Katerina Cizek on the Making of Highrise-

Universe Within copy

The National film board of Canada recently came out with its latest interactive documentary, the third and final part of its Highrise series – The Universe Within. Katerina Cizek has been one of the pioneers in the field of interactive documentary film making and she has worked on the Highrise series since 2007.

I remember checking out Highrise and Out of the Window, the Emmy award winning first part of the series, when I first started becoming interested in the field of interactive film making. What stood out then when I had clicked on the windows of the 360-degree web doc, was the ease with which I could navigate the platform and I could get a perspective from across the world. Collaboration and inputs from around the globe was the key to the production of series, making Highrise not only a Canadian story but a story relevant to people around the world .

I asked Katerina a few questions  on Skype about her journey on the making of Highrise.


Katerina Cizek, in her digital avatar

  1. How did the project start? What made you decide that you would make an interactive documentary out of your subject, instead of a linear, traditional documentary?

The initial idea was came about in 2004-2005 when I was working with NFB in the experimental Filmmakers–In-Residence program. We were trying to experiment and create the world’s first interactive documentary. At another level, the whole concept of Highrises, and living in a city, the diversity that Toronto presented, the segregation within the city were all issues that I was personally interested in and wanted to explore further. The tools that I had to understand the contemporary issues seemed outdated . That’s when I started to become really interested in vertical living and how it is a symbol for an urbanized planet.

I consider myself to be platform agnostic. All media appeal to me –whether it is photography or radio or print or television. The Highrise project came about as an interactive project purely because of the subject matter ,which allowed for the scale and the exploration of the subject from stories from around the world.

  1. What was the research process like for Universe Within? You have 24 short documentaries from places around the world- Mumbai, Seoul, West bank, Accra,Tokyo amongst others . What was the process of getting these stories like?
praying highrise copy

Characters in Universe Within praying to Gods , online!

It was really arduous. These are not easy stories to find. People’s digital lives are private and invisible. You may be sitting in your apartment and three feet away on the other side of the wall someone else is on their computer, but you have no idea what they’re doing.

It took two years and an amazing research team to find these stories. We used some of the same approaches as we had in Out My Window, in which we worked with local photographers, journalists and residents around the world to document stories within their own environments. The stories may be short, but the process to get them was very long. For example, in the story “West Bank” our subject had only seen her parents, who live just an hour away, a handful of times in the last 20 years because Israel limits the movements of Palestinians. When we first met her, she was pregnant with her third child. Fortunately, we had the luxury of time to wait for her to give birth to be able to film her introducing the baby to her grandparents for the very first time over Skype.

  1. A linear documentary can always have an emotional story arc that can hook a viewer. An online non-linear story has its own set of challenges to attract audiences. What would you say has been the impact of your project?

The impact that this project has created would be impossible if it had not been online. Highrise is a multi platform, multi layered series. We have created over 20 works of mixed media , documentaries, installations, mobile productions and live presentations in the last seven years. This kind of reach was possible only because this was an interactive documentary project.

We have also managed to foster a number of public conversations with multiple stake holders. The issue of living in post war buildings here in Toronto is a major one, and many of us in the Highrise team have managed to have dialogues and public conversations of issues surrounding urban poverty, livability of spaces within neighborhoods. We also had a public exhibition in the Toronto suburban train system, reaching out to a million of commuters. And NYT was associated with one of the Highrise series and the page views and interest that created was very good. To sum it up this kind of reach and dialogue would just not have been possible if this had just been a one off documentary.

  1. How do you choose your creative technologist? At what stage do they come into the picture? Do you decide on the interactivity platform, or do they?

I have had been fortunate to work with some of the best creative technologists for the entire series. From Helios Design Labs to Kitchen and Waterloo for Out of the Window to New York Times to Secret Location.   The creative technologist comes right at the concept stage . As a director,I think one of the things that I do is keep the bad things out of my project. We have a number of conversations all through the process and everyone in the team is an expert in their field and over the conversations , we define a broad vision that we narrow down as we progress.   I do not know coding, I know basic html and understand that all interactive projects are team work, which is what I help forge together.

