INDIA-UK Creative Industries: Making Documentaries Digitally

Collage of three train photos - The Girl child, manifestations of caste, the journeys of 377.

This project proved productive and liberating for screen industries in many ways. With thirty participants equally divided across three strands: Screen Industries, Live Performance and Fashion. With nine final outputs, this project challenged creative professionals to work together both nationally and internationally through digital channels only.

Zoom meetings, Google-meetings and WhatsApp were instantly adopted as a means of creative expression and discussion by me - Raveeta Banger of, Neeraj Churi founder of Lotus Visual Productions, Nakul Singh Sawhney founder of ChalChitra Abhiyaan and filmmaker Aarun Fulara who accompanied us for the first two months in support of Lotus Visual Productions.

Presented with the possibility of making a short film as our final creative output whilst sitting in different parts of the world, we met with challenges and uncertainty. In our initial meetings we seemed unclear as to how a film would be made, let alone the three ten-minute documentaries made exploring pressing social issues that then went on to form an anthology, Voices at 75.

If you had told me then that this is what we would go on to create I would have felt compelled to call this overly-ambitious and wishful thinking on your part.  

The project taught us to really think about the way our time was spent in our online meetings and discussions because this is where our films were being created. What was the topic of discussion today and why? Where would these discussions lead us in terms of the films we would go on to produce? What did we need to identify as a foundation for our films through these conversations? Recognising that some of these conversations would never form part of our films’ narratives but understanding that the time spent exploring whether they could, was equally as important.

In other aspects of working together in this way, we were also thinking: How we are building on our professional relationships with one another in this digital space? How do we check in with each other on a more human level too? We are, after all, spending nine months on this project with life happening for everyone offline too.

At one point, we navigated three different time zones across the US, UK and India. By establishing a respectful, healthy and enjoyable working environment digitally it became a part of our working world across time zones and our competing work commitments. After all, the environment we create is important to the work we create.

This is how my sub-group on the India-UK Creative Industries at 75 project was able to work together so effectively in delivering three socio-cultural films in a refined and precise way. That online work culture that was created by us was then transferred into the delivery and quality of our final creative output.

We learnt to take each week as it came to us while establishing a set of goals for the week ahead. Where situations changed, we adapted. Above all, communication, respect for one another as creative professionals at different levels of experience and building an equitable workspace was key.

I had initially entered this project anticipating outsourcing of production to India or the UK, not knowing how any of us would work collaboratively given our locations or what a short film made by us could and would look like (we had anticipated making a one three-minute film only at one stage!).

Thinking out the box and by reflecting on our ongoing discussions, we soon learnt how many ideas were being imagined between us. There was a desire to take full advantage of this unique way of working in a fast changing world, with the will to explore creative and innovative ways in which all of our ideas could come to life.

Once we started filming, The Journeys of 377, Manifestations of Caste and The Girl Child would soon be created by three filmmakers globally based in three different locations who were full of ideas - and at times very different ones - that would come together artistically. Perhaps, in a way, these films may not have happened in the manner that they did, had this project been approached through the more traditional way of filmmaking where we work in person on a team, living and breathing the project across a tight schedule.

Many important lessons were also learnt along the way, particularly where editing and time management was concerned, as one of the lengthier processes to this digital way of working is the final edit. The time it can take with the back and forth of editing, technical issues at this stage of production and looking at film drafts with feedback is to be factored in advance.

Nevertheless, the reflexive documentary mode was activated extensively. A style of documentary filmmaking that drives filmmakers to focus on the relationship we share with audiences. How do we get our viewers and intended audiences to reflect on their existing perceptions by pushing viewers through on-screen discussions to reflect and re-analyse their own notions of truth. With each film draft, with each discussion about how all three of us would film our contributors, and with each choice of contributor, this mode of documentary filmmaking was motivated and with teaching points and takeaways for all filmmakers involved.

This opportunity provided me with valuable teaching points that have made me a more astute filmmaker for having experienced this. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this project with my sub-group and walk away from the India-UK-CI project understanding how much more filmmakers can achieve in a digitally evolving world.

Overall, what a rewarding and educational experience this opportunity has presented me as a documentary filmmaker. I now know that international filmmaking projects are achievable without ever getting on a plane! What an exciting possibility for the screen industries.