Film southasia

"Festival of southasian documentries"

Representing silence


In the last edition the theme of the festival was ‘Documentary won’t be confined’. PUJA SEN wrote about political documentaries which were part of the selection for FSA’15. 

At the time of writing, more than 40 writers, 10 filmmakers, and various artists and scientists have returned their national awards in protest against the growing environment of cultural intolerance in India. What spurred these actions was the lynching of a Muslim man (suspected of having eaten beef) by a Hindu-right mob and the apathy of Indian authorities in the face of it. The task of resisting fascism — by filmmakers, writers and artists — is often a dangerous business in Southasia. Apart from the constraints of censorship, there is the very threat to life. On 31 October 2015, three bloggers in Bangladesh were assaulted in the capital city for writing critically against religion, only the most recent in continuing attacks on writers asserting their freedom of expression this year in the country. Where does the political documentary fit in this landscape, and can it help disturb the status quo in Southasia?

The documentary, by definition, calls on ideas of truth and veracity, having the power to uphold challenges to official or popular discourse. In this, its closest kin in the written medium could be said to be the investigative reportage. However, the documentary is able to go beyond reporting and do something that is difficult to accomplish in all forms of journalistic writing: representing silence. In the lineup for FSA’15, two entries stand out in this regard: Subasri Krishnan’s What the Fields Remember and Iffat Fatima’s Khoon Diy Baarav (Blood Leaves its Trail). Both films show us how historical memory is formed and political erasure is enacted through the silence of the state and central government.

Krishnan’s film is about the Nellie massacre of 18 February 1983, where more than 2000 Muslims were murdered under an ‘anti-foreigner’ movement, better known as the ‘Assam Agitation’. Krishnan’s quiet and haunting visuals evoke the trauma of the event and offer no catharsis to the viewer. The film bears witness to the characters’ memories of violence and loss.

Similarly, Fatima’s film, focused on the enforced disappearances of young men by state police and the armed forces in India-administered Kashmir, shows us what the trauma of waiting and uncertainty does to parents and families of the disappeared. Both these films foreground personal remembrance as a challenge to the deliberate silence of the state. This is what makes the documentary a powerful form, its ability to archive a collective memory against the officially mandated discourse.

The threat of the documentary is keenly felt on the ground, judging by the attempts to ban screenings and the difficulties in getting censor-board certificates for films that challenge national narratives. Nakul Sawhney’s film Muzzafarnagar Baqi Hai was disrupted by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student cadre – the youth wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – in a college screening in Delhi University this year. This spurred protest screenings all through India, and even outside, including here in Kathmandu. The film depicts the aftermath of the communal violence that shook north India before the 2014 general elections, eventually winning BJP candidates electoral seats. Sawhney’s film engages directly with events on the ground (in the tradition of Anand Patwardhan and Rakesh Sharma – both of whom, incidentally, are among the filmmakers who have returned their national awards in India), in which we see characters defy and challenge mainstream accounts of the riots, and resistance to the effort to communalise Uttar Pradesh. Sawhney takes us on a journey through regional and national politics, while staying close to those affected by its violence.

It is the political potential of films like these that make regional festivals such as FSA so important – they widen the scope of artisic and political interaction and create platforms for circulation beyond national boundaries. In countries in Southasia, where the space for dissent is shrinking rapidly before our eyes, the political documentary may stand out as the form par excellence.


Puja Sen is Consulting Editor at Himal Southasian.

A glimpse of hardship

Taran Khan

Three documentaries offer moving and intimate portraits of the rural poor.



In the documentary My Name is Salt (directed by Farida Pacha), set in the saline desert of Little Rann of Kutch in India, a sequence shows the middle-aged protagonist fretting over the quality of salt crystals forming in his fields. “Leave it to the sun”, advises a fellow farmer stoically. This quality of chance and the never ending toil that accompanies the life of the rural poor formed the canvas for three documentaries that were screened at Film Southasia’ 2015.

The opening film at the festival, Drawing the Tiger, does not focus directly on the question of rural poverty in Nepal. Rather, it follows the rhythms of life of a family that subsists on less than “a dollar a day”, as the film’s website describes it. Directed by Amy Benson and Scott Squire, a Seattle based couple, the film credits Nepal-based journalist Ramyata Limbu as a co-director. Shot over seven years, the film documents the journey of a young girl, Shanta, who leaves her village for Kathmandu with a scholarship. She promises to return to care for her parents, and help them break out of the trap of poverty. But tragically, she fails to return. The magnificent mountains surrounding the village of Bahunchurra in Central Nepal frame the long days of Shanta’s parents, who are deep in debt and under threat of losing their land unless they manage to repay some of their loans.

