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Indian women farmer film makers win awards

Page history last edited by Rosemary 13 years ago

Non-literate women farmer filmmakers portray their struggles in award-winning videos

A group of rural women farmer/filmmakers from Pastapur village in Medak district of Andra Pradesh made Indian film history in 2006 by winning a prestigious national award. The dalit women of the DDS Community Media Trust, most of them non-literate, won the award for best program and a citation for best program on environment and development in the UGC-CEC National Award for the Best Educational Video Film. The annual educational video competition, open to all short filmmakers in India, attracted 246 entries which were judged by a national jury of filmmakers and educationists.

The womens’ filmmaking began in 1997, when women from 75 villages in and around Pastapur decided they needed their own media to express themselves, facilitate dialogue across rural communities, document and analyze local events and issues and convey information and ideas to the outside world. A decade ago, these women faced multiple jeopardy as poor, illiterate, rural women from Dalit communities (former "outcastes") making a meager living from farming in a semi-arid region. While they had little access to the media, nearly 5,000 of them were members of the sanghams, or village-level women's collectives, associated with the Deccan Development Society, a 20-year-old grassroots organization based in Pastapur and Hyderabad that works with socially- and economically-disadvantaged rural communities.

"We used to wait for filmmakers to come from Hyderabad to record our lives. But they never understood our language and they spoke in Hindi or English. They really didn't have the time to understand what we had to say either. They used to come for one or two days and shoot in a hurry. So we decided in our `sangam' that if one of us could shoot, we could document our stories,'' says Laksamma, president of the Community Media Trust (CMT), which was formally created in 2001.

Seven women completed a 10-month video training course created specially for them. They have since gone on to make over 100 films which draw, for subject matter, on their lives and concerns: food, work, social and cultural life. Not only do they cover events and issues of particular interest and concern to their communities, which they say are rarely reflected in mainstream media, but they also use the familiar, local dialect that both they and their audience are comfortable with, rather than the formal version of Telugu (the language of the state) used by the mainstream media.

The difference is demonstrated in "The Sangham Shot" which tells the story of the women and their approach to film-making. Instead of the "patel shot," which views subjects from above like feudal landlords or the "slave shot," which views subjects from below, they use the face-to-face "sangham shot." "In the sanghams we are all equals," explains Chinna Narsamma. "So we call an eye-level shot a sangham shot."

As well as stories of their lives, their films portray their struggle against endless drought and the more recent battle against genetically engineered seeds like Bt Cotton, which includes: Why are Warangal Farmers Angry with Bt Cotton (2003); Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh : A Three Year Fraud (2005); and A Disaster in Search of Success: Bt Cotton in Global South (2006). The first two films have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Swahili, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia and are used by environmental groups all over the world.

The media collective, based in Pastapur, also has a radio facility in Machnoor village, which is run by three Dalit women and has been making radio programs since 1999.

This story was compiled from information about the film award on the DDS website as well as from a story entitled “’Real’ women using the power of ‘reel’” published in The Hindu newspaper March 9, 2005, and a story published by Women’s e-News March 7, 2005, entitled “India's Barefoot Reporters” by Ammu Joseph. Both stories can be found on the DDS website.

 

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