Testimony of Ana

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Works of Pedro Costa and Werner Herzog.


What motivated you to make your film?

Back when I was studying in Gujarat, there was a lot of noise around the issue of witch-hunting. I read a case where an elderly woman was beaten up because she was accused of feeding on cattle or children’s souls. I got very curious about why these things happened. Seven-eight years down the line, I was at film school and had to make a pre-thesis film. I badly wanted to make something about India. Reading about Mission Birubala named after Birubala Rahba, a crusader against witch-hunting in Assam, reignited my curiosity. I started digging deep, and there were many cases that were happening in Gujarat. I contacted some NGOs and through them, lawyers and journalists to mine more info. During my fieldwork, I was initially supposed to meet a couple who had been assaulted after being branded as witches. Now you need to realize that many of these point people live quite far away and, so they don’t visit these villages often. To our utter shock, we learnt that the said couple had actually passed away succumbing to the injuries inflicted by attacks on them. But then after a bit of a search, I met Anaben Pawar— a prominent victim of the witch-hunt. After listening to her horrific account, I felt compelled to tell her story whilst retaining her powerful voice and conviction. And that’s how the film came to be.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

We were very comfortable with the Canon C300 and especially since this is a documentary we needed a camera that is not heavy. And one of the best lenses we have found with the C300 is the ZEISS CP.3s. It was very convenient. We loved the contrast and the slightly cool look of the CP.3s.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

One of the most important choices for us was to document the nature surrounding her. As she is an Adivasi woman, her lifestyle is deeply connected and rooted in nature. We always knew that it was going to play a significant role in the film but didn’t know how or what form it would take while shooting it. The decision to juxtapose her voice against natural elements was taken while editing.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

Definitely not. The whole visual language of the film was developed during the edit process. From day one we were documenting Ana’s life and everything around her in the hope to tie them together in post. We even shot some interviews with lawyers and journalists which did not make it to the final cut of the film as we only wanted the story to be about Ana’s testimony and nothing else.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

One of the most rewarding experiences was using digital format to film Testimony of Ana. The digital apparatus helped me slow down my practice and invent my model of documenting Ana, which would have been impossible with analog equipment. Digital technology gave me time with my subject. With the aid of digital cameras, I realized I could construct a solitary, craftsmanlike documentary cinema, operating at the pace of everyday life: going into the neighborhood each morning, looking, working, doing nothing, picking from the stream of life and energy flowing before the camera something that might give rise to a scene. And then repeat it, do it over.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

That no matter how hard it is always make work where there is dignity.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Editing — because this is where the whole film comes together. It gives us an opportunity to construct the film frame by frame. But it can get very lonely and solitary.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A good team. The best work always comes when you have the right collaborations on field.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

Ana was hesitant to tell her story at first, so I had to show up every day at her house and help her with household chores until I gained her trust. This continued for a couple of weeks. After spending a significant amount of time with Ana, she slowly started sharing her memories. The film also taught me the importance of “faith” and how people who can’t afford therapists rely on it. In contrast to standard approaches in documentary filmmaking, I reconstructed Ana’s memories of trauma using lyrical assemblage.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Definitely because this is a short film, it was tough to find many outlets. So distribution was a major hurdle. We are still looking for some avenues where we can show our film and have Ana’s story reach many more people.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I want them to take away her anger and strength. This is a testimony she could have said in front of a judge. But she is now telling it to the world.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

1) The issue of Witch Hunting and how Patriarchy is enabling it worldwide.

2) Adivasi/Tribal Rights and how there could be a dialogue among indigenous communities about it.

3) Anti Witch Hunting laws that are yet to be implemented in some states.

4) How bodies of women have been a primary ground of exploitation and resistance.


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Nothing has changed recently unfortunately.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Opportunities to come on board and discuss the issue with social justice lawyers and journalists are available.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):


An Indian Documentary Unravels The Horrors Of Patriarchal Violence Against Tribal Women

Resiliency in blue: a tale of rural Gujarat filmed with ZEISS CP.3s

Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda’s short documentary ‘Testimony of Ana’ is about a Gujarati woman who was branded a witch and attacked



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