Following their degree in wildlife documentary making, 11 young cineasts decided to head to India to film their own independent film, Blue Gold of Rajasthan.
by Julia Migné
Keoladeo National Park, a little paradise for the avifauna, is located in the State of Rajasthan, India. A green oasis stretching within a human-dominated landscape, the park is, however, facing a major challenge: getting access to enough water. The water resources in the region became scarce following the construction of a dam. Now, the park and its neighbouring farmers have to fight for much-needed water.
Léo Leibovici lived in India for a few years and noticed that the water level kept decreasing in the park. Talking with rangers and guides to understanding, the first seeds of a film idea were planted in his mind.
During his Master’s degree in Wildlife Filmmaking at the Francophone Institute of Training in Wildlife Cinema of Menigoute (IFFCAM), Léo met ten enthusiastic cineasts who were also eager to make their own independent documentary on the topic of water scarcity in Rajasthan.
Being independent was an essential requirement to the team’s vision as it gave them a freedom of format that is quite impossible to get from commissioned projects.
“We really wanted to do our film and we really wanted to do it all together as our last project before we go in different directions,” explains Julien Posnic, a French filmmaker. “The path we followed was quite unusual. Usually, it’s not like that at all when you produce a film!”
Instead of first writing the project, presenting it to TV channels to get funds, and starting filming once approved, the young team decided to gather funds themselves to be able to head to India to film. “I started working on a series of films for France 3 Brittany with other colleagues from my cohort,” explains Julien. “That was one of the many things we did to finance our movie.”
“We were not saving anything for us but saving everything for the film. We also managed to get some funds from the region, the university, and other public funds.” The team also launched a campaign on the crowdfunding platform Kiss Kiss Bank Bank to raise more funds.
As expected, thorough research and preparation were essential to make sure that everyone would make the most out of the time they had on location.
“When making a documentary, you can’t arrive all naive. Somehow, every documentarist is still candid in the way that we make room for the unpredictable and we don’t mind being surprised, but you need to know your subject and know what you want to get before even stepping foot on location,” adds Julien.
One crucial task on the team’s checklist was contacting NGOs and potential interviewees. Divided in three different teams over the span of two months in India, the producers needed to make sure that they knew beforehand who they would meet and talk to.
The cineasts quickly realised that coordinating when in different countries through emails was more difficult than they expected. They decided to send the first team to India for a month to do some reconnaissance work. “They went out there to meet face-to-face with people who we had been in contact with before via emails,” explains Julien.
“Scheduling things and meeting while being in a different country was quite difficult so it was really useful to send a team there for a month to meet the persons involved in the film, and explain to them what we were doing, and how much time we needed in each location.”
Once the interviewees were identified and the plan was established, the filming started. Knowing they had a reduced time on location, the members of the three teams had to be efficient. At the end of the two months, everything needed had been filmed and it was time to head back to France.
As soon as they got back, they immediately started editing the footages into a full-length documentary. This process took a total of three months. From start to end, the entire process took the 11 cineasts two years to bring it all to life. Blue Gold of Rajasthan was finished and released in mid-October 2016.
The team now entered the last stage of producing an independent film: its diffusion. Contacting festivals and cable TV channels, all 11 of them are trying to export their film as much as possible. They are also selling DVDs and using the funds collected to sponsor other IFFCAM students’ projects.
Distributed mainly in France and in Europe so far, the goal is to also share the film in India. “Initially the film is also for Indian farmers and for Indians in general,” says Julien. “We are trying to get it out there in Indian festivals and want to get it translated in Hindi. We would like as well to go back and present the film there ourselves.”