What stands out is the constant and difficult labour that define Sushila’s, Shanta’s mother’s, days and nights, from planting the maize to chasing runaway goats, to cooking treats for her grandchildren when she visits them in the city. The years of hard work take a toll on her health, and towards the end of the film a doctor advises her not to work. “Then how will we eat”, she asks simply. Drawing the Tiger tells the story of how the promise of a better future lies away from the village, through migration to cities and to other countries, and then complicates that promise. It is also a snapshot of the kind of uneven penetration of technology that has marked the rural terrain for much of Southasia. In several sequences, children amuse themselves by watching films on mobile phones, and a neighbour sends word of absconding livestock by calling from across the mountain. All this appears, to Shanta’s grandmother, like progress. In a moving sequence, she describes all the ways in which the current condition of her family seems like paradise. In her youth, she recalls, she had to walk to the river to fetch water, and had to work hard for a cup of rice. Now, she said, there was water at the doorstep, and you could buy rice by the bagful. The irony of her dirt poor family described in such terms makes the film a rich insight into the paradoxes of Nepal’s development narrative.

Farida Pacha’s My Name is Salt in contrast, moves almost wordlessly, creating vivid tableaus from the life of a family of migrant workers, labouring for eight months in the Little Rann of Kutch. Their harvest is salt, and the film begins with the arrival of a pump that will supply the brackish water which will yield the salt crystals. The film moves from long shots of the baking desert, the heat rising in vapours, to intimate mid shot of Sanabhai and his family as they tend to their salt fields. In a beautifully choreographed sequence, the family moves in a bizarre dance, treading the salt with their bare feet, crossing the camera one after the other. It is a joyless dance, one of difficult postures and no ease in movements. Yet the very next sequence shows Sanabhai’s young daughter dancing with carefree abandon to music as she plays on the salt field.

Pacha imbues the bareness of the terrain with the incessant industry of the family. The emptiness of nights where nothing happens is punctuated by days with no rest. Humans work as hard and with greater efficiency than machines, as the pump requires constant tending and repairs. Again, as in Drawing the Tiger, women form an active part of this landscape of labour. Sanabhai’s older daughter  wrestles with the mud to form the bunds for their fields, and sets the pump running with her mother Devuben when needed. The thud-thudding of this machine forms the soundtrack for much of the film. Mobile phones provide entertainment for children here too, but they communicate with winking mirrors across the desert. Pacha’s protagonists are not joyless – the family goes to the market and enjoys the rides and the shops. But they return to the unforgiving glare of the salt fields, and once their harvest of crystals is gathered, they pack up their possessions in sacks and move on. The fragility of their existence and the ecosystems that support them is beautifully and heartbreakingly brought home in Pacha’s closing sequence, when the desert is show to be transformed into a sea during the monsoons. The salt pans are washed away, the boats lying on the parched earth sail through the waters. Yet the next year, the film tells us, Sanabhai and his family will join 40,000 other families who will return to till their fields of salt.

Finally, from India’s northeastern state of Meghalaya, Tarun Bharatiya’s Brief Life of Insects offers a whimsical and charming look at the link between farm routines and songs. His narrative follows Bas Hos Shadap and his friends in a Khasi village called Umpohwin as they “thresh the paddy and sing”. Away from the fields too, they perform for the camera with their instruments, struggling briefly to remember the the tunes that come so naturally to them during the rhythm of the task. Despite its air of whimsicality, the film is not naïve or overly roseate in its view of village life. The farmers talk about the troubles that come to their homes during the pre-harvest season. The film’s visuals too are a testimony to the sheer manual effort that goes into the threshing. There is no machine in sight, and the work is done entirely by the farmers. But their voices add a certain cheer to the work, and lighten their cares, as one of the protagonists’ notes. The links between creativity and its environment, between culture and its ties to the seasons, come through in the 22-minute film, which simply makes one smile.

Together, the three films from the swathe that makes Southasia are a potent reminder of the beauty and intense loneliness of manual labour, Pacha’s film in particular frames the hands and feet of  Sanabhai and his family like sculptures,  caked with stubborn mud, muscles taut and tense against the elements. They also act as antidotes against romanticising rural life, by demonstrating how families live on the edge, always hungry, never entirely secure, subject to vagaries of nature and markets alike. With Southasia rapidly urbanising, the films are a reminder of the brutality and fragility that defines the lives of the rural poor, from the Himalayan villages of Nepal to the salt fields of India.

