JANDARSHAN 1997 – 2002
The background to the Bhilai Film-making project
‘to develop the use of video as a means of exploring and communicating experiences of social change.’
1997/98 - Formation of the Images in Social Change Network (ISCN)
The stimulus was a Call for Proposals from the European Commission offering co-funding for projects under a new economic co-operation programme, the EU-India Economic Cross Cultural Programme. Media was one of the eligible areas.
One of the people who responded to the call was a British independent film-maker, Margaret Dickinson and a key factor in her interest was that she is married to the anthropologist Jonathan Parry, who was working on aspects of the process of industrialisation in Bhilai, India. Margaret brought together the network partners and drafted a proposal based initially on a combination of her own and Jonathan’s ideas and experience The proposal with its broad aim, ‘to develop the use of video as a means of exploring and communicating experiences of social change’ was submitted in November 1997. Co-funding was promised and the project was launched in December 1998.
The network partners were:
The Deshbandhu, a Hindi language daily, based in Raipur, Chhattisgarh;
SHIFT, from Sheffield, UK a registered charity formed by Sheffield Independent Film to provide media training for people from communities under represented in the film and television industries;
IWF Knowledge and Media, known at the time as The Institute of Scientific Film (Institute den Wissenschaftlichen Film). Based in Göttingen, IWF is Germany’s central service organisation providing audiovisual material for research and higher education.
The network co-ordinator was Margaret Dickinson’s small London-based production company, Marker Ltd.
1998 /2001 - ISCN/Jandarshan. The E.C. supported project.
By the time the project was launched the Indian partner had provided the Hindi name, Jandarshan, meaning roughly ‘The Peoples Vision’ which was generally preferred to Images in Social Change or its acronym.
Project activities were information, documentation, distribution, archiving and training.
Information, documentation and distribution
The intention was that information, documentation and distribution, mainly the responsibility of the IWF in Gottingen, would create a broader context for the work in Central India and provide a service for researchers, development workers, social activists, and generally for producers and users of educational and/ or community media.
There was to be firstly, a database of relevant information to help film-makers find audiences and to guide teachers, researchers, campaigners towards suitable films; secondly, a distribution package including some work produced by the Jandarshan trainees and other films relating to industrial communities in India and Europe.
Both tasks turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. One reason was that the topic crosses boundaries between anthropology, labour history and social action, making it hard to target a consituency. Then, somewhat surprisingly, films centrally relevant to the project topic proved hard to find. More predictably, there is an excess of industrial public relations films and films on industrial technology. The excess meant that catalogue searches would throw up hundreds of references for films which might be of some tangential interest but without viewing it was impossible to tell which were worth including. The network was searching primarily for films on work and life in or near industrial communities and it became increasingly clear that there are almost no organisations which sponsor or commission such films. A few productions focussed on labour struggles have been sponsored by left political organisations and a few, focused on problems, have been sponsored by charities or governmental organisations. Television produces a trickle of relevant documentaries, again usually on conflicts or problems but only very rarely makes their products accessible for viewing or distribution after the broadcast.
Despite the difficulties a data base was set up and a number of films selected for a small distribution package but the work achieved by the time the project was completed provides a basis for future development rather than a functioning service. Inquiries should be addressed to Beate Engelbrecht, at IWF.
The Video Training
The training, located in Chhattisgarh in Central India, was intended to be a key activity involving all the partners and providing a practical focus for networking. Although the EC programme was not allowed to fund production as such, it was clear that production training would involve producing raw video footage and completed video exercises. The plan was that some of the raw footage would be the basis for an archive on life in the region and that some of the completed videos would be the core of a distribution package relating to the topic of industrialisation.
The training unit was set up in Bhilai steel town and a course was prepared. It was to last 30 months and the objectives were firstly, to provide access to the media to people who would not otherwise have such access and secondly, to encourage and enable local people to make programmes about life in and around Bhilai and particularly about their own experiences. There was some tension between the objectives since to achieve the first it was important to deliver the skills required for commercial media genres; to achieve the second, it was important to develop those suited to forms of documentary like ethnographic films, which are only rarely seen within the mainstream.
The course was written by Stephen Jinks from SHIFT in consultation with the Co-ordinator. It was modelled on British vocational courses such as those leading to the National Vocational Qualifications. Attainment targets are defined in terms of units of assessment. For each unit a set of skills is listed together with the criteria by which they will be assessed. In this course the criteria reflected attainment targets in the following areas:
• Technical competence,
• Production processes & roles,
• Core communication & management skills and
• Creative theory and analytical skills.
