Niv Art Movies, producer of Rotterdam winner “Sexy Durga,” and Little Lamb Films, the outfit behind Tallin, Santa Barbara and Edinburgh film “The Cloud and the Man,” have teamed for Locarno title “Whispers of Fire & Water.”
An exclusive clip from the film has been provided to Variety.
Lubdhak Chatterjee, who has previous shorts and documentaries to his credit, makes his fiction feature debut with the film. The narrative revolves around an audio installation artist who visits the coal mines of eastern India, an area plagued by depleting natural resources where fire burns constantly. Flummoxed by the complex socio-political ecosystem there, he tries to find solace in a tribal village where he questions his urban view and fundamental notion of self with water now being the dominant element.
“The film emerged out of my personal experiences of travelling in mining as well as rural areas in the hinterland of mainstream development for various commissioned projects in the last six to seven years. While travelling and interacting with local people, I couldn’t resist questioning my fundamental notion of self and responsibility as an art practitioner. Eventually the film became an avenue for confronting these questions and expressing myself,” Chatterjee told Variety.
Jharia, where a significant part of the film was shot, is one of the largest coal mine zones in India and has been burning underneath for over 100 years now. “Imagine what the place could have been couple of centuries back. The stark contrast in these two images of two distinct times speaks volumes about where we stand as a society at present with imminent challenges that we must confront sans delay,” Chatterjee said.
The film is a nominee for the Green Pardo WWF environmental prize from Locarno and the World Wildlife Fund. It is produced by Bauddhayan Mukherji and Monalisa Mukherji for Little Lamb Films and Shaji Mathew and Aruna Anand Mathew for Niv Art Movies.
“A story with its protagonist going into the interiors of resource-rich central Indian forests to listen to and amplify the voices of the tribal communities made a substantial impact on us. Since very powerful corporations and the state are involved in the extraction economy, we come across some coverage of the space only when things reach a bloody flashpoint, either involving Maoist groups or state forces or local populations resisting a total takeover of their land and resources,” Shaji Mathew of Niv Art Movies told Variety. “The communities not only face displacement from their ancestral abodes but also have to live a life of death and disease. The workers in the underground and opencast mines work without protective gear. The local populations are prone to respiratory ailments from exposure to toxic air and houses collapse due to land subsidence. Credible studies have found Jharia, our film’s principal setting, to be the most polluted city in India.”
“For a production house like ours that supports stories that drive to the heart of the matter, we were moved by Lubdhak Chatterjee’s story of an audio installation artist travelling to Jharia to listen simply; to listen, record and document a people and region who still don’t have an audience,” Mathew added.
Financing for independent films remains difficult in India. “We at Little Lamb Films have taken it upon ourselves to produce debutant directors’ films in India. Unfortunately, in the absence of avenues of film finance in India, it finally boils down to putting in our own money to do the kind of films we want to do. This time Little Lamb Films and Shaji’s Niv Art Movies came together with our pool of financial resources which incidentally come from our core businesses. So, it was easy and difficult at the same time,” Little Lamb Films’ Bauddhayan and Monalisa Mukherji told Variety.
Next up for Chatterjee is nonfiction project “Dancing in the Fire,” which developed when he met a group of young girls exploring performing arts at Jharia while shooting “Whispers of Fire & Water.” Niv Arts Movies has a film in the works about a young Indian caught between systemic corruption on one hand and being selectively marginalized based on identity on the other.
“Whispers of Fire & Water” world premieres at Locarno’s Concorso Cineasti del presente strand on Aug. 8.
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