~Taran N Khan is a Mumbai-based journalist who writes on cinema, Islam and gender. She has been traveling to Kabul since 2006 where she worked closely with Afghan media producers and filmmakers. Her work can be seen at

~This article is part of a series of column on cinema by Taran N Khan for Himal. Read her earlier column on what is it about funny women that scares Bollywood?

Filming the ‘war without witness’

As planned, Film Southasia organisers went ahead with screenings of three Sri Lankan films in spite of pressure from the Sri Lankan government. Hundreds of people packed the hall at Yala Mala Kendra near Patan Dhoka, a turnout that demonstrated how the censorship attempt completely backfired and actually drummed up audience interest.

Simply watching the introduction to No Fire Zone makes it clear why the Sri Lankan government doesn’t want people seeing it. The film presents a case against the Sri Lankan army’s onslaught in the 2008-2009, the period that brought a violent end to the civil war and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This is a visual documentation of the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government as they eviscerated the LTTE and the Tamil population along with it.

The film provides some historical context for how the conflict developed, with the systematic marginalisation of the Tamil population after independence, pogroms against Tamils at specific stages, and the emergence of violent resistance (after non-violent protests) most notably by the LTTE.  However, the main focus is to document the atrocities committed by the army against the Tamil population, especially in attacks on civilian infrastructure and the so-called ‘Safe Zones’ identified by the government. Repeatedly, the army shelled makeshift hospitals just after international medical organisations provided coordinates of the location with the hope of avoiding such targeting.

No Fire Zone is very difficult to watch due to the extent of atrocities that are shown almost unfiltered. At different points, when you think the situation depicted on screen can’t get any worse, the film presents even more egregious abuses including sexual violence, forced disappearances, the execution of surrendered militants (and the son of LTTE leader Prabhakaran), and the internment of Tamils in concentration camps when the war ended.

The audience reaction was very somber and emotional, and the short discussion that followed dealt with the question of ‘what can we do now?’ Some of the things mentioned include putting economic pressure on the Rajapaksa regime by targeting Western aid, and preventing the regime from seeking legitimacy by hosting regional and international diplomatic engagements.

Blog By Rajeev Ravisankar

Interfacing humans and ecology on screen

Three began with short films on both screens, including two that focus on ecological issues and how humans relate to them. Gaur in My Garden provided a glimpse of increasing interactions between humans and animals, specifically bison, in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu. The opening scenes introduce the audience to one particular bison, named ‘Boltu’, that regularly appears right outside a family’s house.

Disappearing habitats and other environmental pressures due to the human footprint left on the forest are pushing the animals into new areas that are more residential. The film highlights efforts to protect animals and people through tracking systems that produce warnings when, for example, wild elephants are near a tea plantation. While some are content with spectating and giving the animals space, unfortunately others are not. There is footage of people provoking and violently attacking bison, bears, elephants and even leopards.

In the film that followed, Give Us This Our Daily Bread, Director Satchith Paulose relies heavily on juxtaposition to show the separation between nature and industrial practices, the reshaping of landscapes through human intervention through resource extraction has reshaped landscapes, and divide between production and consumption processes in the food system. In one scene, agricultural labourers are shown doing backbreaking work in the fields to cultivate food we consume, and the next shot is in an airplane lounge or hotel that offers high-end cuisine.

The film is not narrated, which allows viewers to think about how the scenes relate to one another and the work as a whole. In the post-film discussion, Paulose said that by holding “the frame long enough, the image goes beyond the boundaries of the frame”.

Putting the two films in dialogue, one issue is how violence against animals by groups of people produces very strong reactions, but images of social and economic systems operating (and the oppression of humans, animals, and the environment that is inherent in these systems) don’t necessarily produce the same reactions.

Blog by Rajeev Ravisankar

FSA panel discussion challenges censorship

Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai

Film Southasia 2013 delivered a swift rebuke to the Sri Lankan government’s attempted censorship by organizing a panel on how freedom of expression is restricted in Southasia. The discussion, which could be informally titled ‘Censorship without borders’, featured Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times; Shahidul Alam, eminent photographer, writer and activist from Bangladesh; Narayan Wagle, renowned Nepali journalist, editor and novelist; and Burmese filmmaker Thet Oo Maung.