The trainees – nine men and three women - were from lower middle to working class backgrounds. Among their fathers were a small farmer, a railway worker, a primary school teacher, a tea seller and several steel workers. Seven trainees lived in or very near Bhilai; five were from villages. There were two Brahmins, two Dalits and a range of intermediate castes. By religion there was one Christian and the rest were Hindu.
Applications for places on the course were invited by an advertisement in The Deshbandhu newspaper. Minimum requirements for applicants were to be resident in Chhattisgarh, to be able to demonstrate practical achievements in arts, social work or administration and to have a 12th class pass. English was not required although candidates were warned they would have to make rapid progress in the English classes provided in the first year of the course.
Since we wanted people from a variety of backgrounds we discussed whether to apply reservations similar to those which apply in Indian Government service but decided against it on the grounds we might not get enough applications from members of scheduled castes and tribes. In the event there were no tribal applicants, very few from scheduled castes and very few from non Hindus. We did apply a quota of 25% for women because otherwise we feared, rightly as it proved, that we might have difficulty recruiting any.
Candidates were selected firstly by written application, then by interview and finally through a day long practical test which involved group research in locations such as the Raipur wholesale vegetable market and the station. The work was designed to test whether applicants could co-operate in a group, whether they would work effectively all day in somewhat uncomfortable surroundings and whether had the ability and interest to converse with strangers, mainly of a lower status than themselves
The course was staffed by Europeans and Indians because part of the aim was to encourage contacts. This inevitably made the operation more expensive that it need have been had the purpose been purely to deliver video training. To keep costs within budget the organisers decided not to employ permanent faculty but to organise the trainees to spend some months each year doing unsupervised project work.
The arrangement was that three members of staff were permanently attached to the programme in the sense of being continuously in touch and sharing responsibility for its outcome. They taught on a continuous basis in Bhilai for the first four months and subsequently provided distance supervision and visited at intervals to do additional teaching and to assess progress. They were the course leader Stephen Jinks, the principle trainer, Natasha Badhwar, who was a senior cameraperson with New Delhi Television (now a cameraperson and producer), and Margaret Dickinson who combined teaching with co-ordinating. Other teaching was done by visiting specialists – two members of IWF staff and a number of young Indian film-makers and technical experts.
Although the plan to leave the trainees without teachers for prolonged periods (three months in one case) was a response to budget constraints, it was also regarded as an experiment in encouraging the trainees to become self reliant. In this respect it was not entirely successful. Projects progressed but often not very efficiently and the unsupervised periods were marked by disputes and some absenteeism.
The course was taught entirely with Digital video equipment – three mini-DV cameras and digital audio recorders and two non-linear edit suites with Edit DV (now in its most recent upgrade called Cinestream) for post-production.
The Course and the training exercises
The first part of the course (August-December1999) consisted in intensive training through lectures, projects and film viewings. The remaining two years (January 2000 – December 2001) were much more production based.
From the start training was very practical. By the second month each trainee had to arrange, shoot and edit a sequence of simple action. During the rest of the first year teaching revolved round production exercises which followed a broadly similar pattern. Initially the exercise was introduced to the whole group and all the trainees were required to prepare their own individual treatments which were then discussed in class. The staff then chose three out of the 12 treatments for production and allocated three four person crews consisting of producer/production manager, director, camera, sound/editor. Each individual played a different crew role in each exercise ensuring that all played three out of the four potential roles.
The first exercise, completed at the end of the first 5 month session, was to make five minute documentaries on any subject. One of the resulting films draws the portrait of an 80 year old lohar (ironsmith); another documents a young girl's first experiences with the National Cadet Corps; and the third follows the process that transforms a lump of earth into a musical instrument (a dagga.)
The second exercise was to make ten minute documentaries, again with a free choice of subjects. Results were Path is the Destiny , on a family of street acrobats (Nat); The Last Shelter, on the inhabitants of an Old People's Home and a third and Reflected Sound, which uses the dawn of the millennium to raise a few questions about the state of the Nation.
The third exercise was to make five minute documentaries this time on a given subject. They had to be about one member – any member - of the film-maker’s own family. This was the start of a major project on biography and family history which continued through the second year.
Work Experience At the end of the first year the trainees were sent on work experience placements. Two were sent to Europe to SHIFT in Sheffield and then IWF in Germany. The others were placed with various Indian media organisations in Delhi, Bombay, Ahmedabad and Srinagar.
The Second Year followed a more complicated pattern than the first year. The trainees were required to specialise in two crew roles and the projects they were working on became more varied both in length, character, crewing arrangements and schedule. Drama was introduced with an exercise involving the whole group crewing on a short fiction production. There was an exercise each trainee had to do, making a 30 second advertisement or ‘spot’. There was a project on working to a brief. Initially two organisations were asked to provide a sponsor’s brief: the State Government Health Department and the Public Relations Office of the Bhilai Steel Plant. The first resulted in ‘Jeet’, a film on Malaria Prevention; the second in ‘The Triumph of Labour’ about a star worker. A third film in this category was ‘Heads and Tales’ made to a brief from an anthropologist, Alpa Shah about an aspect of her doctoral research in a Jharkand village.
