Written by Sahana Iyer
With her previous works, filmmaker Leona Goldstein has brought to the fore voices that are often ignored by mainstream media. Currently in India, the German filmmaker brings some of her concerns in her photography exhibition “Liberty of Movement — A Universal Right?”, at the Max Mueller Bhavan, Pune.
Goldstein, 42, has worked in post-conflict and transitional countries, documenting their social and political systems. “You have certain mainstream discourses that you read about in the newspaper or hear on the television. And then you have these blind spots which are out of focus and these are mostly about conflicts and countries where there are no economic interests. As large parts of politics are made by men, these feminist topics very often fall off the table,” says Goldstein.
Goldstein follows a cinematic approach, not influenced by events on- or off-screen. On the experience of shooting documentaries without specific scripts, she says, “That’s what is wonderful in documentary filmmaking. When you compare it with fiction, you never know what will happen. You really have to be open to what the protagonist shows you or does not want to show you. Then you have to adapt to its reality. There are different approaches to documentaries but mine is very much a direct cinema approach. I’m just there. I don’t influence what is happening. I’m just documenting. It’s a constant process of learning for myself. What I want them to do is not important. It’s about what they want to do. So, I have to learn and adapt. So it’s very challenging but also exciting too because you learn a lot.”
She welcomes platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime that are now making documentaries more accessible. She says it is a good change since it brings democratisation of the medium. Also it brings in all sorts of subjects to the masses and not just the ‘mainstream’ ones. “If you watch documentaries on a mainstream platforms, like on TV, you very often are just considered as a consumer or a spectator. It is made easy and consumable and for me personally, this is not the important role documentary has. If you see for example a film like Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, you cannot consume it easily but it does change your look on things and I think, that’s the strength in documentary.”
Her award-winning documentary God Is Not Working On Sunday (2015), which showcases the work of women activists in post-genocide Rwanda, was screened in Pune, ahead of the exhibition opening. She recalls her experience of shooting it. “I went there initially because I read an article that in Rwanda, the Parliament had a majority of women. They have 64 per cent women and this is seen nowhere else on the globe. After a while though, especially in the countryside, I understood that it’s not at all like that. Especially women, victims of sexual violence are very much stigmatised. On one hand, you have this women empowerment but it’s only for a certain class of society,” she says.
Her photos also showcase refugee flows in the world and various aspects attached to migration. “What we tried with the exhibition is to compile different topics, so that you don’t only have the push factor of war. For example, there is Halia, a university professor from Ukraine who has to migrate because there was perestroika in Ukraine and she couldn’t live there anymore as a university professor. Migration as a topic is so big and mankind has been moving throughout history. Nowadays, this concept of a nation and borders stops it. So, we tried to look at the different aspects of it,” says Goldstein. The photos which are a part of the exhibition were taken at the European borders of Tunisia, Morocco, and Ukraine, as well as the US-Mexico border.
Goldstein advocates for open borders and shared responsibility when it comes to providing asylum to refuge seekers. “Either you should take people, or pay money so that other countries that take more people have the financial means. We have to share the responsibility. We have to share it with countries that are rich. So for me, it’s just natural rebalancing.”
While in Pune, Goldstein is also taking a workshop on documentary filmmaking for Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) students and documenting stories of women empowerment at Pune-based NGO Helplife. The documentary is a project for a community outreach programme initiated by Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan. The exhibition is at the Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, Boat Club Rd, Sangamvadi, Pune, till December 10