The discussion took place in the time slot originally reserved for the documentary No Fire Zone by filmmaker Callum Macrae, which the Nepali government, on request from the Government of Sri Lanka, has banned from the festival along with two other Sri Lankan selections. No Fire Zone, which has been suppressed by the Sri Lankan and other governments at numerous venues across the world, shows the atrocities committed against civilians in the final days of the war against the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam). Kunda Dixit described the film as very powerful, saying that “in a war crimes tribunal, this would suffice” as evidence. He went on to say that the situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating, with journalists being attacked, the emergence of Sinhalese ethnic triumphalism, and increasing authoritarian tendencies of the state and in society.

Panelists spoke about their experiences with censorship in their respective contexts. Shahidul Alam recounted incidents of censorship and related threats he has faced. “There will always be people who will try to censor, and people accept it,” he said. Alam cautioned against the practice of self-censorship, which is common in such repressive climates, and suggested that “Collectively we need to find creative ways of challenging these positions.” In this regard, Kunda Dixit gave an example of how government restrictions that allowed only music and not news on FM radio during emergency rule in Nepal were subverted by singing the news on air.

Narayan Wagle provided a perspective on the Nepali context, saying that “self-censorship is the rule of the game now.” Declaring that political propaganda and populism are hindering media operations in Nepal, he asked, “Are we really free to criticize anything?” and described the situation as an “atmosphere of compromise”.

In Burma, the space for media is expanding but there is still a lot of censorship, according to Thet Oo Maung. He said that especially in rural areas, people are still afraid of the police and army, and that media outlets are not willing to cover sensitive topics like ethnic and religious violence.

In the Q&A session that followed, noted cultural critic and journalist Sadanand Menon from Chennai pointed to street censorship, where right-wing mobs have enforced restrictions on speech. He also described how the Indian state relies on British colonial laws like the sedition ordinance to curb dissent and expression. Menon mentioned the thousands of sedition cases against people protesting the Koodankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, and also the recent attacks by a Hindutva group on the Kashmir film festival in Hyderabad.

The speakers highlighted alternatives and responses to the specter of censorship, including the online Nepali portal, which features hard-hitting news content on political issues. Shahidul Alam gave an overview of the Rural Visual Journalism Network run by DRIK, which plans to have mobile reporting units operating throughout Bangladesh. Already, the initiative has produced over 600 news reports.

In closing, Kunda Dixit ‘thanked’ officials for trying to stop the screening because it resulted in “a lot more people knowing about the film”.

Posted by Rajeev Ravisankar


Hall 1, Day 3

Day 3 of FSA ’13, on a rainy Kathmandu Saturday ideal for curling up with a movie, presented more superb documentary amid the buzz surrounding No Fire Zone, a powerful documentary on the atrocities committed against non-combatants in the final days of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers that has been banned along with two other Sri Lankan selections from the festival by the Nepali government on a request from the Sri Lankan government. FSA is glad to report that such censorship has only succeeded in the film receiving a great deal of attention from the local media, and that we’ve been getting questions and calls all day. The films will remain in competition and will be screened in open protest at a non-commercial venue, Yalamaya Kendra at Patan Dhoka, at 6.30pm this evening, where we expect a full house.

In Hall 1, the day began with Hombre Maquina (Machine Man), a bold short film from Bangladesh that celebrates the incredible efforts of manual labourers in Bangladesh, using beautiful composition, closeups and repetition to show men and women who work like machines to do work that, in many cases, could not be done through automation. This includes brickmakers moulding 18,000 bricks a day in their team of 4, and shipbreakers pulling collosal vessels to shore. This was followed by another short film, The Old Photographer, one of several short submissions from the Yangon Film School, a heartening sign that Burma’s democratic opening will allow others in our region to begin understanding a society so long cut off from its neighbours. Director Thet Oo Maung took questions after the screening, and described the slow but encouraging gains made recently by Burmese filmmakers. His film focuses on an old Indian photographer in Yangon who has lived through much of the turbulent history of Burma’s Indians and is a legend among Burmese photographers. Thet Oo Maung presents a touching portrait of his subject, capturing his memories just weeks before they were lost to amnesia following a stroke.

Two of the day’s films looked at migration, a vital concern for all Southasian societies today. Playing with Naan follows a Nepali migrant working as cook in a restaurant in Japan, and takes a holistic view of his life by showing us his story alongside those of his family struggling as farmers in his native village and his young wife and child in Kathmandu. It exposes many of the problems that those leaving Nepal to look for better futures are confronted with – lack of education and jobs at home, exploitation by recruiters and employers in foreign lands, exorbitant interest paid to loan sharks, the consequences for families missing fathers and sons, and how governments have done little to help those going abroad and protect them from exploitation. It’s all very relevant now as the plight of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar makes international headlines.

