Still from Last Train Home

Still from Last Train Home

“We defend filmmakers’ independence even when they make terrible films”

“We defend filmmakers’ independence even when they make terrible films”

The Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) is organising Open Frame, the 10th annual international Festival and Forum for documentary films. We spoke with Rajiv Mehrotra who is on the PSBT Board of Trustees. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about PSBT and the Open Frame film festival?

We (PSBT) are passionately committed to the democratisation of the electronic media. We started out ten years ago with the goal that serious and considered voices should find expression. We support the production of a 100 independent documentary films a year—and by independent I mean, independent of the State, of private commercial enterprises, and of our (PSBT’s) own point-of-view.

The idea behind Open Frame is to take the best (documentary films) of the world and juxtapose with some of our own work.

What are some of the highlights of the 10th edition of Open Frame?

Still from Last Train Home

Isn’t the reach of documentary films limited?

It has limited viewing, but it (viewership) is growing dramatically. Look at Michael Moore’s films and the impact they have had. Closer home, NDTV now has a documentary film slot and I am told that it is making money. Also, the film Burma VJ, which was nominated for an Oscar, has been widely used by Burmese activists around the world.

Doesn’t being dependent on the government and the state broadcaster compromise PSBT’s independence?

Our funding model is – 25% through our own resources such as donations and contributions; 25% through revenues and 49% is state funding. You can speak to any of our 400 filmmakers; not once have asked anyone to make a change or require them to make a film that they didn’t wish to make. We defend and protect their independence, even when they make a terrible film!

How does New Media affect public interest documentary filmmaking?

New media helps. Most liberal democracies provide a bandwidth for the not-for-the profit sector. The US and UK have thousands of independent radio stations. We (in India) tried in a small way with community radio stations but then (the government) imposed so many conditions that it became bad. I’ll admit that our (PSBT’s) films are mostly in English and Hindi. English, because we mostly sell internationally and they prefer films in English. For real democratisation, people like the local cablewallah all over India will be obliged to run a certain amount of public programming.

The Open Frame film festival will run from 10-16 September at the India Habita Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi. For details, log on to