  1. Interactive documentaries so far seem to be restricted to people interested in the field or academicians. Traditional broadcasters are largely wary of them. Is it possible for interactive docs to be of mass appeal?

Internet is the present and the future, and more and more content is being consumed online. Broadcasters have to just wake up and realize this. The challenge is to concentrate on the ethics, the subject the political impact of the content. People are concentrating on the fact that it is interactive, and the technology bit because it is the newest and shiniest object in the room. It is just a tool to tell stories .

Documentaries were considered a bad word. Even Michael Moore calls his films entertainment! Documentaries are pretty niche by themselves; interactive docs could also be the same.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interactive Docs

Saving Sumatra’s Last Tigers


It is rare to come across positive wildlife stories. We humans have done a pretty good job is depleting the population of most other species on the planet! But when I heard about the efforts by an Indonesian businessman to save the tigers in Sumatra, I was filled with hope. It is a story worth sharing.

The Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation is part of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and is located at the tip of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It is a 45,000 hectare forest and an additional marine conservation area, that has been adopted by  Tomy Winata,an Indonesian businessman with interests in infrastructure, banking and property . The endangered Sumatran tiger, a distinct subspecies is thriving in the Tambling wildlife preserve.

Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, Sumatra, Indonesia

Singapore based Channel News Asia got in touch with Novista Productions, based in Kuala Lumpur, to produce a documentary on the efforts by the park officials to release man eating tigers back in the wild. Novista is a Malaysian production company with a background in making wildlife and more recently construction based films. Their past credits include the award winning Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh and the Smart tunnel for NGC. Harun Rahman and Lara Ariffin are the husband and wife team that run Novista.

Harun and Lara of Novista

Harun and Lara of Novista

Once a tiger becomes a man eater, usually because of loss of its natural habitat, it is captured or put to an end. Very rarely is it   freed back in the wild. “Tomy Winata has been releasing man eaters back in the forests of the park area  and we wanted to capture one such release, to actually see how a tiger manages to adapt back into its natural habitat,” says Lara, the producer of the film. The team worked for over a year taking recee trips to get to know the park officials and the people who lived in the villages near the national park. “The fact that we could speak the language (Bahasa Indonesia is very similar to Bahasa Melayu), made all the difference. The people opened out to us more freely, and Tomy himself was more comfortable speaking his own language, and thus I think we could capture the true essence of the land”, Lara continues.

Saving Sumatra’s Last Tigers tells the story of a suspected man eater, Panti, who has been released earlier in Tambling, but comes back to the park wardens with an injury and when she is close to giving birth to her cubs. The wardens are overjoyed that she has mated in the wild, and after a few months of care of the mother, they decide to release her and her cubs back in the jungles of Tambling. The documentary follows the story of her release and also other man eaters who are now thriving in this nature preserve. Indonesia lost the Javanese tiger and the Balinese tiger, but thankfully, the Sumatran tiger is still around, with an estimated 400 tigers in the wild.

Panti with her cubs

Panti with her cubs

Made with a commissioning budget of 90,000 Sing dollars (approx. 70 K USD), the team started work in January 2014 and the film went on air in March 2015.

“Asian broadcasters just do not have the money to invest in wildlife films”,  laments Harun Rahman, the director of the film, and also President of Mydocs, the Malaysian Documentary Filmmakers Association. The commissioning budgets of most international broadcasters in the region range around 50-200,000 USD. But more often then not, the broadcasters get support from corporates, pushing the budgets up. Hence one invariably sees so many mega-structure documentaries, as they are funded by the construction companies. “Wildlife has very little corporate support, and so even though people might be interested in watching wildlife films, there aren’t enough getting made”, mentions Harun.

Harun has been working to upgrade the skills of Malaysian documentary filmmakers for years now, and has also been collaborating with government authorities to promote documentary film making in the country. But he is not positive about the future of documentaries in Malaysia. “Local broadcasters and government agencies are afraid to broadcast documentaries. There are so many examples of films that we producers have made for Asian broadcasters, but these are never shown in our own country. The most recent example is an investigative documentary on the recent Air Asia plane that went down, it was removed from air on Astro (the largest pay TV operator in the region) in the last minute without any explanations.”

