Green Blackberries gets selected at the Dharamshala International Film Festival'20. The director and the producers of the movie talk about everything that went into creating the short-film.
Green Blackberries is a short film that depicts the life of a teenage girl Nishu, hailing from a remote village of Assam who has a deep desire to study. She makes her way over mud tracks for the road and across a river in a boat that she and her sister steer to school every day. It's the only way she knows to leave the village for a new horizon. The idea stemmed up when the crew went to shoot an independent documentary in the remotest villages of North East India in March 2018 and found that there are areas with just one Government Primary School for 20 villages, often with a single teacher who has bare minimum education.
The short-film is already catching the right kind of attention and has been selected to be showcased at the Dharamshala Film Festival'20.
The film has been directed by Prithviraj Das Gupta, an Indie filmmaker who has written, directed and edited two short films that have won at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival and AMU International Film Festival and his short film COWMEDY has been selected at the New York Indian Film Festival 2020. The film is produced by Vaneeta Sridhar and Alka Hingorani who really believed in highlighting the struggles of these young kids and pushing this thought through the film.
We recently had a chat with the Director and Producers of Green Blackberries who shared some riveting insights and experiences related to the project.
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Watch us @diff.india amidst an intriguing line-up of films from around the world. . Book your passes now. (Link in Bio) #DIFFIndia #DIFF2020 #DIFFgoesdigital #GreenBlackberries . @va_films @vsridhar17 @prithvirajdasgupta_ @_space.witch @_bipasna_ @roygouravdp @_bugabugarani_ @flowerchild_music @eshan1323 @bigyna @its_subjective_ @Kaushik611 @_shubhamkaushik13 @_yadav_sachin__ @palchangtamang @the_ape_06 @rinirayna @cshubendu @indiatribalcare . #filmfestival #indiefilm #indiefilmmaker #indiefilmmaking #cinema #cinematography #independentfilmmaking #storiesfromnortheastindia #girlswhodream #indiatribalcaretrust
Here are excerpts from our conversation with director Prithviraj Das Gupta:
What lies at the heart of the film? What’s the story behind the title?
"The film portrays the struggle of children living in the remotest regions of North-east India. It tells the story of a teenage girl who ventures through the wilderness with her sister, steering her way down a river and keeps fighting against nature to attend her school as it is the only way she can move out of the village, in search of a new horizon.
The title suggests an oxymoron ‘Green Blackberries’. As ‘blackberries are not green when they are raw, they are red.’ Berries are commonly found in the remote terrains of North-east and the phrase ‘red berries’ aptly encapsulates the sacrifice, danger and courage of the children who live there."
Why are films like Green Blackberries important?
"In March 2018, I went to shoot an independent documentary in the remotest villages of North-east India and found out that there are areas where there exists only one government primary school for 20 villages, with a single teacher who merely has basic education. The terrain in these areas is unforgiving and undulating and some kids have to walk up to 20 kilometres in these hilly regions while some have to row across a river for three hours and then walk up to 10 kilometres to get to school. The kids we are talking about are 3 to 13 years old. For instance, Boben, a three-year-old kid has to cross a small river barefoot with his elder brother to reach school every day and during monsoons, he gets almost drowned when the water level rises. Despite a tough commute, these kids haven’t lost their hopes and dream of making it big in their lives. When I witnessed their journey, I realized that this story needs to be told to the world and the struggle of the kids for getting basic education deserves attention."
Has the film affected any change in the situation? Or do you think it’s just a stepping stone towards bringing a change?
"A friend once said this to me, “You can stand before the mirror with closed eyes and the mirror will still be reflecting you. The man will not know that he is being reflected but the mirror will be doing its function.” I hope our film plays the same part. The village kids will open their eyes and smile, looking at themselves in the mirror. Our film is made for that smile."
What was the most challenging part about shooting the film?
