Every drop counts

The 8th CMS VATAVARAN starts in New Delhi, with films focusing on 'Water for Life'

A Google Doodle last week showed a red planet smiling after sipping water from a glass with a straw. Nasa, the US space agency, might have found signs of liquid water on Mars—signalling life—but no, we aren’t moving there just yet. For the moment, it’s more important to address our blue planet’s water concerns—albeit through a film festival.

The five-day 8th CMS VATAVARAN Environment and Wildlife International Film Festival and Forum, which started on Friday, has as its theme “Water For Life", with a special focus on “Conserving Our Water Bodies".

In the last 25 years, 2.6 billion more people have gained access to improved drinking water sources, according to a June Wall Street Journal report. But clean water and sanitation remain one of the 17 sustainable development goals of the UN; 2005-15 is being observed as the “Water For Life" decade.

It’s appropriate then that this year, CMS VATAVARAN will be screening 74 films in the competitive category and showcasing a panorama of 25 award-winning films on water. There will be seminars, workshops, panel discussions, exhibitions, cultural events and a green haat—a marketplace for forest handicrafts, herbal products and forest foods.

Surendra Manan’s documentary, The Battle Begins... (1.30pm, 11 October), and Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl’s I Cannot Give You My Forest (world premiere, 4.30pm, 11 October) sound like a must-watch.

I Cannot Give You My Forest
I Cannot Give You My Forest

The Delhi-based director met Seechewal five-six years ago in Sultanpur village near Jalandhar, while he was working on another film. Seechewal, now in his late 50s, has been trying to revive dead rivers for 15 years. Says Manan, “The man received no cooperation from the government, in fact, attempts were made to sabotage his efforts."

Like every year, the festival will screen films on a host of environmental issues. I Cannot Give You My Forest, the winner of the Rajat Kamal National Award for Best Environment Film (Agriculture) for 2014, is a simple story told with gravitas—subtle, yet hard-hitting. Shot over a year in the Niyamgiri forests in Odisha’s Rayagada district, it charts the importance of forests in the lives of Kondh Adivasis, who live off its bounty.

“Our body of work gives a window into the lives and daily struggles of the poorest of the poor, what Gandhiji called ‘antim jan’, says Saxena. “Our films have focused on farmers and the Adivasis in our country." Their first film Agraria—The Sons Of Fire was about the Agraria Adivasis, iron-smelters in central India, while Hollow Cylinder, shot in the North-East, focused on India’s bamboo policy. Cotton For My Shroud dealt with the issue of farmer suicides in Vidarbha; Dammed was about the Adivasis of the Narmada valley in Khandwa, whose lands were submerged; and Candles In The Wind (which will also be screened at the festival at 11.30am, 12 October) is about widows of farmers who ushered in the green revolution in Punjab, and the way these women are tilling the fields, paying off the huge loans and tending to old parents.

My name is salt, a documentary film by Farida Pacha
My name is salt, a documentary film by Farida Pacha

For Saxena and Bahl, it doesn’t end with the film. They will also conduct a digital film-making workshop (4pm, 10 October and 10am, 11 October) and are bringing 30 Adivasi farmers from six states to set up stalls at the festival—not only to sell organic, nutritious food but also cook and sell traditional dishes. “As film-makers, we are often asked if our involvement with the subject of our film and the people who colour our canvas ends with the film we make, but we believe we are farmers first and our films are broadcasting some desi seeds, hoping they germinate in minds fertile," says Saxena.

Ask Bahl and Saxena—who are now working on a lengthier version of I Cannot Give You My Forest—how they go about generating awareness or get people to back a cause, and pat comes the reply, “By answering 20 questions, hoping that the reporter will do an honest job thereafter." Coming from two former journalists, the point hits home.

CMS VATAVARAN is on till 9-13 October at the NDMC Convention Centre, Jai Singh Road, opposite Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. For details and the screening schedule, visit Vat2015.cmsvatavaran.org.

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