With the imminent launch of two new Asian factual channels, one by Astro itself, and the other by Turner this year, there will be more work for documentary producers in the region. Maybe more stories about wildlife in the region will hit the screens soon.

But as Lara says in her parting shot, “What I really want to do is make a film on Malaysian tigers”, and Harun quips, “And how they are just not being saved. You can bet that film will never be shown here!”


Filed under Malaysia

Chinese migrant workers – their lives and their poetry

The Verse of Us- A new trans media documentary from China

One of the most inspiring projects that I came across during the Asian Side of the Doc that was held last week in Xiamen was an upcoming documentary that looked at the lives of migrant workers in China, through their poetry.

The subject matter and treatment of the documentary-The Verse of Us- stood out amongst all the other documentaries that were pitched by Chinese producers. There are over 300 million migrant workers in China, more than the entire population of France and Germany combined. One typically does not associate poetry and literature to be written by manual workers- by miners spending their days 800 m under the earth or workers assembling Apple I phones. But there exists this rather prolific group of poets in China, who just also happen to be migrant workers. The Verse of Us  ,you can watch the trailer here, follows the lives of some of the poets as they share their experiences in being part of China’s “economic reforms”.

Well know financial writer and economist Wu Xiaobo  is one of the key team members of this project. “ I was handed over some of the poems by a poetry critic. Impressed, I decided to pursue the poets, and was surprised to find an entire underground movement amongst migrant laborers who were writing poems about their lives and working conditions.” said Xiaobo when I met him at the sidelines of the conference.

We ran along the railway,

Arriving in some place called “The city”

Where we trade in our youth and our muscle.

Finally we have nothing to trade, only a cough

And a skeleton nobody cares about.


Midnight. Everyone is sleeping soundly,

We keep our pair of young wounds open.

These black eyes, can you really lead us to the light?

“Night Shift”

The poem was written by 24 year old Xu Lizhi, who had killed himself in September 2014 ,by jumping out of the window of a residential dorm run by Foxconn in the southern city of Shenzhen.

许立志 (3)副本

Xu Lizhi, Foxconn employee and Apple assembly worker

The issue of suicide amongst migrant workers in China had hit mainstream media in 2010. A spate of suicides at Foxconn, China’s biggest private employer had led the company to take drastic measures for workers welfare as well as management of its public relations. But according to Libcom.org and Nao, a website about workers and peasants against exploitation, the suicides have continued. They just don’t hit the headlines anymore, as they are “managed” better.

The documentary producers are using the poetry by the workers as a way of gaining insight into their lives.

What makes this a trans media documentary?

Besides the subject and treatment, what also impressed me about the film was how the producers were using different online platforms at every stage of production.

1.At the very onset the film is being produced by MeDoc, which calls itself the first production agency in China that specializes in making online documentaries. MeDoc produces micro documentaries that can be easily shared on the internet in associations it has with leading Chinese video websites . It has also become a magnet for young directors ,who are sharing their ideas for online documentaries with this unique production company. In 2013, MeDoc was honored by the Guangzhou International Film Festival with a title of “Discoverer and Pioneer of Chinese Micro Documentary”.

2.The documentary producers used Wechat, the equivalent of Whats app in China, to initially publish some of the poems of migrant workers. Wu Xiabo used his influence and managed to reach over 600,000 subscribers.

3.The producers used crowd funding at different stages of production . They initially managed to raise 150,000 RMB that helped them publish the poems of Xu Lizhi. They are now in the midst of their second crowd funding initiative, to raise funds to help them finish the film.

4.IQiui, one of the leading internet tv providers in China has been an early investor and gets exclusive copyright to broadcast the documentary on its website.

5.The team planned a live poem concert from a small shanty town in Beijing, which was a clustering place for migrant poets. The concert was broadcast live online on Vhall, an online live broadcasting platform.This was done to introduce poetry by  migrant workers to people across China.

