Mike Pandey welcomes digital opportunities for documentary-makers

A report from the ongoing Mumbai International Film Festival of documentaries, animation and short films.

The veteran director Shyam Benegal, whose documentary on the work of the late filmmaker Satyajit Ray was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival to mark the centenary of Ray's birth.
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Documentary-makers should seize the opportunities opened up by digital technology to engage and entertain viewers while documenting change, according to the Green Oscar-winning Indian environmental filmmaker Mike Pandey.

Speaking at an interactive session as part of the Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentaries, Short and Animation Films, Pandey said: "A filmmaker's role in society is to share information which brings about a change and that is what I constantly aspire to do through my films."

Describing documentary filming as the "backbone of a country", Pandey, who has thrice won the so-called Green Oscar - an award given annually by the Whitley Fund for Nature to recognise conservation efforts - for his work, said Indian documentary cinema had suffered from stagnation in the past few years, but was finally emerging to make its mark even as the government realised the importance of documentaries. At the festival, where the veteran wildlife filmmaker received a Rs500,000 (Dh38,000) award for lifetime achievement, Pandey said the Indian government had created a 30-minute documentary slot on the national broadcaster Doordarshan to broadcast documentary films on diverse issues.

Unlike the Bollywood mainstream filmmaking industry, Pandey said, documentary cinema required the support of the government, the viewers and the media for its sustenance. Digital technology had opened up a new vista of opportunities, and even mobile phones with good cameras were being used by filmmakers to make powerful, informative short films, he said.

The week-long festival opened on Friday. Organised by the government-run documentary promotion body Films Division, the biennial event is considered on par with other festivals such as Leipzig, Berlin, Oberhausen, Cracow and Yamagata, and is in its 12th edition.

It has been drawing enthusiastic crowds to the sprawling National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) complex in south Mumbai. The Indian and international jury includes filmmakers such as the Australian John Bradbury, the Japanese animator Sayoko Kinoshita, the Austrian Michael Glawogger, the Bulgarian Adela Peeva, Ireland's Stefanie Dinkelbach and the Indian Kumar Shahani.

With a total of 791 entries from 37 countries, the prize money for the festival has been significantly enhanced to Rs6.3 million. Responding to the demands of Indian filmmakers, the festival has also created two separate competition sections for Indian and international films, with a total of 23 awards on offer. .

Crowds flocked to watch the political filmmaker Anand Patwardhan's new documentary Jai Bhim Comrade, which traces the legacy of the unique democratic protest style of the Dalit community through poetry and music in the face of exploitation. Patwardhan, who has previously made politically explosive films on the rise of Hindu right-wing communal politics and Sikh militancy in Punjab, draws parallels between this Dalit tradition and similar protests by the Afro-American community.

Other films in the Indian competition section include the film critic Ashok Rane's documentary on the Goan musician Anthony Gonsalves, who died last month at the age of 84. Gonsalves lent his name to Amitabh Bachchan's character in Manmohan Desai's classic Amar Akbar Anthony and was part of a string of Goan musicians trained in western music who enriched Bollywood soundtracks of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s with western sounds.

The filmmaker Shyam Benegal's acclaimed 131-minute documentary Satyajit Ray, following the Oscar-winning late Bengali filmmaker at work, was screened on Sunday at the festival as part of a tribute to mark the centenary of Ray's birth. Although several documentaries have been made on Ray's work, this 1984 film stands out because of the involvement of Benegal and Govind Nihalani, two filmmakers who were inspired by Ray's realistic cinema.

Nihalani goes behind the camera and works it hauntingly to capture Ray in various moods at work on the sets of his films Sadgati and Gaire Baire. The film captures Ray candidly discussing his oeuvre and his childhood, and brings into focus the filmmaker's genius as a designer, illustrator, director, editor and musician.

The festival will also pay homage to filmmakers such as Mani Kaul, BD Garga, Pratap Sharma, Prabhakar Pendharkar and Zul Velani, who have contributed immensely to the development of the Indian documentary and short film movement.

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