Four minimalist short films produced by aspirant directors, led by the Auroville Film Institute, have made the cut at a film festival affiliated with the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

The selected films were screened between November 9 and 15 at University of Lausanne’s CineMasala festival, organised for the researchers and aficionados of history, religions and languages of South Asia.

The entries were Swanand Kottewar’s Haalat (The state of Being), Daydreamingby Sanket Ray, In the Shadows by Vedangi Kalzunkar and Leftovers by Annika Ambar.

Haalat deals with silence, nothingness and a lost sense of time as it grapples with feelings of anxieties and mixed hopes for an uncertain future. Daydreaming revolves around the musings of an artist on himself during confinement. Leftover, shot in the kitchen, describes a relationship between mother and daughter as she shares recipes and “In the shadows” unfolds as a poem on the social distance between the middle class and the disadvantaged class accentuated during confinement.

Over the past months of the pandemic, Auroville Film Institute had conducted eight online filmmaking workshops with over 200 participants producing over 80 short films. 

While some of the participants pursued careers in the cinema industry, the majority of the aspirants were following a passion and represented as diverse fields as psychology, engineering, teaching, dance and yoga.

The films were entirely shot in a Work from Home mode due to the restrictive environment around the pandemic that also occasioned a reflective, introspective phase in participants.

Online workshop

‘Film your thoughts in times of lockdown’, the AFI’s first online workshop began as a way to interpose one’s self with surroundings.

“It was a way to reclaim our own agency over the media infiltrating our personal space and psyche, a way to express the pandemic as we ourselves experienced it, what we thought, how we felt inside. Above all, it was a way to connect with others in these times of distress and loneliness,” said Richa Hushing, documentary filmmaker, who, along with Rrivu Laha, co-founded AFI.

From rough cut to final edited version, the films became chronicles of inner journeys in these extraordinary times. 

“There is a marked authenticity and affectionate touch to the narratives, as if they are notes from personal diaries trustfully shared with friends. Some of these films are already earning accolades internationally,” Ms. Hushing said.

Highly intuitive

According to AFI, despite being online, the Auroville Film Institute workshop was highly intuitive and interactive.

“Making a film from fragments to whole felt like I was breathing for the first time! For this I’ll always appreciate Auroville!” shared Annika, a sociology student from Delhi, whose Leftovers marked her debut.

“It’s a matter of pride that most are first-time filmmakers coming from diverse backgrounds such as academicians, administrators, artists, architects or scientists who seriously wish to learn filmmaking as a language, an art form that can help express themselves better,” said Ms. Laha.

For SVS Deverapalli, a psychologist who participated in one of the online workshops, they represented an attempt to make a film with the minimal, make the learner break unwritten rigidities, while Shobhit Kasbi, an engineer, felt that the venture travelled beyond filmmaking and “connected to the growing person inside you. 

It was meaningful that the workshop was placed in the context of a philosophical exploration, not merely technical training, said Deepa Kiran, an educationist and story-teller.

“Many of our courses, especially the ones in lockdown we conducted on a voluntary payment scheme. Even the courses which have stipulated fees, we have a number of scholarships to ensure that those truly interested and deserving are not left out because of financial stress,” Ms. Hushing said.