6.The filmmakers are now in the process of adapting the workers poems to music and then creating an app to make the music more accessible to all.

From marketing and publicity to fund raising , production and distribution, online platforms is what the team behind The Verse of Us have turned to . Would I call it an interactive documentary, not in the strictest sense, but it is definitely a trans media documentary that I would have loved to watch. Only if it had been in English and for a global audience!


Filed under China, Interactive Docs

Three reasons why you should attend the Asian Side Of the Doc in 2015-

The sixth addition of the Asian Side of the Doc ( ASD) is coming up in March. It is one of the largest gatherings of professionals working in the Asian documentary space.If you are a producer from Asia, or you have a project that has a subject matter that originates from Asia , here are three key reasons why you must attend the market.

1.Networking- Asia does not have many events targeted specifically at the factual industry. ASD is one of the only forums where you can get a chance to meet Asian as well as global broadcasters all together in one space. And you also get an opportunity to meet fellow producers from all over the world. It is this chance to network that could help you put together you next co production!

2.Inspiration – The event organizers make it a point to have workshops and talks on key trends facing the world of documentary film making. For instance,for the last couple of years I have attended sessions on interactive documentaries. Attending these kind of sessions can give you the basic knowledge and tools about the cutting edge material being produced in the global doc scene. So even though you might feel that your own country or broadcasting scene might not have the resources yet, it does not matter. These sessions are inspiring, and if not today, maybe tomorrow you can make a project the world will talk about.

3.Pitch a project- This is the key reason why you must attend the Asian Side of the Doc. Pitch a project to all the broadcasters together. Trying to set up meetings with individual broadcasters could take you months. You can pitch to all of them together in a span of three to five days. The call for projects is on, and you have a deadline to meet. The details are here. Here is a tip, you might have a project that does not meet all the criteria,and may not qualify for the public pitching. But do not be disheartened. You still have the chance to meet broadcasters in one to one sessions, and you can pitch a concept which is in an advanced stage of development during these meetings.

Good luck and hope to see you in Xiamen in China!

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

The Making of Priya’s Shakti- Innovative transmedia project that attempts to change attitude towards rape victims in India

Title- Priya’s Shakti

Genre-Multi Media-Comic book with augmented reality, street art, social media

Producer-Rattapallax Inc-Ram Devineni

Budget- USD 250,000

Developed at – Crossover Labs and Dok Leipzig Net lab

Funded by-Tribeca New Media fund, Ford foundation

Rape and gender based violence is one of the most distressing issues facing modern India. Everyday there are reports of violent rapes, in villages and India’s biggest cities, of three years olds and 80 year olds, crimes that take place in homes, taxis and buses . Violence against women is cutting across caste, class, age and location.

New York based Ram Devineni, producer of Priya’s Shakti, was in New Delhi on December 2012, taking part in one of the protest marches against the much publicized brutal gang rape of a young girl that had taken place in a bus . He happened to speak to one of the policemen, who told him casually that the rape was obviously the fault of the girl, for being out of the house in the evening. This attitude -of first and foremost blaming the victim of the crime- was the issue that Ram wanted to explore more.

Priya’s Shakti is  a social impact multi media project that has an augmented reality (AR) comic book, street art and social media pages . It is a project that aims to create an alternative attitude towards violence against women. By tying up with NGOs who work with rape victims, the filmmakers have a long term plan to distribute  millions of copies of the comic book, to raise awareness against this issue.


I have been following interactive documentaries and trans media projects for a while now, and I find it interesting how different people incorporate interactivity in their projects. Coming from a documentary filmmaking background, I used to expect projects to reflect tons of research and filmmakers to work on access of key characters and deal with footage issues. But as I am learning quickly, none of these are necessary and the transmedia world is large enough to incorporate different forms of story telling.

As Ram mentions in his interview- the three holy grails of creating an interactive project are to create an app, or a documentary or a website that allows considerable viewer participation. Priya’s Shakti has none of the three.

