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The Shared Footage Group
December 9, 2002
Source: Personal E-mail from Gurpal
Our little group has come to be known by default, by this name. We never intended to institutionalise it...and indeed have not...but for convenience, it has to be called something! It is an unusual response to the tragedy in Gujarat early this year. An experiment which in a small way may help to try and counter the experiment of the Sangh Parivar in that state. I call it 'unusual', because I have not heard of anything of this sort before....and an 'experiment' because we don't really know what the outcome will be....the ideas are still evolving as they go along.
This started as a small group of individuals who went off to Ahmedabad one fine day in May, to see how we could help. Some of our friends were involved in the relief and rehabilitation process and had painted a gory picture, we were all pained by it, and by the media reports.We had wanted to do "something" but did not know what to expect. Having been trained in the area of the visual medium, and being professionals from the field of cinema and television, we did go with a camera and a few tapes, but were not even sure whether we would be more useful on that score or just as individuals helping in the camps doing some other work. The picture was confusing, and we were hearing horror stories all the time. And we also realised that a camera in many such situations can be extremely instrusive, and may even be counter productive. We decided to stay a while and use it as carefully as we could, and since other film makers had been on the field earlier and that footage would be available, we decided to focus on the depth of stories, for which mainstream media might not have space or might not engage with. Issues which would benefit from prolonged stay and help texture the nuances, complexities and shed light on issues involved, historicities, etc.
As it turned out I ended up playing with the children in the camps, and initiating a process of activities for them, while my friends Neeraj Sahay and Setu started the process of filming. We were doing all this on our own steam, with some help from like minded people, and we decided that we would share all the footage that we shoot, without any notions of authorship or ownership, with all filmmakers who share our concerns. A few friends gave a little money, some lent their equipment and this idea started growing (into what finally is today the Shared Footage Effort).. Neeraj soon became the mainstay of it all, and had a tough time co ordinating, filming, researching and also coping with the emotional stress of interacting with people who had been brutalized like never before. His friend Siddharth soon joined us (and has remained there since then), to push this effort forward, while many others have come and gone.
We had not predicted for how long we would be able to sustain this effort as we were all professionals who left their work to do this. We also had limited resources,and we had decided that we will not take any institutional funding for this, but things kept rolling.....
An organisation called Sprat(which has been actively involved in relief and rehabilitation) provided us with dinner, a flat, and a computer. In return some of us shot their activities, projects and conventions.Including one project which involved video documentation of all the places of worship in Ahmedabad which had been destroyed or desecrated. Sometime in July, we received a mail from Hassath in Delhi who heard about us and decided that she could be of help. She left her job and put her little daughter in the care of her parents and jumped headlong into the process of logging and organising the footage. This was a godsend, because until then, Neeraj had to manage this vital function apart from all else he was doing, and he also now had to get back to Bombay. And by now the footage was really growing in quantity. People had started pitching in with their time, skills, money and equipment. With the coming of Hassath we were encouraged to carry it even further, because there were so many issues to be dealt with and so many stories to be told and understood.We soon took up a flat and computer on hire and decided to try and accomplish much more than we had set out to do.Around September, I too had to leave, so Hassath became the anchor, and the process continued, and today we are at a stage where we plan to wind up the shooting part by end of December, and after that,in Mumbai, continue with the all-important task of logging, transferring and transcribing, in order to make the footage accessible.
Though this "project" has had it's ups and downs, one of the most heartening features has been the wide participation of people from diverse backgrounds and world views. The one, human, shared concern being how to deal with the communal poison that threatens to engulf us. We have had contributions from people who don't know us directly, but the mails and appeals somehow reached them. They trusted us...complete strangers....and contributed to the effort. Over 25 people have given varying amounts of money, nearly 20 have lent their equipment, others have given tapes and batteries. And nearly 45 people have come there for varying lengths of time to pitch in with effort. Some even stayed long and greatly contributed to the depth of the stories. (Just one example, Manu, a graduate of the SRFTII, Calcutta, came intending to stay for 3 days but ended up staying over 2 months!)....Some people have indirectly helped from other cities too....and thanks to everyone, something very valuable has emerged from this. Over 200 hours of footage. Studied. Detailed. In-depth.
The bank of footage could be used in 2 ways...some of it is general and could be used as parts of other films. Some of it has been shot in a way that it lends itself to over two dozen complete stories that can emerge out of it. These will cover the various aspects of this tragedy of epic proportions.
For the project to reach it's logical conclusion, the hours and hours of material has to be meticulously logged and we need to work out a system of cross indexing , and key words, so that it does not become too unwieldy. We would like to make this accessible to everyone, after this part is over...which should probably take us into March. Unless more people chip in and it gets done sooner.(Ironically it is only a few days ago that we had to make an appeal for money, material and manpower, in order to wind up smoothly. Until now, people had pitched in on their own, without us egging them on). For this Hassath plans to move to Mumbai for a few months and organise the information about the footage in order that anyone can easily decide what interests them.
We would like several filmmakers/activists/ngos/agencies/concerned individuals to use this valuable material, and we will make it available to all, free of cost. We shall not sell this to people or be involved in any kind of trade off with any person or body. Our only concern is that it should not be used for counter propoganda. The power of the visual medium can be misused by fundamentalists of any religion, colour or group. (And of course we are anxious that someone, after taking the footage from us, does not try and pass it off as "their own" and sell it to others!). Since none of the people we know fall into either two categories, we hope that this footage will be well utilised and go a long way in stemming the tide of communalism.
Please feel free to contact us:
15th December 2002
In the wake of the sweeping victory of 'Hindutva', this effort has become all the more pertinent.More people need to get involved in this, and other efforts aimed at containing the communal poison.In a strange way, this bank of footage is perhaps even more valuable now.If we find the resources and the people, we would now continue our shooting work in Ahmedabad for another month.