Raising A Voice

Two independent UK filmmakers are empowering slum children across India to tackle social problems faced by their local communities

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published: July 23, 2013 4:17 am

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,UK,was sure he wanted to make his trip meaningful. Etchells,along with his partner Alba Mendoza,has been conducting filmmaking workshops with underprivileged children across the country.

In December 2012 they left their home in Surrey to visit Hampi,Karnataka. Without any contacts the duo had to work their way up. “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 through a crowd funding exercise to launch the project,Voices

of India.

Within six months they conducted over 15 workshops across 12 states including Karnataka,the towns of Kodaikanal and Auroville in Tamil Nadu,Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and a few towns in Andhra Pradesh. Their project looks at issues children face in their neighbourhoods and allows them to raise solutions. They admit at being overwhelmed by the response they received. “I knew child labour and exploitation existed in India before I came here. But we didn’t think there would be so many problems,” says Etchells,born to an Indian mother and a British father.

They recently concluded a seven-day workshop in Madanpur Khadar slums,in south-east Delhi. Over 22 children identified issues concerning them and made short films using HD phone cameras. “We realise in India that these children don’t 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,” says Mendoza,28. The average age for the children in these workshops is usually 14-18 years. 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 for the children and gives a voice to those with fewer opportunities,” says Mendoza. In the documentary about domestic violence,the children suggested approaching a counsellor when there is violence in the house and in the one about child labour,a boy working at a tea stall is shown being sent to school.

Armed with over 300 documentaries, Etchells and Mendoza are uploading them on to their website and are in talks with the Children’s Film Society of India for screenings across the country. They will also enter the films into the Golden Elephant Film Festival later this year. “The Children’s 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.

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