"Usually whenever we begin to make an independent film, the biggest challenge is the limited budget of the film. But in our case, we had done very extensive pre-production for about a year to not let that be an obstacle in the creative process. And a lot of credit goes to our Director of Photography, Gourav Roy, whose in-depth research and attention to detail while shooting, have played an integral role in bringing the film from script to screen. Moreover, my prior experience of shooting documentaries in the remote parts of Lower Assam, Mizoram and Tripura helped the cause. But we had bigger challenges to deal with:
Firstly, shooting with an ensemble cast of non-actors, since apart from the two lead actors, none of them had ever seen a camera or a film. So, the toughest challenge was to make the kids feel normal and make them believe that nothing unusual was happening and that we were just living everyday life with them but this time, with one of us with a camera in the hands.
Our small team of six crew members had to face the most physically challenging days of our lives there. As the terrains were very rough and there were no proper roads, we had to walk for miles with the equipment and shoot in a fierce river. The river proved to be relentless, quite often and raised the difficulty levels for our protagonists - Bipasna Rai and Geetika Rai, who had to navigate a boat by themselves, row it, control it and act as well.
Eventually, these challenges helped us understand the real difficulties faced by the inhabitants there on an everyday basis and made us connect with their pain even more deeply."
Do you think film festivals help bring attention to important stories that might be otherwise overlooked?
"In this perfect world, all of us should encourage the breadth and variety of views. Cinema is the most democratic art: it uses the most appropriate language for audiences. Film festivals allow us to hear a rich diversity of voices from all parts of the world, thus breaking down language barriers. Whatever is happening in faraway places, occupies the festival screens within the next year. I have been fortunate enough to get introduced to some great filmmakers and their intriguing stories because of these festivals."
What do you want the audience to take away from the film?
"Our intent is not to morally educate people but we just want the audience to reflect upon these lives. The film is a medium to participate in this alternate experience – letting one observe the emotions of these innocent children and the distinct character of these places. We believe that they’ll be able to feel hope in despair. Watching our film will allow people from all backgrounds to acknowledge the dreams and resilience of those who survive in harsh environments with meagre resources and yet never, ever, give up."
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The mountains are calling! The berries have been picked by the prestigious Dharamshala International Film Festival @diff.india, which is being organised in an online mode this year. ▶️ . We are excited for our World Premiere during DIFF 2020 (29 October - 4 November) and invite you to come along and see our story. 🍇 👭🌾📚🌤📷 . For booking the festival pass, the link to the DIFF page is in our bio. #DIFFIndia #DIFF2020 #DIFFgoesdigital #GreenBlackberries . @va_films @vsridhar17 @prithvirajdasgupta_ @_space.witch @_bipasna_ @roygouravdp @_bugabugarani_ @flowerchild_music @eshan1323 @bigyna @its_subjective_ @Kaushik611 @_shubhamkaushik13 @_yadav_sachin__ @palchangtamang @the_ape_06 @rinirayna @cshubendu @indiatribalcare . #filmfestival #indiefilm #indiefilmmaker #indiefilmmaking #cinema #cinematography #independentfilmmaking #storiesfromnortheastindia #girlswhodream #indiatribalcaretrust
Here's what Producers Vaneeta Sridhar and Alka Hingorani shared about the project and VA Films:
What was the most challenging part of producing the film?
"The most challenging part of producing a film is finding the right people to work with writers and directors and actors with whom you share both a vision and an aesthetic. That the script of Green blackberries excited us was an impetus for us to make the film. Prithvi (the director) is also the writer of the film. The challenge was to stay true to the narrative. That meant we needed to go with fresh faces. The school that we shot in is the actual school and the kids and the teacher were just that and not some actors we had cast. To get them to act and not be conscious of the camera was a challenge. But since we left them in their own environment and instead of intruding we shot the class proceedings and just added a bit about the two sisters, helped in the shooting.
Then the terrain is arduous. Both Geetika and Bipasna have never acted before. They have no experience of rowing a boat. We had to get them acclimatized with the surroundings and still make it look natural. Shooting a film in the interiors within the natural environment without any comfort trappings was the other challenge."
What according to you are the kind of challenges that women producers face in the Indian film industry?
"Production as a vocation is gender-agnostic. We are producers first, women only incidentally. However, this is never acknowledged. That is the foremost challenge. Rest all is incidental."
What kind of movies does VA Films plan on producing in the future?
"We don’t want to be stereotyped or limit ourselves to a kind of a film or genre. We want to make all kinds of stories. Stories for mainstream audience stories that bring us personal histories from fresh geographies from around our lovely land."