Indian Documentary: Issues & Concerns

{ Posted on Dec 30 2013 by aditya seth }
Categories : Documentary, Uncategorized

Bahadur The Accidental Brave was screened at the Cinema Verite` Film Festival Tehran as part of a retrospective on Indian Documentaries.

My write up on the Indian Documentary for 7th “Cinema Verite” Iran International Documentary Film Festival: 

Most independent documentary films being made in India today are self funded. This is primarily thanks to relatively cheap & affordable DV (Digital Video) technology. These films are both experimental & content driven. The issues are primarily social, political or sexual. Film makers spend a year or two in researching, writing & producing these films. Making a documentary is an investment with no real return in sight. It can be self sustaining though with great difficulty. There are state funded organizations which commission documentaries to independent Film makers though the budgets are very low & it is a highly competitive space. To be able to effectively visually depict a documentary takes passion, honesty & dedicated time & time is money. For the Documentary Film maker there are also livelihood issues. I have also faced problems with institutional/ commissioned films wherein the film is supposed to depict things which are false & do not exist. Over & above which there are bribes to be paid to “officials” to get the contract in the first place. What majority of us do is make films for survival which are commissioned & commercial in nature & save up some money to fund an independent venture.
The Independent Documentary Film maker in India is dependent on the National & International Film Festival Circuit & International TV Networks to get a return on their investment & recognition for their work. There is little scope of making money in the Indian Market. Private News channels are not interested in independent documentaries because they don’t find them commercially viable & would rather show films produced internally. It is also a manifestation of a market driven entertainment heavy industry wherein nobody wants food for thought or to hurt their sensibilities, echoing T.S. Eliot: “humankind cannot bear very much reality”.
The experience of screening documentaries to both urban and rural audiences has revealed without doubt that there is an audience in sufficient numbers for alternative content. The public is ready but there is a reticence among those who hold the reigns of distribution in their hands. On the brighter side to counter commercial and political interests & to feed the hungry audiences a number of Independent Documentary Film Festivals have mushroomed across the country. Also a number of portals have started streaming Independent alternative content on the web.
The West has made the documentary a commercially viable proposition. There are Cinema halls dedicated to documentaries wherein people buy tickets to view these films. I recently attended a screening to a packed house of 250 people in London where the ticket was 10 Pounds! That is what we need in India, public exhibition of documentaries where people pay gate money to watch so that the Independent Documentary Film maker can earn a livelihood by making films & nothing else! International Pitching Sessions have been set up & institutionalized in India, creating a viable & accessible platform for the Independent Film maker.
International collaborations can result in developing & funding independent talent, opening up distribution avenues, Television & Theatrical & create a culture & environment for Independent Documentary Film making in the country sans prejudice or censorship.

Aditya Seth.
Film Maker/ Academic/ Consultant

One Response to “Indian Documentary: Issues & Concerns”

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