Central to the project is a simplistic fictional comic book story, which has Hindu Gods coming to the rescue of Priya, a young rape victim. But what makes this project unique are the ancillary aspects. It is created as a multi platform media project that uses augmented reality, a technology more commonly used in advertising and by big corporates, to open the discussion on a social issue.


If you are checking out the project, do download the free app Blippar at the beginning on your smart phone. Then point your phone to the select images in the comic book, and you will experience another dimension to the book. You can hear animated voices of Indian women who have survived sexual assault and faced the trauma of being social outcasts. You can click your own picture against the image of Priya and a tiger (a metaphor for a rape victim ready to avenge her attackers), and post it on facebook, and join the campaign of “I stand by Priya!”. If you are in Mumbai, you can check out the AR – enabled street art that has been made in Dharavi.


I had a conversation with Ram in Mumbai just before the launch of the comic book, to find out more about his journey in the making of Priya’s Shakti. Ram has been working as a bank technologist with Citibank for the last fifteen years. But documentaries and films are where his heart lies and the birth of Priya’s Shakti coincided with him getting the pink slip from Citibank.

Can you take us through the journey of how you went about developing your initial idea?

I have always been interested in religious studies and in Hinduism. I went on a journey travelling across South East Asia and India, exploring different temples, and observing what different deities meant to people. I also read many Amar Chitra Kathas (extremely popular comic book series in India that has stories about Indian mythology). I just had this idea that I wanted to do a story on gender violence in India but had no idea in what form. I created a short film cut from old Bollywood films from the 1970s, basically a way to tell a story about this issue, using Indian mythological characters. So there were all these abstract thoughts in my head.


Ram Devineni

Why did you choose to make a comic book for this project over other media forms?

In October 2013 I got a notice from Citibank with a severance package. I decided to use the money as an initial development fund for my creative pursuits. I went with my short film for my first meet up in NY and in this very first event, I met Dan Goldman who writes graphic novels and comics. Dan saw the cut from the 19070s films and recommended that I make this into a comic book. (Dan Goldman is the visual artist for Priya’s Shakti.)

What were the steps you took to get initial funding?


Well, the first funding did come from the severance pay! But in March 2014, Citi called me back again. So I went back to the bank, but on far more flexible hours.

I went to Doc Leipzig and Cross Over Labs, with literally just a pdf and a cover, and from there on the project slowly took its current form. The people at Cross Over Labs were full of questions for my project and I was happy that my project was of interest to commissioners and developers from round the world. I attended most of the documentary markets in the summer of 2014–Shefield, Pixel Labs and we got funding and grants from Tribeca New Media fund and then many other organizations.

What was the inspiration for incorporating augmented reality?

During my travels to Italy I was impressed with the artwork and frescoes of the 16th century Sistine Chapel. I remember thinking at that time, when I was looking up at the ceiling and seeing the Last Judgment by Michelangelo that I wish there was a way in which I could capture the scene on my cell phone and see the artwork in an enhanced manner. That was the trigger, and hence in my comic book, I have created scenes that use augmented reality, to give another dimension to the basic artwork.

How exactly does augmented reality work?

Augmented reality is simply an alternative or unreal view of the real world created by a software. I incorporated a specific QR code in many of the images that I created in my comic book and street art ( a QR code is like a bar code) . This code is then scanned and put in the Blippar software, and that’s pretty much it! You can see one image with your naked eyes, but scan the same image with your phone, using the app, and you will see another dimension to the image!

And why did you choose Blippar over other AR software?

Blippar was entering India, and they have just launched India offices. They wanted to do something in the social sector, and my project fit in perfectly in their larger plans. They were perfect partners!

What kind of impact do you expect this project to make?

I am not expecting this comic book to reach out to the tens of thousands all across India who face gender based discrimination. But I am hoping to start a conversation, to raise awareness about an issue that is one of the biggest issues facing Indian society these days. By tying up with NGOs who work directly with rape victims, the message could spread far and wide.


The comic book Priya’s Shakti can be downloaded free of cost from the website.


