The festival will start musically with Shut up Sona about Bollywood playback singer Sona Mohapatra, and her unrelenting fight for equal space in modern India. It will conclude with a documentary by Pa Ranjith, Gaana, about Dalit percussionists who play at funerals.
Although the documentaries will focus on themes like partition, migration, changes time brings, the common thread running through them all is the humanity and tolerance that shines through.
“We always have films where people are fighting over each other, over borders, over lands. But we have films coming out that show what we have in common, where we can cooperate and move forward”, says Mitu Varma, director of Film Southasia. “Our aim is to bring the region closer.”
The films show truth and emotion that mainstream media and feature films usually lack or overlook. This year there are films focused on partition such as Longing where a daughter traces her father’s journey when he was chosen in the first Indian hockey team that broke up after the partition.
Another, Ghar ka Paata, shows a girl tracing her roots to Kashmir after fleeing in the 1990 insurgency. FSA also has climate migration stories such as a documentary on a shaman and a dead tree, and displacement of two locals after building the Baglihar dam.
While the audience for documentaries is growing, screening opportunities are still limited. And although filmmaking has become less expensive, making a profit is still difficult, and most documentary makers have to make commercials for a living.
“Non-fiction is something that needs a lot of encouragement,” says Varma, “because even today if youngsters are going into it as a career, they need a lot of dedication because the money lies in either features or advertisements.”
The pandemic did not make it any easier for filmmakers. Many faced economic problems or were affected psychologically. Film Southasia mentored six filmmakers in their films themselves and tried to organise backup and support for the first time.
Compared to the past, platforms have slowly emerged for documentary makers. Stories can be marketed at OTT (Over-the-Top) and filmmakers can receive money from it.
The films will vie for four awards. The Ram Bahadur Trophy will go to the best film, along with a cash prize of $2,000, and the runner-up will be awarded $1,000. The best debut film will merit the Tareq Masud Award and $1,000, and the award for Best Student Film will merit $500.
The festival’s jury comprises of filmmakers Sumathy Sivamohan from Sri Lanka, Ayisha Abraham from India, and Tshering Ritar Sherpa from Nepal.