"The first documentary that I did was when I was 7"
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Interview with Shruti Rai, a young film maker from India. Watch Shruti's film "Maina: The Little Bride" here.
What is your video about?
This video is about the child marriage issue in the rural and remote areas of India. It is the story of a girl "Maina" whose father decided to fix her marriage at an early age.
Why did you make this video? What motivated you to make it?
My school SVISG in India is closely working with CHINH Early Education Web Channel that has integrated media literacy as part of our curriculum. CHINH trains us and provides us an opportunity to visit different parts of the country during vacations to do a media literacy exchange as a part of its global media literacy project "Growing UP". I along with my friends had gone to many villages to teach media literacy to kids in rural India. This film was an outcome of one such workshop at a small village at the indo Nepal border during my summer vacations. The interesting thing about those group of kids was that almost all of them were married. During the interactions with the kids I discovered that a girl named "DilKash" had a very interesting story. She was about to get married but strongly felt that it was not something right. I decided that why not we all translate her experience into a film. So we did some research. We talked to her parents and friends, villagers, NGOs in the area, people's perceptions/viewpoints and started this project. On a personal level I felt very strongly for Dilkash as I had the opportunity to study and decide my own course of life but Dilkash who was almost my age had an entirely different course set by the situations around her. This contrast inspired me to tell her story and make people aware of the issue.
What would you like to tell to global audiences about the subject matter of your video?
Well living in the urban area or living with educated people we feel that everything is fine and such problems only exited in the past. Being from the city even I used to think that child marriage really don't exist anymore but when you really are given a chance to explore which fortunately I got in my school through CHINH, I realized that those problems or issues are still there with those people who do not really have a proper source to educate themselves The reason of making this film and showing it to the global audience is to tell them about the real perspectives that surround the issue of child marriage and making them aware that why it has become extremely important to ensure that we all at some level must engage in taking this awareness further.
Was it difficult to get access to video equipment to make your video?
Well when you go to a rural village in India you cannot find a laptop easily…so we took the equipment with us. CHINH provided us those equipment. We didn't know what the kids there would like to do or what they are good at so we took a camera mike tripod and papers scanner…to them all of these equipment were somewhat like alien weapons but soon they all got friendly with them. Of course the most interesting part of the workshop was creation of local light boxes which we all fixed together sensing that everyone was keen to make an animation film.
Was this your first video? If no, what was your other(s) video(s) about?
No. This wasn't really my first video…CHINH has provided me with great opportunities to make films on my own and with other kids. The others videos that I've made are about growing up issues under a project with Chinh where I have dealt with issues of digital bullying, teenage peer pressure, environment and forgiveness. The first documentary that I did was when I was 7 years. It was a documentary based on my candid conversations with "Children of Nomads" that won many national and international awards. I also was a main protagonist in one of the Indo-Italian Co production based where I travelled to Italy to meet many gypsy kids.
Do you think that what is shown in the media changes people’s perceptions and opinions about issues? How?
Everyone would have a different opinion about this and every opinion would be correct in a different way. The things that we are making video about are already written in books and newspapers and stuff… but when we see the visuals, hear the sound somewhere we understand it better and it creates an impact in our mind and we think about it …and if people or the target audience is thinking about it then the director's job is done ... As an example there is a novel and there is a movie based on the novel… you read the novel and you remember the storyline and general things but then you see the movie there is a better understanding because of the emotions that have been portrayed and the dialogues and the visuals will stay in your mind. For example the film Maina breaks many myths about child marriage. My film "Children of Nomads" broke many stereotypes that my friends had about noamdic or gypsy children. They never really saw them in the light of life skills that the documentary showed them and it generated lot of respect in their heart about gypsy kids once they could understand the challenges they had to face as a child.
Why do you think it is important for young people to make videos and to produce other types of media?
It's not important that you make a video... show it to people ...The IMPORTANT THING is to make a difference for a better society no matter what sources or what tool that you are using ... if a young person is not good at making video but is good at art, sculpting or painting, writing they should go on doing their best to make a better society. Since the media is available tool for young people and is easily accessible, it has the potential of becoming a strong voice for young people. Whether it is video, social networking or blogging... young people want to know the reality, the truth excites us. The political process catches our attention. We seek, we probe and we demand. So we need to constantly be in touch and what could be better than media literacy tools.
Do you think youth-produced media deserves better channels of distribution? If so, how would you like to see things change?
Well definitely I think so. There are broadly two reasons:
The first is that we have a large space or a large audience for entertainment based feature films with big budget etc but there is actually no platform for the films made by youth and even if we have audience or people who want to watch these films they don't really know where to go and see these films. That is why platforms like CHINH INDIA KIDS FILM FESTIVAL where we get a chance to watch, judge and create films are much needed lifelines for young people. I really appreciate that because it motivates us to make more and more films. But we need more festivals, platforms like CHINH that offers free webcast, jury discussion, rating and promotion of youth based productions on national scene at policy level and international platforms. We even get our films slotted on National Broadcast through CHINH. But much more is needed.
The second reason would be that somewhere the kids or the youth have really better understanding about their society or the social issues that we all are dealing with and this experience needs to be exchanged and shared. For example the Tehreer revolution in Egypt gave us strength as it was the youth who dared to bring a change there. Even in India, the Anna Hazare Movement for anti-corruption, it was the youth...mainly college and school going kids who came on the streets to fight for a better society and showed the adults that they can also bring change. More than anything it is the inclusiveness that we need at all levels. Right now we feel excluded. Be it a political process, social process... this has to change.
We need our own space where youth productions can be viewed, discussed and created. It would help channelize us. We need more Festivals like Plural Plus... We need more people like Jordi [from UNAOC] who truly believe in potential of media literacy. We need more schools like SVISG... We need more principals like mine and more internet channels like CHINH Early Education Web Channel who believe in us and we in turn do them proud. I would like to invite Plural Plus in my school where we would like to host them and organise an international residential media literacy camp for a week.
Are you producing another video?
I am currently preparing to make a film on "Digital Bullying". I chose this subject because I am watching many of my friends being victimized in digital world due to lack of opportunities we have in terms of getting information and awareness on safeguarding us in digital world while accessing its benefits. There is no platform that teaches us on how to handle Facebook pressure.... social networking stress. Through this film I would like to suggest to my school and Ministry of Education, Govt. of India that it is high time that they taught us computer education, it is the time they should start telling us and guiding us on how to sustain in a digital world rather than advising us on why not to be on Facebook or social networking while school life. We seek help... need intervention but not the interference. We want guidance without domination.