A Year in India

Desi Girl
May 19, 2009, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: , , ,

If there’s one song that’s defined this year for us AIF fellows, it’s been the Bollywood favorite, “Desi Girl.” Not much explanation is necessary except for the fact that the song is obnoxious, catchy, and somehow has had a bonding effect on the AIF crew. Listened to on repeat, it inspires some of the best (worst?) dance parties. Song and video below.

Dancing to our fellowship theme song at an AIF reunion in Ahmedabad

(For context, desi means “of the homeland,” i.e., a pure Indian. The song is from a recent Bollywood movie, Dostana.)


Student Film: Freedom
May 11, 2009, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Video | Tags: ,

Below, an Adobe Youth Voices film, Freedom, that students from Barlane Government High School recently finished. The video is about the way female children are treated differently than their male peers.

An interesting side note: Freedom was spearheaded by 17-year-old Mubeen, whom I’ve previously written about here (and who is the film’s leading lady). Toward the end of the video, you’ll notice an older woman being interviewed about why she loves her son more than her daughter. Keep in mind that the interviewer in that interaction is Mubeen; the interviewee, her mother.

An Animated Summer
May 7, 2009, 8:28 pm
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: ,

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
Filed under: In the Field | Tags:

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
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: ,

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
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: , ,

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.

FSM in India
April 19, 2009, 3:30 pm
Filed under: Video | Tags: , ,

Mona, a good friend of mine from Chicago, recently came to visit Bangalore. Mona and I used to work together at Free Spirit Media (FSM), a youth media education non-profit serving Chicago’s West and South Sides. After FSM, Mona, like me, came to India to teach documentary film production to underserved youth. Her project, The Modern Story, is based in Hyderabad.

One of the best parts of Mona’s trip was revisiting our time at FSM: reminiscing about our students and coworkers, comparing our India youth media experiences with those we had in Chicago, and watching some of the new films that FSM participants produced this past fall.

Below, a video that two FSM youth made about Obama’s presidential candidacy. The students were given the opportunity to travel to Denver, attend the Democratic National Convention, and shoot the following short documentary called “Hope in America.” It makes me proud to see these kids using the skills they’ve learned at FSM in such a thoughtful way.