Expecting, which follows an undocumented Afghan immigrant in the Netherlands and his pregnant Kosovar refugee wife as they try to survive while navigating a convoluted asylum system that has them trapped, unable to return home to their own torn societies but unable to work or access basic services in their new home as they wait for necessary documents that never comes. In a powerful half-hour, the film exposes a system that is clearly not responding to the needs of refugees. Here again, given the recent tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa that claimed the lives of almost 200 African migrants desperate to get to Europe, the issue of migration and our global responsibility to deal with it is especially relevant.

In place of the banned No Fire Zone, FSA organised a panel to discuss media censorship across the region. Kunda Dixit (editor of the Nepali Times), Narayan Wagle (noted Nepali journalist, novelist and editor), Shahidul Alam (Bangladeshi photographer, activist and FSA ’13 jury member) and Thet Oo Maung (director of The Old Photographer) spoke of government restrictions and self-censorship in their respective countries, and also provided heartening examples of how brave journalists and activists have used creativity to defy their governments.

The last film of the day in Hall 1 was Celluloid Man, an epic tribute to P K Nair, the Indian archivist who has almost singlehandedly created the National Film Archive that chronicles the history of Bollywwod, especially in its earliest days. With stunning archival footage and revealing interviews with prominent Indian film personalities, the film reminds us how cinema has changed lives and minds in our region, and also given us a precious addition to our regional culture. More than anything else, the film is a reminder of how terribly we neglect the preservation of our own history (the vast majority of early Hollywood films have been lost forever), and how we must make a greater effort to save important material since “without an archive, there can be no history”. A sobering lesson, since even as we celebrate the centenary of Southasian cinema we are realising that we have already lost vast chunks of that legacy.

On that note, we head off to Yalamaya Kendra to screen our Sri Lankan films. At least at FSA, history will not be silenced.

Blog by Roman Gautam

Friday Afternoon

You can’t always be expected to know what you don’t know, and one of the most important things about documentary films is to let you into worlds that you didn’t know existed. “The Human Factor” tells the story of the father and two sons of the Lord family, behind-the-scenes Hindi film musicians who are estimated to have been involved in one in three Hindi films of the 1970s-80s. Almost everyone involved in the making of a film—from actors and directors to hairdressers, caterers and assistants—is credited by name, but not the musicians who create the music that becomes such an integral part of the finished product of the film. “The Human Factor” looks behind the scenes of these under-recognised artists by focusing in on Bombay Parsi family the Lords. Patriarch Cawas Lord, in his nineties when he filmed for this documentary, admitted that he didn’t really enjoy the music he played. Well, he granted, he enjoyed it while he was playing it, but not after. For the Lords, making film music was bread and butter (and jam!), but a job like any other. When synthesisers and other technology pushed them out at the end of the twentieth century, they retired in a dignified manner, but have been credited in recent years with various awards recognising their enormous, and often thankless, contributions towards Indian film.

A change of subject matter, but not entirely of tone, was in evidence at a talk by Gargi Sen, director of Magic Lantern Movies, a documentary film distributor. Gargi discussed the difficulty of getting documentaries disseminated to the public, emphasising the important work that Magic Lantern Movies does. The audience appeared to be full of young documentary makers, which was certainly encouraging, and a vibrant q&a session followed.

Blog by Elen Turner

How do we perceive, accept and project the idea of Southasia?

This panel discussion, organised by Himal Southasian magazine and FSA, featured Kanak Mani Dixit, journalist Sadanand Menon, Mallika Shakya from South Asian University, and Shahidul Alam, pondering the question of representations of Southasia.

This session was also the official launch of the latest issue of Himal Southasian magazine, fittingly titled “Under the Shadow of the Bollywood Tree”. Issues are available for purchase at the venue, at a discounted FSA price.

Kanak Mani Dixit, chairing the discussion, opened by commenting that recently, the concept of Southasia has begun to gain texture and traction. Himal Southaisan has promoted the idea of Southasianism for over twenty-five years, and has been activist as well as journalistic in spreading this concept. He pointed out that a blurring of the boundaries of Southasia is even visible this year in the FSA programme, in which it is not always easy to discern exactly which nation-state the films have come from. The films are regional, not nation-specific.

