A Year in India

An Animated Summer
May 7, 2009, 8:28 pm
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Tiger Tiger 2 Tiger 3

“And we don’t even have an art teacher,” Vivekavardhini High School’s headmistress said to me after I mentioned how impressed I am by a short animation film her students are making.

The project is a mixture of story, voice, and dozens of student-drawn characters (a few of which are pictured above).

The Vivekavardhini teachers are going the extra mile to support the arts despite an education system that formally fails to do so. (Government-run schools in Karnataka do not provide funding for arts classes.) They are not only producing a film without an art teacher, but they are handling the project entirely independently: teachers and students are coming into school during their summer vacation to complete the video. It’s inspiring to witness the Vivekavardhini spirit, one driven by a pure desire to educate, learn and infuse some summer fun into students’ lives.


Practical Skills
May 2, 2009, 10:07 am
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During my work with Adobe Youth Voices (AYV) students, I encourage them to tell stories, express themselves visually, and think critically about social issues. Last week, I was reminded that AYV also plays a role in building these high schoolers’ basic technical skills. While editing a film, I had the youth take turns using the computer to put together some video clips. A couple of my students were hesitant, and I realized it was because they don’t know how to use computers. After a bit of persistence, one of them came forward to give it a shot. We worked through how to use the laptop’s touch-pad mouse, and he slowly caught on.

The computer skills this boy is developing will be critical as he looks for a job in the near future. As my student learned to “click and drag, click and drag,” I was satisfied with the practicality of his video editing experience.

Student Photogs
April 29, 2009, 9:37 am
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Below, a few pictures that my students took for a photo essay they’re making about their neighborhood. Click on the thumbnails for a better view.

Women chatting in the street

Women chatting in the street

A mosque under construction

A mosque under construction

Open sewage beside homes

Open sewage beside homes

Kids playing cricket

Kids playing cricket

A Foreigner’s Gaze
April 27, 2009, 11:21 am
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In addition to my Adobe Youth Voices (AYV) work, I’ve started a few outside film projects in Bangalore. One is a promotional video for mChek, a mobile payments company. My friend Valerie is working to bring mChek’s mobile payment technology to the bottom tier of India’s economic pyramid. Using mChek’s platform, people living in slums can pay bills via cell phone.

I’m shooting most of mChek’s video footage in urban Bangalore slums. The camera draws quite a bit of attention in these areas. During an interview with a shopkeeper, an elderly vegetable vendor walked by and started yelling at Valerie and me. We did our best to continue the interview, but both of us were curious as to what was angering him (we don’t understand Kannada, the local language that he was speaking).

Later on, Clara, another mChek employee, told me what the man had said: ‘’Why do you Americans come in here with your cameras like this? You just film our poor lives and then go back to America saying, ‘This is India!’”

The man brought up a conflict that’s often on my mind: though I love observing and documenting cultures different than my own, my foreign perspective colors the nature of this observation, this documentation. In my mind, there’s not much wrong with the inevitable insertion of my perspective, but how can I best treat my subjects in a sensitive, respectful way? And would my subjects themselves tell a “truer” version of their stories? How, then, can an open, honest partnership develop between filmmaker and subject?

When I ask myself these questions, I realize that my work with AYV is one answer. AYV allows me to share skills with my students so that they can tell their stories. In this way, an exchange is taking place: I teach a set of skills (shaped by my individual perspective), and my students are better able to express their views (which influence my perspective on their lives, on Indian culture, etc.).

I’d love for this kind of exchange to exist not only in AYV’s education setting, but also in my freelance work. It would be rewarding on many levels to further involve my subjects and their communities in the production of films being made about them.

Making Movies
March 5, 2009, 12:32 pm
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For the past month, my students have been shooting their short documentary projects.  Our goal is to have each school/NGO produce one 5-7 minute documentary and one photo essay by the end of April.  The film topics include slum life, electricity wastage, and elders’ childhood memories.  We’ve shot footage in places ranging from schools to slum homes to shops to the bustling streets of Bangalore.

Vivekavardhini students during production

Students shooting at a local park

What has become apparent during this past month is how exciting this experience is for the youth.  For them, school usually means sitting in a classroom and listening to by-the-book lectures.  The Adobe Youth Voices project allows them to get out of their classrooms, work in teams, and actively learn.  This type of learning may seem normal to a US audience, but it is pushing all kinds of boundaries here in India.

Shooting at a student's slum home

Shooting in a student's slum home

More new photos here.

December 3, 2008, 2:58 pm
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Last week, while working with youth at a high school in rural Bangalore, I noticed two boys peeking into our classroom window.  I asked one of the teachers who the boys were.  He explained that they were students who had been absent from school that morning.  During lunchtime, a few of their friends went to their village and told them that there was an Adobe Youth Voices session going on at school.  Hearing that, the boys were motivated to come join.

Exciting & rewarding to see our project having such an effect on the kids.

Faces of the Day
November 29, 2008, 4:24 pm
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Jyothipura Girls

Girls from Jyothipura Government School in rural Bangalore.

More new photos here.