Film southasia

"Festival of southasian documentries"

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