In yesterday’s FSA opening, Mani Shanker Aiyar’s stated that Southasia is understood by peoples’ differences from each other. Panelist Sadanand Menon responded to this by claiming that what unites Southasia is the undying love of censorship. Governments not only try to impose it in their own states, but are also able to persuade their neighbours to engage their own censorships. India, of course has what Sadanand called the “new beast” called street censorship, of mobs imposing their will. Kanak suggested that north Southasia is the “problem-child” of the region, perhaps North Southasia and South Southasia may be an appropriate way to divide the region conceptually, but Sadanand Menon pointed out that although South Southasia has tended to be freer of the extreme violence of North Southasia, these divisions are still too broad.

Kanak suggested that the overarching concept of Southasia works on a macro-, intellectual level, but that he has found that the closer one gets to the grassroots, the more important the regional becomes. Shahid Ululam agreed. He commented that if India and Pakistan play cricket, Bangladeshis are evenly split in who they support. India is not well-loved in Bangladesh, something that surprises many Indians he has spoken to. Local issues are far more important to most citizens than national-level ones. Further complicating what the regional and the national means, Shahid Ululam stated that has found ‘Bengal’ a more useful concept than ‘Bangladesh’ in promoting his Dhaka-based photography centre to outsiders. Bengal is widely recognised, it has historical and cultural currency, whereas Bangladesh connotes the image of Kissinger’s “basket-case.”

Mallika Shakya spoke about the teaching that goes on in the name of Southasia. Ethnicity, religion, linguistic nationalism all have quite different understandings and academic engagements in each nation, so teaching the concept of Southasianism can be a challenge, but one that is more suited to be taught at the South Asian University in Delhi than other more ‘national’ universities, because of its outwards-looking focus.

Kanak ended with the important statement that the discussion of Southasia is, at present, in a bubble, going on in airport lounges, in English, between around eight thousand people. If we don’t have a proper forum for discussion of the concept of Southasia, then the discussion will remain an elite one. The discourse of Southasia needs to be vernacularised.

Blog by Elen Turner

Challenging the sighted what it means to see

Friends from Rotary Club, Rotary E-Club and Nepal Association for Blind Welfare attending the screening of Algorithms.

Day two kicked off with “Algorithms”, a ninety-minute documentary on the world of blind chess. Chess is a game of the mind, one of the proponents of blind chess featured in the film comments. Therefore, it is the only game where, potentially, blind players are on an equal footing to sighted players. There is no good reason why a blind player shouldn’t become the Grand Master, and this is the goal of all who play.

“Algorithms” featured three teenaged Indian players, all with differing levels of blindness and vision impairment–one totally blind from birth, another went blind as a young child, and the other is slowly losing his sight. Touches of humour appeared in the film–these players are, after all, young boys, and are upset when they lose.

Many blind and vision-impaired people were part of the audience, so it was a shame that, as a representative of the film stated before it began, no captions had been made for the vision-impaired yet: “Algorithms” was a very visual film. It very importantly demonstrated to the sighted members of the audience a community that most of us too easily overlook, but not making this film accessible to the people it featured was a drawback.

Afghan Eyes: Films from Afghanistan


FSA has two special curated packages this year. The first, from Ahmedabad-based under-30 film festival Alpavirama was shown at a special preview session at Yala Maya Kendra at Patan Dhoka on Monday 1st October. Alpavirama has only held one festival, in 2011, but has another in the works for 2014, and the films shown in Kathmandu on Monday represented a wide and interesting sample from Ahmedabad and Pakistan-based young filmmakers.

The second package, which there is still plenty of time to see, is from Afghanistan, curated by Mumbai-based journalist Taran Khan. “Little Afghanistan” by Basir Seerat, and “Half Value Life” by Alka Sadat were screened on Thursday afternoon. “Little Afghanistan” featured a strongly masculine cast of Kabuli horse-drawn carriage drivers. “Half Value Life” was female-centred, and followed the life and work of a Herat-based woman lawyer, dealing with horrific cases of child marriage and domestic abuse.

It was great to have a Q&A session with curator Taran Khan afterwards. She was asked how about difficult it was to tread that line between representing Afghanistan as a hopeless case—the image that dominates most international coverage of the country—and ‘feel-good’ stories that might trivialise serious problems. The answer, if there can be one, is to allow Afghans to represent themselves as much as possible, to expose a diversity of life experiences.

More Afghan films curated by Taran Khan can be seen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.