Filed under Interactive Docs

Documentaries on Islam in India-my experience as a Supervising Producer

Documentary Titles-
Half Widows of Kashmir- 45 minutes
Rebuilding Lives in Gujarat- 45 minutes

Year of Production- 2014

Broadcast on Astro channel Oasis- September and October 2014

Production Companies- Creative Stew, Malaysia and NDTV Red Dot ,India

Astro , a leading pay TV broadcaster based in Malaysia had a brief- to produce a series of films that looked at Islam in various countries, countries in which it was a minority religion. The program was to be broadcast on an Islamic channel but there were plans to sell it to international channels around the world. The films in this series look at Islam in Myanmar, Bali, Sweden and England amongst others.

India was one of the countries Astro wanted to look at. I have worked extensively in India and know the Malaysian audience well and I approached the broadcaster with ideas from India that looked at beyond the obvious. I also knew various Indian production companies, who would do justice to the complexity that the subject matter presented. Astro was willing to explore the relationship further and my journey started.

The key to a good documentary is not the budget, its finding the right people
The first step was to find the right kind of team. New Delhi based NDTV Red Dot was keen to be commissioned internationally. They also had access to places like Kashmir, which were potentially sensitive locations to shoot in. And they were willing to go the extra mile even though the budgets were modest. Kuala Lumpur based Creative Stew, an upcoming production house, joined our team as we needed a Malaysian production partner.

Astro had previously tried to approach many of the established independent Malaysian documentary production companies, who had previous experience working with international broadcasters like History and Discovery. But none of them were willing to work at the local channel commissioning rate.

Our team managed, by choosing subjects which are grounded in research, by ensuring that the scripts and storyline were crisp and compelling, and by working with local crews. The key to a good documentary is often not the budget, but working on the right kind of formula to make them happen.

Balance is the key to dealing with controversial subjects-

The subject matter of the films were sensitive. Islam and India have had a torrid history. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, and news of riots and religious violence periodically hit the headlines. But I knew there were different stories too. India has produced Shah Rukh Khan (Bollywood actor) , Abdul Kalam (was President of India ), Irfan Pathan (a leading cricket star) , who are leaders in their respective fields and are loved by all Indians, across religions. There are many educated Muslims in India, very much part of the mainstream society, and their story is rarely documented. Our films are emotional stories of Muslims in India that have lived for centuries in a multi cultural society.

Half Widows of Kashmir-
half widows

Our first film was based in Kashmir, and we chose to focus on the story of Half Widows. It is a term used for women whose husbands have disappeared during the conflict with India. Most of the women we spoke to lived in Srinagar and their husbands had been allegedly picked up by the Indian army. We also travelled towards the India Pakistan border, where we met women who had been left behind as their men had willingly crossed over the border to join the militancy movement against the Indian state. The film chronicles the lives of these women, where what is right, and what is wrong is not clear. It could have been a political commentary and instead we focused on the personal lives of three Kashmiri women, who have spent their lives waiting, waiting for a closure.You can watch the trailer here.

Rebuilding Lives in Gujarat-


Our second film looks at Gujarat, a state infamous for the 2002 riots, and how some Muslims have managed to reintegrate themselves in the mainstream population. The story could have been one dimensional, but we were surprised to meet so many people who had managed to turn things around for themselves. We chose to focus on educated business professionals who beat the prejudices and managed to reinvent their careers to suit the changing modern India. One of the characters in our film is a businessman who used to be in the spice trade for decades, and whose factories used to regularly get burnt down in the riots that have hit Ahmadabad over the decades. After the 2002 riots, he reinvents himself to start a BMW showroom, a business he says is more in tune with the changing population of the city. It is just one example among many of how many Muslims have moved on as the society around them has changed.

My key message was to look at Islam in India not as black and white, but in all its shades of grey. The stories we made are an attempt at reflecting the complexities and subtleties of the lives led by Muslims in India. As a Supervising Producer, I had to ensure that we did justice to the complex subject matter.

The films will air on the Astro platform in September and October 2014, and will be distributed in major TV markets in the coming year.

