Video Volunteers Trainings: The Adivasis of Songadh, Gujarat

“Even in the age of information overload, it is surprising that so little information is available on the tribals. So many histories- personal, political, oral, visual, gastronomic, medical, linguistic, are tucked away in little pockets of the country. During the Songadh trainings, I realized that these pockets are not the corners that they seem but entire horizons,” says Manish Kumar, senior Media Trainer and Program Manager at Video Volunteers. He recently returned, much enthused and contemplative, after wrapping an extensive training camp in video production and editing for the adivasi community in Songadh, Gujarat.

The training was organized by Video Volunteers in collaboration with the Shakti- Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre, Songadh, an NGO which works at the grassroots with the adivasis on several socio-economic, cultural, educational, political and religious issues. The project came together in the quest to set up a tribal arts and culture centre which will house, archive and display visual anthropological records of the adivasi communities’ lives and traditions. The proposed centre is the brainchild of Sannybhai, Managing Trustee of Shakti. He envisions the centre as a comprehensive resource of adivasi art, culture and way of life which bridges the past with the present and leads into the future. Speaking of the decision to collaborate with Video Volunteers, he says, "I was familiar with the organization’s work but when the idea of starting a cultural centre came up, it was Ingrid Beazely, our friend and well-wisher from London who suggested the tie-up.”

To participate in the training program, Shakti selected a group of 26 compromised of 9 women and 17 men. It was decided that 21 total days of training and orientation will be split into three sessions of a week each, across five months. The time in between will be used by the participants to practise their new found skills.

“In the last decade, digital video has become a dynamic medium”,  says Sannybhai. “It has shown the ability to archive, promote and exchange ideas and concepts with a wide and interested audience. For marginalized communities, it can be a vital tool that gives them presence and visibility on a global platform.”

The First Training Session

“It is always right to ask questions related to the things we don't know. We should have courage to raise our voice even being in a small group. The good thing is it was like a dream come true to be a journalist, to take challenges. It is nice that we started our film journey on a very high note, at the 14th April (Indian New Year) celebrations.”
- Manishaben, Trainee

The first training was in held in mid-April by VV media trainer Kamini Menon. She says,” It was an exhilarating experience. The atmosphere was celebratory. I arrived in Songadh thinking how to help them document footage for the cultural centre but the direction the training was heading towards indicated many more possibilities.”

Her trainees belonged to four adivasi communities in the Songadh region- the Gamiths, the Kothwariyas, the Vasawas and the Kathodis. Their ages spanned in between 25 to 40 and their educational qualifications ranged from sixth grade to college. All of them were involved with Shakti on various details as part of different teams- legal, cultural, organizational etc. “They were already empowered to a certain extent in their thinking,” says Kamini. "But now they had to translate their thoughts into film.”

Twelve Kodak Zi8 cameras, 16 memory cards and twelve external microphones: these were the tools at hand. The trainees were split into groups and special care was taken to ensure that the women played a prominent part. The training process began with the essentials. The technical workshops proceeded smoothly as the trainees took to the cameras at once. The storytelling aspects were being grasped at a steady pace but the first signs that the training was headed in a more radical direction became clear when the political aspects of film were discussed. After all how could one document the culture of marginalized communities without discussing their struggles against displacement, illegal land acquisition, lack of basic infrastructure and their existences and livelihoods which have been relegated to the margins of the country? Experienced trainer and human rights activist Mehul Makwana took the stage to delve deep into the politics of culture and religion. What is culture? How has it changed? What has influenced it? What is the part played by religion? Is religion always correct? What does it mean to be marginalized? “It was heated debate,” says Kamini. "Everyone came out of it with their eyes opened. The trainees began to critically observe and rethink the everyday and commonplace.”

