The last time independent filmmaker Leon Etchells,27,visited India,he was a teenager on a hitchhiking spree. This time round,the young Arts and Media graduate from the University of Creative Arts,Surrey,was sure he wanted to make his trip more meaningful. Etchells along with his partner Alba Mendoza,has been conducting filmmaking workshops with underprivileged children across the country.
In December 2012 the duo left their home in Surrey,UK for Hampi,Karnataka. The journey came with its obstacles. Without any contacts they had a tough time on the ground. We appealed to many Indian organisations and government ministries for help. But nobody was forthcoming because we did not have any prior work to show them, says Etchells,who had accumulated £ 1,500 (approximately
Rs 137,620) through crowd funding to launch the project,Voices of India.
Within six months they conducted over 15 workshops across 12 states including Karnataka,Kodaikanal and Auroville in Tamil Nadu,Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and few towns in Andhra Pradesh. Their project looks at issues children face in their neighbourhoods and allows them to raise solutions. But the duo admit at being overwhelmed by the response they received. I knew that child labour and exploitation existed in India before I came here. But we didnt think there would be so many problems, says Etchells,born to an Indian mother and British father.
They recently concluded a seven-day workshop in Madanpur Khadar slums,in south east Delhi. Over 22 children identified social issues and made short films using HD phone cameras. They were introduced to filmmaking,film editing and given lessons in acting. We realise in India that these children dont have a chance to speak much in their schools. So here we impress upon them to talk,to bring up ideas,to raise issues even if they feel they are stupid. We dont do blackboard teaching, says Mendoza,28,who has studied Social Education and Community Development in the UK.
The average age for the children in these workshops is usually 14-18 years,as they make stronger stories and react better. The four films that emerged from the Delhi workshop were on issues such as child labour,alcoholism and domestic abuse,poverty,and women infertility. Filmmaking acts as a tool for empowerment and gives a voice to those with fewer opportunities, says Mendoza. Children also provided solutions which are suggested in the films. In a documentary about domestic violence,they suggested approaching a counsellor when faced with violence at house and in another on child labour,a boy working at a tea stall is shown being sent to school.
Over 300 documentaries have now been uploaded on the project website. The filmmakers are in talks with the Childrens Film Society of India for screenings across the country. They will also enter the films into the Golden Elephant Film Festival,which happens later this year. The Childrens Film Society were the first to take us on board. The next step would be to train Indians with a degree in filmmaking or journalism. We want them to be able to go into their communities because there is a bigger impact when locals are involved, says Etchells,who would like to do a Voices of Africa and South America at some point.