Realizing the impact of long-running digital journalism, a group of journalists got together in 1997 and launched Film Southasia (FSA), a biennial film festival, with the intention of popularizing the genre of documentary cinema and making of FSA a platform for documentary filmmakers from the South. Asia to share their experiences and knowledge.
FSA ’22 (April 21-24) features 71 documentaries (including nine by Nepalese filmmakers) from eight South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka)discussions in five panels, which revolve around films, gender and caste issues, and an exhibition on sexual violence.
Mitu Varmaa former Himal Southasia journalist who has been with FSA since its inception, is FSA’s festival director and oversees FSA ’22. Laxmi Murthydirector of the Hri Institute for South Asian Research and Exchange, is another full member of the organizing committee.
The post office Pinki Sris Rana sat down with Varma and Murthy to discuss FSA’s journey, accomplishments and what the duo thinks about this year’s lineup.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
In 1997, documentary cinema was not a very popular genre. At such a time, why did the team feel the need to launch FSA and focus solely on documentaries?
Varma: Before starting FSA, we were all a bunch of passionate journalists working independently and for Himal Southasia, a magazine that covers politics and culture in the region. FSA is actually the brainchild of Kanak Mani Dixit, the editor of Himal Southasia. At FSA, we have always believed in long-form journalism and were well aware of the impact broadcast journalism can have. As we were all journalists, we saw FSA as an extended form of journalism, which is how FSA started.
When we were considering where to hold this festival, there were a lot of things to consider. We needed a country accessible to filmmakers from South Asia. We also had to take into account the many complex geopolitical issues in the region. Considering all these factors, we decided to hold the festival in Nepal, and the country is also economical for filmmakers.
Why are the films strictly from countries belonging to South Asia?
Varma: If you look at international film festivals, there are very few stories from our region. Also, you don’t often meet South Asian filmmakers at these festivals, as the travel and accommodation costs to attend these festivals are too high for most filmmakers in our region. These are shared experiences of filmmakers from this region. So we decided to create FSA to provide a much needed platform for filmmakers in the region to discuss issues in this region and form a cultural space for filmmakers. The eight countries we focus on also share a similar culture and this has kept us together. These are the reasons why we decided to stick to eight South Asian countries.
In your opinion, how has FSA adapted to all the changes that documentary cinema has undergone as a medium in recent years?
Varma: Filmmakers are experimenting a lot with the genre, and that’s why if you watch FSA ’22, you’ll see docu-fiction films (a narrative style that combines documentary and fiction) that portray a true story but creatively use fiction . to enrich the rendering. We are experimenting with different formats, which is why we also have an exhibition called “Create, Collaborate, Catalyze: Reflections on Sexual Violence in South Asia”.
In those 25 years, do you think FSA has been able to have the kind of impact that the founding team envisioned?
Varma: I believe him. We were able to build this platform where dedicated documentary filmmakers from eight different countries can come and share their experiences and knowledge with each other. And I think we’ve been successful in keeping audiences interested in long-form documentaries that highlight the range of issues facing the region.
For the first time in the history of the FSA, it mentored and supported six filmmakers and six researchers in their projects. What was the reason behind this?
Murty: In one of the researches carried out by one of the six researchers, it was shown that the artist always showed half-naked women to represent victims of rape. For years, we have criticized images and visuals that redundantly depict sexual violence. But with this program, we wanted to communicate what we wanted to be different from what was already being done. The research excerpts and films will also be exhibited at the FSA.
What excites you most about FSA 2022?
Varma: We have this incredible lineup of documentaries that is as diverse as South Asia. We have films that look at topics like gender, identity and experiences of Dalits and those from indigenous and minority communities. That said, we also have some fun movies for audiences to sit back and enjoy.
Murty: To add to this, we also have six panel discussions where we will talk about 25 years of traveling as FSA, caste and gender issues, social movements, curation and experiences of exile. In addition, the majority of filmmakers whose films are screened at the festival are present with us, allowing them to share their points of view and their experiences of making the films.
(FSA runs from April 21-24. For timings and location details, please visit FSA official site.)