Leave a comment

Filed under India, Malaysia

Proposition for a Revolution-Upcoming Documentary on India’s Aam Admi Party

May 2014 and India is in the midst of general elections. The buzz on social media has been unprecedented, and CNN called it India’s first elections on social media.

One of the earliest adapters of social media has been the Aam Adami Party, AAP, (translated as common man party) that has found support amongst many of the educated middle class. After Congress and the BJP, the two biggest political parties, it is AAP that has hogged the limelight and airwaves in the last six months.

The journey of this new political party has been extraordinary in many ways. It came into existence from the popular India Against Corruption movement in November 2012. Their first electoral victory was the 2013 New Delhi Assembly Elections. AAP emerged as the second largest party and ruled the state for 49 days. It now is participating in the 2014 general elections.

Following the transformation of AAP into a most talked about political force have been two young filmmakers, Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. Both were associates with filmmaker Anand Gandhi who made the critically acclaimed Ship of Theseus. Khushboo and Vinay’s documentary, Proposition for a Revolution, has been in production since 2012.They have recently launched a crowd funding initiative to take the film towards completion.

aap party cover page

What attracted them to this subject was the transition of a peoples’ movement into a political party. According to Vinay, they did not know what they were getting into when they started documenting the emerging party in late 2012. “We were following the party on an impulse. We were curious. Slowly, it became evident that the story playing out in Delhi was much bigger than what we had initially anticipated. We couldn’t hire professionals since we couldn’t afford them so all of us learnt to use the camera and sound equipment.”

Filmmakers Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla

Filmmakers Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla

Documentaries on peoples’ movement and protests have been popular in the last couple of year. The Square, about the Egyptian Revolution was nominee for the Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars in 2014.Fault Lines was about the Occupy Wall Street Protests, and there have been numerous films that have documented the Arab Spring. The catch about documenting peoples’ movements for filmmakers is always the same, one doesn’t know how things will pan out .The filmmakers of The Square had to edit their film twice as the events on the ground changed so drastically.

Khushboo says “This is one of the challenges that documentary filmmakers always face – the question of when does your film end? We shot with the party for just over a year from Nov 2012 to Dec 2013. By the end of 2013 we knew we had a very strong film about the evolution of a nascent political party in India. We had an “election film”.” Vinay adds, “While our film has value as an articulation of contemporary concerns, it is also a time capsule of a shared experience. The AAP is a shape-shifting beast. It will continue to surprise and upset with equal ease. But we have a story that is not just about the AAP. It is about looking inwards into our systems, how ‘politics’ is done, who is doing it. The act of looking back can also simultaneously be an act of looking at the future.”

The shoot of the film that took them more than a year has had its own trans-formative effect on the young filmmakers. They have relocated to another city, been in the midst of hostile crowds, escaped from media stampedes. Khusboo admits that being thrust into the heart of “doing politics” took a while to get oriented to. “I remember the first AAP rally we attended, it was a sensory overload. We couldn’t make sense of what to capture, where to place our lens.”

The filmmakers started filming without a production plan in place, out of passion and curiosity. But as the film got bigger they pitched and won the IDFA Bertha grant in mid 2013 to make a feature length film. They tried approaching Indian investors but they refused to compromise on their editorial independence. Vinay says, “Our film is a documentary set in contemporary politics and investors didn’t find that as an interesting proposition. Those who were interested in investing wanted to know if we are supporting AAP or are against it. We didn’t want to take money from people who had these concerns because it would compromise our position.”

The filmmakers have been happy with the response to their crowd funding campaign.They managed to raise 50 per cent of their goal in less than 10 days.According to Khushboo, “On one hand we wanted to use crowd funding to raise money, but on the other we also wanted it to be a community owned film. This would ensure that when the film releases, it is seen widely and the contributors become ambassadors and owners of the film in an organic way.”

crowdfunding pic

India has a huge domestic market for feature films. It is wonderful to see documentaries too getting increased visibility and filmmakers employing the same techniques for fund raising as their international counterparts. Wishing the Proposition for a Revolution team good luck towards completion.

Leave a comment

Filed under India