The Second Training Session

"It was an opportunity for us to come here and learn something good. I doubted that we could manage to work at this level, being from an uneducated background, but I came to realize that we could work together. I had a family function at home but I stayed here. Now the real journey will start. I'll put together all that I learnt and will give my best."
- Ganeshbhai, trainee

The second session of training was held in the beginning of June. A specialized and intensive workshop on editing, 9 of the original 26 trainees were selected for this session. “The initial hurdle of this training was that half of the 9 selected trainees had absolutely no familiarity even with the basics of the computer. Some were petrified to switch the machines on. So I had to relax my training plan and start from the basics,” says Manish Kumar who was in-charge of the second training. What followed was an introduction to computers. A lesson in Microsoft paint progressed into a rudimentary editing session on the Windows Movie Maker. “This group was chosen for this exercise because they were particularly sharp and enterprising. Very soon we were making headway to more complex manoeuvres.”

In the time between the first and second sessions, the trainees had documented a few hours of raw footage. There was one on an indigenous wind instrument called Pagri, one on local agricultural practices and a fascinating one on the adivasi funeral ceremonies. There was nothing funereal about the death ceremony footage which showed the surviving relatives and friends dancing and beating drums and drinking copiously on their way to bury their dearly departed. Once the footage was screened, a workshop on scripting was held where the trainees were asked to write scripts around the material. Once the narrative was in place, the actual training of editors began. Once they were familiarized with Adobe CS4, they began to cut and rearrange the footage according to their scripts.

The Final Training Session

"We learnt how to make a story. We never gave importance to the story before, but now we do."
- Jyotiben, trainee

The last session of training was held in end-August. Manish began with a few refresher workshops on scripting, shooting and editing to ensure that all the participants could proceed smoothly into the next level. As part of the reorientation, all the documented footage was reviewed and the trainees were divided into groups of 4 for scripting. There was also a brief introduction to the fundamentals of anthropological film-making.

The trainees were asked to draft a pre-production script for making video profiles of their communities. As part of the scripting they were asked to do extensive research on their subject and incorporate the information into the script. Once the scripts were complete, the trainees were sent out into the field to shoot the footage. The trainees began with interviews of their friends and family members. They walked the streets of their capturing the rhythms of everyday life “It was a long day for Mehul and me,” recalls Manish. "We were driving from village to village on a rickety motorcycle from dawn to dusk and the rains just would not stop.”

The next day, the preproduction script was modified according to the footage shot. Voiceover recording was done and the editing trainees were given the material to assemble. As the editors toiled at their computers, others were taught the basics of short fiction films. “All of them had been involved in street theatre and public performance and they jumped at the chance. Even more fun than making the film was watching the footage with them on the TV.”

Once the editors gave final touches to the finished film it was screened and the power of video to bring things to life and the purpose of the long and even gruelling training sessions became clear to all. “It was a terrific moment,” says Manish. " There was an initial sense of disbelief that turned into joy and enthrallment. They were all together in this and they had done a great thing. Everyone was infused with a feeling of solidarity.”

Indiraben who was one of the trainees says, "I thought the process would be hard to understand but I never felt like that during the workshop. It was the first time I met people from other communities in this way. My self-confidence grew while interviewing other people. I noticed that different teams had different results – I learnt that you need to work as a group and have team spirit. I understand now, why this is important."

The Future

The Songadh training camp was a great success for Video Volunteers and Shakti. “Every week our media team is sent into the field with assignments to gather footage for the centre,” says Sannybhai. "The editing team has been busy and the videos are taking shape. The plan is to hold community screenings of these videos so that the process is more interactive and the entire community can have a say. We are also trying to integrate our activism with the videos. For example, if there is a broken bridge, we will make a video on it and then the people themselves can decide how they would like to go about it. Would they like to campaign with the authorities or would they like to take matters in their own hands? We want to inspire other activists and communities in the area to look at video as a tool for documentation and activism. The possibilities are manyfold and gradually, we intend to explore each facet.”

“I have high hopes on this bunch,” says Manish who is working to get some of the trainees involved with Video Volunteers’ IndiaUnheard Program.

The first horizon in the pocket of Songadh has been crossed only to reveal yet another distant golden line that is seems very much within reach. The journey doesn’t come to an end here. But rather it marches forward singing,” Jai Adivasi! Jago Adivasi! (Hail the adivasi! Rise adivasis!).

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