Politics of Filmmaking in South Asia

by Alka Kurian

The South Asia Center at the University of Washington, Seattle; UW Bothell’s School Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences; and the community organization, Tasveer presented a two-day symposium on Human Rights and the Politics of Filmmaking in South Asia on October 19th and 20th, 2015. The symposium, which coincided with Tasveer’s 10th Seattle South Asian Film Festival (SSAFF), provided a unique opportunity for academic scholars, community members, and filmmakers to come together to discuss the vibrant worlds of contemporary film and filmmaking in South Asia.

(L to R) Deepti Misri, Bidisha Biswas, Rakesh Sharma

(L to R) Deepti Misri, Sanjay Kak

Participants presented papers on a wide range of topics including minority and caste identities, gender, human rights, and nationalism. Paper presentations were interspersed with four film screenings and discussions. Central to the conversations that emerged was the widespread commitment among visiting filmmakers to refuse to be colonized by capitalism and to seek alternative ways to carry out their work. With reference to his film Red Ant Dream India’s leading documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak stated that it was this kind of commitment along with easier access to digital technology that had freed filmmakers from the stranglehold of state censorship. In discussing how he used footage for his work-in-progress,  Aftershock, another of India’s leading documentary filmmakers, Rakesh Sharma, told the audience that he seeks to agitate minds and mobilize a combative relationship with the audience, so that people form their own opinions rather than simply “buying into things that are circulating around” them. Other filmmakers who presented were Sri Lankan filmmaker, Prasanna Vithanage, with Silence in the Courts; Hemal Trivedi (from the Indian diaspora) and Mohammad Naqvi (from the Pakistani diaspora) with Among the Believers; and Thenmozhi Soundarajan,  who presented on her group’s project #dalitwomenfight. Approximately 150 students, faculty, and community members attended portions of the two-day symposium. The full symposium schedule including the list of all presenters is available here.