Monday, October 4, 2010

Off the beaten film track


The short film provides a training ground for the ‘artistic’ as opposed to commercial

28 September 2010 Within the rapidly evolving Bhutanese film industry that generally takes after the formula releases of Bollywood, there is a small group experimenting with filming in the hope of producing something different and thought provoking.
In this group are independent filmmakers, mainstream filmmakers, script writers, artists, and animators, who make documentaries, art, experimental, or offbeat films, which usually draws critics rather than the theatre going public.

“We wouldn’t call our films alternative to the mainstream, but it’s different,” said Dechen Roder, who has been making documentaries and editing films since 2004. She, like others, usually works on documentaries funded by international organisations.

At the Tshechu Beskop, a short film (under 20 minutes) festival last Saturday, Dechen screened her first short film at the VAST studio in Thimphu. The festival, first of its kind, also screened nine other short films, which were fiction narratives, documentaries and animation made by 11 filmmakers.

The film festival was aimed at bringing together short filmmakers to showcase their creativity and to encourage a new viewing culture and promote appreciation for different films.

“People don’t understand what short films are,” said Dechen Roder. “We try and tell powerful stories in much less time, compared with feature films”.

Since these films were independently made, there were no burden from or obligations to producers or others to sell the films. It also gave the makers more room to experiment and take risks.

“Liberated by this non-commercial factor, the films are more personal, more expressive, and of course, closer to the filmmakers heart. It is really about the intensity and the love of making films,” said Dechen. “Because we are all working on other projects for money, to make a small film on the side is when you can have the highest form of creative control”. “But it’s difficult to convince the audience,” said another short filmmaker. “It’s a training ground for us, who aspire to make feature films”.

According to the filmmakers, the beauty of short films was that nobody was paid for their service. It was more of mutual agreement of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It also provided actors with a space to try out something new and creative.

Tshering Dorji from Happy Valley, a theatre group, and the actor of the short film, ‘In the Realm of God’, said that each shot had a purpose and took the film forward, unlike most Bhutanese feature films. He played a mask dancer, who felt unvalued despite his strong role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture.

Pema Tshering, the maker of ‘In the Realm of God’, who is a freelance artist, said that his artistic ability helped bring together strong visuals in his film. It was a situation, where the film provided an outlet for his artistic ability and, at the same time, his artistic ability helped him portray strong visuals.

His first short film, The Sound of Time, had no script but was powerful in visual and sound. Viewers could be left with questions as to why a young boy, roused suddenly from sleep, hops out of bed and races to a hilltop only to look out at the city, draw out his flute and play it.

But there is a sense of accomplishment and peace. The city below is given a fresh perspective by the music from the flute, which drowns out the noise, making the city feel natural and not man made.

A short animation film on garbage made by Green Dragon media’s Ashik Pradhan and Kavita with help from Chencho was a step forward for aspiring animators. Though the concept was borrowed, the visual and animation showed progress.

The Tshechu Beskop festival also provided an outlet for short films, which otherwise had no audience, apart from family and friends. Some filmmakers in the mainstream feature film industry said they were interested in short films, but had no option other than to churn out films to suit the Bhutanese taste.

An experienced Bhutanese filmmaker, Pelden Dorji, made a short film, Fruity, some time back, but it was lying around without any viewers.

The film that has no dialogue ends within a minute or two, but it leaves viewers with a lingering thought. A boy, who plays a prank on another boy by inserting a nail in an empty juice carton, knowing that the boy will burst it with his foot, comes across his own misdeed. He kicks a box covering a roadside rock and hurts his foot.

The future of short non-commercial films is not clear at the moment, but, as film makers say, it is the training ground for aspiring film makers