miff'ed
Scharada Bail's article

One could hardly be an independent documentary filmmaker in our country if
 one was even remotely faint-hearted. These men and women, who make films
 about marginalized people, neglected issues, and matters so disturbing that
 they can only be spoken of in whispers, if at all, battle odds that would
 daunt the most courageous amongst us. Funds for making films through
 official patronage or private sponsorship are hard to come by, and
 institutions that support the documentary can still be listed in a slim
 volume. Completed films can rarely hope to reach even an audience of the
 size of a flop Hindi film that is withdrawn in its first week. Screenings of
 documentaries remain confined to select venues and audiences, with
 television also becoming a virtually closed medium after the rise of
 commercial satellite channels, and Doordarshan's reduced interest in
 documentaries. In the circumstances, it is extremely heartening that
 documentaries are still being made with passion and determination, and
 gaining international recognition.

If there is one forum that brought cheer to documentary filmmakers since
 1990, it was the Mumbai International Film Festival, or MIFF, (formerly
 BIFF) that is held every two years in Mumbai, and organized by the Ministry
 of Information and Broadcasting and the Films Division. A festival for
 documentary, short and animation films, with a national and international
 selection of films, a competition and an information section, and tributes
 to legendary documentary makers, this was the place where the non-fiction
 filmmaking fraternity converged every couple of years, a place to meet,
 screen your films, and see some of the best work among your peers.

Not any more, it appears. In a series of developments chillingly similar to
 changes sweeping many of our institutions and public domains in the past few
 years, MIFF 2004 is mired in a controversy relating to censorship, and
 silencing dissent through discriminative processes. The deadline for
 submitting entries for MIFF 2004 was September, and by August, more than 200
 independent filmmakers across the country were already up in arms at the
 demand for clearance from the Censor Board for their festival entries.

The filmmakers' concern and anger was understandable in view of the fact that
 foreign entries were exempted from the Censor Board clearance. Moreover,
 censorship does not play a role in any international festival of note, nor
 had a Censor Board clearance been necessary for MIFF since its inception in
 1990, and this had become established as the convention. It appeared as if
 the authorities were in a hurry to invoke the Censor's clout against the
 dreaded G word that they feared would come up again and again at the
 festival, and in fact, quite a few films deal with the blow that the events
 in Gujarat have dealt to our nation.

When independent filmmakers banded together under the banner of CAC or the
 Campaign Against Censorship, and succeeded in receiving support from their
 friends in other countries, the organizers withdrew the Censorship clause
 for MIFF 2004 entries, and the process of submitting films concluded in
 September.The experience made filmmakers feel it was important to discuss
 issues of political censorship, hate speech and censorship related laws.
 They decided to hold a seminar on these issues alongside MIFF 2004.

However, the entire filmmaking community was again thrown into agitation by
 the selection of films for the festival. In January 2004, just weeks before
 the festival is held from February 3 to 9 in Mumbai, there has been a series
 of letters written by filmmakers protesting at the manner of selection, and
 raising questions about the composition of the selection committee, and the
 procedure followed, which appears to be a clear departure from the past.

 The atmosphere has been so vitiated by what one filmmaker has described as
 the "pattern of backdoor censoring of films with political text or a pattern
 to censor films that put 'shining India' in a bad light" that many
 filmmakers whose films have been selected for the festival have withdrawn
 their entries. (See box for list of films) Many excellent films, already
 recognized, or decorated by awards at other festivals, have been rejected,
 and filmmakers from across the country have decided to organize a parallel
 film festival to MIFF 2004 called Vikalp - Films for Freedom where these and
 other films will be screened. In what appears to be the final straw around
 the MIFF controversy, Girish Karnad has resigned from the MIFF jury, and
 Chennai based filmmaker R.V.Ramani has resigned from the organizing
 committee of MIFF.

The last decade has seen India break with many traditions of cultural freedom
 and honesty. While icons like Mahatma Gandhi have been consigned to as much
 obscurity as the present political leadership can cover them with, a new
 breed of aggressive leaders and their agents have risen to prominence at
 every available public forum, loudly proclaiming their allegiance to
 'nation' and defining daily the genetic, religious, and political qualities
 that citizens of such a nation should aspire to.

In fact, such a 'nation' appeared many years earlier in the speeches of Adolf
 Hitler, when he seduced Germany to vote him into power. What is most
 revealing in the current MIFF controversy is the organisers' choice of
 personality for special tribute - Leni Reifenstahl. This was 'Hitler's
 favourite filmmaker' an actress and director whose propaganda film 'Triumph
 of the Will' and 'Olympia', a film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics contain
 many of the ideas of ethnic purity and superiority and 'cultural
 nationalism' that we in India in 2004 can ill afford.

With their spirited resistance to the discrimination and censorship of MIFF
 2004, Indian documentary filmmakers have lived up to their courageous

Scharada Bail
Films that have been withdrawn by their makers in
protest at the MIFF 2004 selection and exclusion.

Ajay Raina -- I am Human
Gautam Sonti -- Anjavva is Me, I am Anjavva'
Gopal Menon -- Naga Story:The Other Side of Silence
Kabir Khan -- The Taliban Years and Beyond
Meghnath & Biju Toppo -- Development Flows From The
Barrel Of A Gun
P Baburaj and C Saratchandran - The Bitter Drink
Pankaj Butalia -- Tracing The Arc
Reena Mohan -- On An Express Highway
Surabhi Sharma -- Aamakaar (The Turtle People)

Films that have received recognition elsewhere and been rejected by MIFF
Naata (The Bond) (45 min)
Bombay/India, 2003, dir - K P Jayasankar  and A Monteiro
Naata is about Bhau Korde and Waqar Khan, two friends who work on conflict
 resolution and communal amity initiatives between the different communities
 in Dharavi, reputedly, the largest "slum" in Asia. Naata is the second in a
 series of films on the people and city of Mumbai, and is a sequel to Saacha
 (The Loom), 2001.

A Night of Prophecy (77 min)
India, 2002, dir-Amar Kanwar
The film travels in the states of Maharashta, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, and
 Kashmir. Through poetry you see where all the territories are heading
 towards, where you belong, and where to intervene, if you want to. The
 narratives merge, allowing us to see a more universal language of symbols
 and meanings. This moment of merger is the simple moment of prophecy.

Resilient Rhythms (64 min)
India, 2002, dir - Gopal Menon
India's caste system places nearly 160 million people, the dalits, at the
 outskirts of society. It exploits their services but at the same time denies
 them acceptance as human beings. Resilient Rhythms deals with a range of
 dalit responses to their marginalisation, from armed struggle to electoral

The Unconscious (19 min)
Maharastra/India 2003, dir - Manisha Dwivedi This film is a journey with men
 who call themselves kothi. They are men for their families and society, but
 for themselves they are women, and wives of other "macho" men. They walk two
 tightropes, both of fear and disgrace of and for their families and
 'husbands'.And yet, they celebrate womanhood in their world of disguises.

Vikas Bandook Ki Naal Se (Development Flows from the
Barrel of the Gun) (54 min)
India, 2003, dir-Biju Toppo and Meghnath
The film gives voice to people affected by development projects-and repressed
 by the state for speaking out. The film asks why most of these incidents
 have taken place in areas where indigenous Adivasi people are majorities,
 and leaves us to ask why, in the age of globalisation, the state has turned
 from protector to predator.

(on behalf of CAC we would like to point out that the following films have
 not been rejected by MIFF as reported in the above article : Resilient
 Rhythmns, The Unconscious,  Vikas Bandook ki Naal Se)

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