It all started in 2012 when Nagaland made the headlines for the killing of federally protected Amur Falcons in hundreds of thousands during their 10-day roosting period at the Doyang reservoir. Conservation efforts were taken up on a war footing after the incident at Pangti village. A year later, not even one Amur Falcon was killed and the world celebrated this astounding conservation success story with multiple awards for the village in Wokha district of Nagaland. In 2017, thanks to the Amur falcons, Nagaland was listed among the 10 best birding destinations in the world by National Geographic. With the hunters of the longest travelling raptor birds turning into protectors, Nagaland had became the ‘Falcon Capital of the World.’
Naga filmmaker Sesino Yhoshü was perplexed. Being a Naga who has lived outside the state, she was well aware how her people were perceived, especially regarding food habits. Her home state Nagaland had nearly no conservation history and an enduring hunting ethic. So while Yhoshü was joyed when Nagaland made news for the right reasons, she was curious about the people – the locals who had managed to come out of the age-old culture of hunting. And thus was born “The Pangti Story”, a 26-minute documentary that would go on to win the Best Environment Film at 65th National Film Awards.
“Hunting comes naturally to Nagas. It is our culture. So a ban in hunting means deviating from our hunting culture, from our food habits. I just couldn’t live with the fact that it was possible. I knew that something must have happened for this change to happen and I wanted to know what that was. It was seeking answers to those questions that took us to Pangti,” the award winning filmmaker tells IndianExpress.com. Her film reflects on what it took to bring the massive falcon harvest to a halt.
“From over 15,000 birds killed every day to reaching a zero mortality rate, this could not be just a story of protecting birds,” says Yhoshü, reflecting back to the initial days when the concept behind the documentary was taking shape. She says the main subjects of the documentary are basically the villagers involved in this transition. “It is about the transition of an entire village from one that slaughtered thousands of the winged visitors to becoming a most fervent preservationist. The film gives an observational account of the normal, regular life of the people in the village, living in unison with the birds.”
Much has been written about the migratory birds that come to roost from Siberia every fall to the forested regions of Pangti village in Wokha district. Much has been written about the conservation efforts. But few have taken into account the tremendous socio-economic challenges faced by the villagers. The documentary also looks into how, despite various accolades, Pangti villagers are still struggling for an alternative means to earn livelihood.
“I didn’t go there as an environmentalist but I went to Pangti as a filmmaker and this journey started with questions,” Yhoshü says. Defining the Pangti experience as “a very unique one”, the filmmaker recalled, “The first trip to Pangti was personally overwhelming. The sight of thousands and thousands of birds was just unbelievable.” From 2015 when the project was launched, Yhoshü’s TAKE ONE production team, including editor Neithonuo Tungoe and cinematographer Megotsolie Dolie, made two trips to Pangti. In the first, they captured footage of the birds and did some ground research. The second shoot was more intensive filming in Pangti, Wokha and Dimapur.
“Despite being a Naga I was less of an insider since every Naga village is independent and each tribe different. However, with the common thread that ties us together, I did try to engage with them and understand their world. The central character of the film opened up about his life and opened the doors of his home to us. I am glad I got the opportunity to listen to them and tell their story.”
The film, a presentation of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT), also features the accounts of those who have been instrumental in bringing about the change in Pangti since 2012. They include Bano Haralu, the managing trustee of Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation; Steve Odyuo of a group called the Natural Nagas; Pangti village council’s leader Ronchamo Shitiri; and now retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Nagaland M Lokeswara Rao.
The documentary had earlier this year won the Golden Beaver Award at the 7th National Science Film Festival in 2017. The National Film Awards will be presented by President Ramnath Kovind on May 3.