Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
What motivated you to make this film?
Interestingly, we were approached by the featured organisation, which had seen our work as impact storytellers, and felt that we could tell his story in a way that hasn’t been done by other mainstream media.
We were already deeply intrigued in HelpUsGreen’s goal of tackling caste discrimination and river pollution at the same time, but the added layer of their faith in our ability to do their story justice motivated us to dig deeper and tell their story differently. Most big media outlets in India and overseas (Great Big Story etc) did not focus on the women of the discrimination they face, and that motivated us to want to tackle that subject, and tackle it well.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
We used two Sony A7Sii mirrorless digital cameras and a Go-Pro Hero 6 with an underwater casing. We used a combination of lenses from Sony, Canon and a Voigtlander 28mm wide for the interview frames.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
We filmed a POV of flower offerings at the temple by rigging one of the cameras on a traditional plate which holds the offerings, to establish the “journey” of a flower and what happens to them after they are offered. This worked quite well although we used it very sparingly in the film.
We also tried to film the natural rhythms of how the women work in the factory, and worked them into the film on two counts — how they pluck the petals off the flowers (in big close-ups, and how they roll paste into incense sticks. It was decided that we would build a sequence based on the sound of the bangles they wore, which would jangle as they rolled. It added an evocative element to the story that brings you into the factory’s atmosphere.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
Initially, we wanted the story to be one of two unlikely objectives intersecting (Dalit women and river pollution). From a storytelling standpoint, this seemed like an intriguing set-up. But we came to realise that when it comes to storytelling for impact, the human connection is extremely important in a short video, and we knew we had to center on our efforts on the women whose lives were being transformed. The audience needed to see whose lives they could help impact.
We prepped in advance, talking to several women, trying to establish a rapport, and attempting to draw them into conversation. We filmed with four women, all of whom were articulate, but chose Ranjana as the story subject due to her candidness, presence and astute remarks. She was very self-aware but unaffected, and through her, we felt a connection to the story that went from a place of observing, to a place in which we empathised.
Additionally, we filmed a lot of observational material in the women’s homes and in the districts (or colonies as they are called locally) where Dalits live. We wanted to get a strong visual sense of their life outside of the factory. Again, the pre-production process and conversations prior to filming helped a great deal with this.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
Although I do not speak Hindi, I think being in the presence of the women and visiting their homes was a big deal. Many of them were not featured in the film but they played a big part by opening their lives to us and letting us watch them work, be around each other. Ranjana was our main character but it’s really all the women collectively giving us permission to tell their story that made the video come alive.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
Impact filmmaking is a really complicated beast, especially if you’re like us at Our Better World, trying to create tangible impact beyond clocking the number of views. You want shares, insightful comments and debate, and other actions (donations, volunteers, participation in an event), and that requires you to set aside your personal vision (to a certain extent) and really think about the audience and what would get them to act.
You still want to tell a creative, well-crafted story, but without the audience responding at the end, a good story remains a good story, rather than a good IMPACT story.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
I enjoy the journalistic process of getting to know the key players of every story, and figuring out how to represent them in a way that’s authentic and well-rounded. I love that moment when everything you love about a person is captured on camera, so that it can shared with audiences.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
Nothing special but it’s great to keep your camera phone with you to capture really unexpected moments. I’ve found that it also helps our subjects visualise what the story is going to be about when I show them clips I filmed or portraits of themselves. It eases them into the storytelling/production process.
Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your film:
HelpUsGreen is a social enterprise in India that wants to clean India’s rivers of temple waste, while empowering women from the so-called “untouchable” caste by employing them in a workplace that treats them fairly and with dignity.
The women make artisanal incense from discarded pesticide-ridden temple flowers would otherwise be dumped into India’s rivers every day.
What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?
The story generated a lot of comments on our social media channels, many of them debating whether caste discrimination was still an issue in India, and it proved to me that our approach – spotlighting the Dalit women – was the right one, as it clearly resonates with people.
A lot of people support HelpUsGreen for its commitment to the environment, but I think we opened up a conversation with people who also felt strongly about the need to empower a disenfranchised people.
The epic sales of incense seen by HelpUsGreen proved that a good story has the power to inspire people to act, and that is the very foundation upon which Our Better World stands.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
Once during, the recce, we were in a car following the bus hired by HelpUsGreen to ferry the women to work, and Ankit the co-founder suddenly laughed and told us that the first driver he hired simply never showed up after the first day, when he realised he would driving not only women, but mostly Dalit women. “Even getting a bus isn’t easy,” Ankit told us.
I read up about caste discrimination before the recce but these little stories on how it actually plays out in everyday life still shocked me, and I don’t think i’ll ever forget it. It made me think that we had to tackle this issue from such personal experiences, not with grandstanding and big speeches.
Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
Audiences should believe that their actions can make a difference and the impact is real – people like Ranjana are real, and simple actions like buying a pack of incense can multiply into social change for the matter.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
1) The sensitivities of making a story about caste in India, especially as a non-Indian entity (although the director and crew are Indian, OBW as the organisation that commissioned the story, is not).
2) Can a video story that’s only 5-8 minutes long do justice to a complex, layered story?
3) Does the need to create tangible social impact sometimes clash with creative vision?
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?
Aside from the fact that HelpUsGreen saw sales leap after the story was done, and the lively debate about caste issues over social media, we were heartened that the organisation received over 500 enquiries from around India interested in replicating for model. We feel proud that we were able to raise their profile and help potentially see their impact multiply exponentially.
They also were invited for a visit to Nepal, where a group of Nepali scientists, students and entrepreneurs wanted to bring the model there, Nepal being a country that faces similar problems. Again, it’s exciting to play a part in amplifying HelpUsGreen’s model for change.
Ankit, the co-founder of HelpUsGreen, has also helped us see what a challenge it is to be in the business of creating social impact. Actions to help a marginalised group can draw backlash, or even unexpected actions. For example, paying for insurance for the women means they become a target for people who might want to hurt them to claim a payout. Social justice isn’t achieved overnight, and even HelpUsGreen’s success cannot override their limitations. I think our film is a small step in the right direction and I hope it inspires other people to take action at least once in their lifetimes.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
A social enterprise like HelpUsGreen isn’t seeking donations like a charity; they need right-minded investors, and individuals with the right skills to help them grow and scale up sustainably. These people can get in touch with them to see how their skills can be put to good use.
For the everyday consumer, buying HelpUsGreen’s products supports the women who make them, and also promotes a way of doing business that is all too scarce in the modern economy.
The simple act of sharing our story and asking the right insightful questions can also drive change – something abstract like caste and pollution comes alive when people can see what’s happening, and our video aims to serve that need, for people who want to start conversations.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:
For those interested in caste system issues in India, here are links that shed more light:
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