The Family History Project continued running parallel with some of the more vocationally orientated exercises. All the trainees were encouraged to develop treatments for longer films about their own family and/or about families of BSP workers. The expectation was that some but not all of these would go into production. In practice the ones which became films were those pushed energetically by their writers and those encouraged by the staff either because the story related well to the project topic or because their writers were specialising in direction.
Towards professional work. The second part of the course, from the work experience to graduation had been planned to accommodate both job oriented learning and personal expression but was complicated still further because the unit undertook a number of professional, or semi professional jobs. The first was a half hour documentary for television written by the editor of The Deshbandhu Newspaper, Sunil Kumar. The film, Narboli, shown on Local television on October 30th 2000 was a comment on the fact that Chhattisgarh, formerly a part of Madhya Pradesh, was to become a State in its own right on November 1st . The following year there were two commissions from Samvaad, the organisation handling information for the new Chhattisgarh State.
All these were unscheduled jobs with rigid deadlines and working on them inevitably put back the trainees’ coursework. However, they were considered important both in terms of developing a future base for the unit and in providing more work experience.
The training course finished and the trainees graduated in December 2001. The EC C- funding, which was non renewable, also finished in December 2001.
It was always hoped that the video training programme would lead to the establishment of a media resource centre in Chhattisgarh. Hopes were realised with the establishment of Jandarshan, the Chhattisgarh Media Centre in Raipur. It took over the training centre’s equipment, the video archive and local staff. The former trainees were all initially employed by it.
Staff involved 1999 - 2001
Jandarshan Co-ordinator - Margaret Dickinson.
Has worked British film and tv, in drama and documentary as editor, director and producer. Has taught film courses in Britain and Mozambique. Writes on film issues.(Most recent book: Rogue Reels, Oppositional Film in Britain 1945-1990. BFI Publishing 1999)
She was responsible for managing the project. She divided her time between London and Bhilai where she also contributed to the teaching.
Jandarshan Chairmanand Consultant - Lalit Surjan
Is the proprietor of The Deshbandhu newspaper.
Lalit Surjan is the Chairman of Jandarshan the association. His role - largely a voluntary commitment - includes over seeing the practical and financial management of the training unit and advising on the region and on our links with journalists and journalism.
Consultant - Sunil Kumar
Was Editor of the Deshbandhu.
He shared Lalit Surjans’ responsibilities and led film projects with a predominantly news or current affairs content.
Consultant - Jonathan Parry
Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has done field research in three different parts of India and has published widely on aspects of Indian society. Since 1993 he has been doing research on industrial labour in the Bhilai area.
On a voluntary basis he advised on local social structures and labour issues and ensured liaison with researchers working on related topics.
Documentation – Beate Engelbrecht.
Heads the working unit "Culture and Society - Globalisation and Regionalisation"in the IWF – (Institute of Scientific Film ) in Germany. She is an anthropologist with field work experience in Mexico. She has made a number of award winning ethnographic films and teaches visual anthropology.
She was in charge of documentation and distribution and advised on the development of the audio visual library in Bhilai.
Course Leader - Stephen Jinks
An all round film-maker. he was running Sheffield Independent Film and Television, a charity specialising in video access training and which is linked with Sheffield Independent Film, a resource centre for independent film-makers.
Steve designed the training course and assessment procedures. He inaugurated the course in Bhilai, provides staff training and returned to Bhilai at intervals for teaching sessions and to conduct assessments.
Principle trainer - Natasha Badhwar
Was then a cameraperson and editor for New Delhi Television, India. She subsequently worked as director and became head of training at NDTV. She is a psychology graduate and has an MA from the Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.
Natasha taught full time on site for the first 5 months. During the rest of the course her role was to return for short teaching sessions, to provide distance supervision and co-ordinate visiting teachers.
Technical adviser - Manfred Krueger
Cameraman and editor in the IWF, ( Institute of Scientific Film. )
He advised on the purchase of equipment,and made two teaching visits to Bhilai.
Unit co-ordinator / trainee - Ajay TG
Brought from Kerala to Bhilai as a child, he has worked in a variety of jobs connected with the local steel industry, was field assistant for Jonathan Parry and subsequently for another anthropologist working in a potters’ village. He taught himself photography and has a qualification in computer aided graphic design.
He was in charge of the practical management of the unit and is also a trainee.