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Women Filmmakers Share Insights at MIFF’s “Unveiling Her Story” Session

Mumbai: The 18th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) celebrated the power of women’s narratives through an insightful session titled “Unveiling Her Story: Exploring Women’s Narratives through Documentary Filmmaking.” Moderated by Queen Hazarika, a prominent documentary narrator, the session featured acclaimed women filmmakers including National Film Award winners Srishti Lakhera, Farha Khatun, Prerana Barbarooah, and the accomplished author, producer, and director Isabelle Simeoni.

Srishti Lakhera, hailing from Uttarakhand, emphasized the limitless potential of women, stating that they can achieve anything from breaking stones to writing poetry. Lakhera’s debut documentary feature, “Ek Tha Gaon,” which won Best Film and Best Audiography at the 69th National Film Awards, captures the essence of life in her father’s Himalayan village. With only seven residents at the start of filming, the documentary highlights the lives of an 80-year-old woman and a 19-year-old girl who must choose between a desolate village life and the alienation of city life. Lakhera pointed out that those left behind in abandoned villages are often women and Dalits, as men typically have the privilege to move to the city. “Women wanted to earn their own money but they don’t have the choice there,” she noted. She also highlighted the increasing dependency on digital platforms in rural areas and the inspiring emergence of young hip hop artists from remote villages who self-learn to write, record, and mix music.

Isabelle Simeoni spoke about the ongoing struggle for gender equality and her commitment to representing women in her storytelling. She discussed the challenges faced by women filmmakers, including the fear of their films not reaching audiences and financial hurdles. Simeoni advised upcoming filmmakers, saying, “Even on the set, you have to make the crew feel confident. We need to be professional and fight for subjects which we want to see on the screen.”

Prerana Barbarooah, an accomplished Director, Writer, Actor, and Model from the North-East, has produced over 50 documentaries. Her first film, inspired by the matrilineal society of Meghalaya, contrasts with her patriarchal upbringing. In her documentary, she explored the unique societal roles within matrilineal tribes, capturing 36 hours of footage condensed into a 36-minute film. Barbarooah expressed her fascination with men living in their wives’ houses, a norm in Meghalaya’s tribal society.

Farha Khatun, a filmmaker and editor, delves into themes of gender, patriarchy, and religious chauvinism in her documentaries. She highlighted the significant presence of women documentary filmmakers in India and praised the support provided by the erstwhile Films Division and the current National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). This governmental support, she noted, offers a vital push and confidence to documentary filmmakers, aiding them in starting and sustaining their careers.

The discussion provided a thought-provoking examination of the pressing issues in the Anthropocene era and the profound connections between humans and nature. The session underscored the unique challenges and triumphs faced by women in the film industry, highlighting their resilience and creativity in the face of adversity.

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