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MIFF-2024: Panel Discussion on the Power of Documentary Films to Drive Social Change

Mumbai: The 18th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF-2024) hosted a compelling panel discussion today titled “Unlocking the Force: Using Documentary Films to Promote Social Transformation.” The session featured veteran Kannada film director, actor, and producer Dr. T. S. Nagabharana, who shared his insights on the influential role of documentaries in catalyzing societal change. The discussion, moderated by D. Ramakrishnan, General Manager of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), explored how documentaries can illuminate pressing issues, inspire action, and drive significant social transformation.

Dr. T. S. Nagabharana, also a renowned documentary filmmaker, underscored the responsibility of cinema as a powerful medium. He pointed out that modern cinema often finds itself in a “No-Man’s land,” where anyone with a mobile camera can make a film. However, he stressed the importance of integrating “Cinema in Education and Education in Cinema” to instill the discipline necessary for a film’s success.

According to the prolific filmmaker, both feature films and documentaries reflect social realism and are intrinsically linked to society. He emphasized the necessity for filmmakers to stay updated on current social issues and to strive for social relevance in their work. “Documentary is the artistic tool to social transformation. It is not easy for a filmmaker to go after truth. Truth may not always be visible and is often elusive,” he remarked.

The seven-time National Award winner also highlighted the need for a proper support system for independent filmmaking and warned against manipulating facts in documentaries. “If you recreate fact, then it is no longer a fact. It is manipulation,” he stated. He also called for documentary filmmakers to possess a unique visual literacy and an aesthetic sense to effectively convey their individual perspectives.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by society in accepting the truths presented by filmmakers, Dr. T. S. Nagabharana advocated for inducing change through honest filmmaking. He cautioned against agenda-driven filmmaking, which he believed dilutes authenticity and fosters fake narratives. “Visual language is a different approach, almost like a poetic language. Today’s visual language must derive itself, intertwining poetics and politics to capture the real truth,” he observed.

Dr. T. S. Nagabharana also emphasized the responsibility of filmmakers not just to the nation, but to humanity as a whole. Clarity of purpose in filmmaking, he asserted, ensures that noble intentions are conveyed, avoiding ambiguity and misleading narratives. He further added that scripting constraints of the past, where documentaries were confined to 10-minute durations, are now alleviated by various modern platforms that offer extended time for storytelling.

Discussing emerging technologies, the acclaimed filmmaker highlighted the new phase of visual media, including the use of artificial intelligence. He stressed the importance of purposeful technology integration in filmmaking to effect social change and expressed hope that these advancements will create a new visual language to aid the next generation in expressing their ideas. “For growing in a multidimensional way, one must be multiskilled,” he remarked.

D. Ramakrishnan, General Manager of NFDC, echoed these sentiments, accentuating the crucial role documentaries play in addressing societal issues such as caste discrimination, gender inequality, and environmental degradation. He noted that documentaries have the power to highlight issues, evoke sympathy, and inspire action.

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