There is absolutely no slot for any kind of factual content on Indian television. You approach any TV channel and they will express their support while, at the same time, refusing airtime,” says Rupin Dang, maker of hundreds of films on the environment and wildlife. Dang’s concern is shared by many. Environment and wildlife film-makers have long been the ailing stepchildren of the Indian film industry. Over the years, they have had to deal with strenuous routines, dispassionate audiences, failing funds and doggedly stubborn bureaucracies. The CMS Vatavaran Environment and Wildlife Film Festival, to be held from 12-16 September in New Delhi, attempts to promote this much-neglected genre.
The festival, which was constituted in 2002, is the brainchild of CMS (Centre for Media Studies), a research and advocacy group based in the Capital. It is a competitive festival where 72 films will compete for honours across 18 national and international categories. During the next year, some of the selected films will travel to smaller cities such as Bhopal, Srinagar, Ranchi, Dehradun and Hyderabad. Though the central theme this year is climate change, the films deal with a multitude of issues connected to ecology and the environment, right from crimes against butterflies to rainwater harvesting in urban areas, from pesticides in bottled water to the travelogue of a solo motorcycle expedition to Ladakh, from deforestation in the Amazon to a minute examination of the various bugs we live with. “The main aim is to identify and support upcoming and talented film-makers in the field of environment and wildlife,” says Alka Tomar, festival director at CMS.
Some of the contestants are well-known figures in the Indian environmental film-making industry. Naresh Bedi, who won the Prithvi Ratna Award at the 2005 festival, is back with the multi-award winning documentary, Cherub of the Mist . Bedi’s sons, Ajay and Vijay, have recently been nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy for the editing of the film. It tracks the life of two red pandas, Mini and Sweety, as they are reintroduced into the wild in Singhalila National Park in North Bengal from the Darjeeling Zoo. “It was a huge risk since we were not sure if we would manage to get adequate footage,” says Bedi. In the end, it proved to be a greater challenge to extract an hour of usable material from 100 hours of raw footage. Krishnendu Bose’s 63-minute documentary, Tiger—The Death Chronicles , travels from Corbett in Kumaon to the BR Hills of Karnataka in a quest to answer some crucial questions related to the survival of our national animal.
Actor and film-maker Revathy Menon is part of the final jury. According to her, the films will be awarded on the basis of visual quality, the way the story is narrated, causes that have been taken up and technical aspects such as editing. She was quite impressed by the films that were displayed as part of the previous festivals. “Some of them made me sit at the edge of my seat and ask what happens next,” she says.
Not everyone shares her enthusiasm, though. Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh, who has been associated with the festival in the past, feels the film-makers need to connect the broader issues relating to ecology, wildlife, liberalization and displacement with the lives of the people at the grassroots. Bose agrees: “Some of the films were quite naive in the way they narrowly interpreted the environment to mean cutting of trees or poisoning of rivers. It is as much about mainstream politics and issues such as displacement and Special Economic Zones.”
The organizers, however, are leaving no stone unturned to bridge this gap and ensure that the films are accessible to a larger audience. “Through these films, we intend to show that issues such as climate change and global warming are directly related to livelihood and food security,” says Tomar. The festival also comprises a summit on climate change, a panel discussion on film festivals on the Internet and workshops focusing on wildlife film-making, technical photography and animation for conservation, a photographic exhibition, a stamps exhibition, an organic food mart and a film bazaar. “We have got the non-exclusive rights to these films and the DVDs will be available at the film bazaar,” says Tomar.
The CMS Vatavaran Environment and Wildlife Film Festival will be held from 12-16 September at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Entry to the film screenings is free. For more details, log on to www.cmsvatavaran.org.