SUN AND MOON AND THE GOD OF RAIN is the first part of a documentary film project I am carrying out on animist tribes of the Indian subcontinent. Every year since 1997 I spend a few months in India. It often feels like a journey through time, to a place where life unravels at different speeds and the “contemporary” world includes other eras. In rural areas where life is very simple the body is the main instrument: people walk on foot, they carry water, leaves and wood on their heads, they make everything by hand or with handmade tools…
I wanted to explore an Indigenous (animist) world, confining my study to an apparently isolated microcosm and describing it during an event. I wanted to witness a real ceremony -the creation of a mural painting related to the ritual of matrimony- and film it without disrupting the original atmosphere with the presence of a crew or intrusive equipment. To progressively get closer to the tribe I had as my only mediator, a Hindu translator who was able to communicate with the village people also on the basis of his perceptions.
Because my work as film director is often concerned with the process behind an art-work, (painting, design, architecture, dance), I felt it was possible to portrait a reality which was new for me, lending the tools and the focus I was familiar with. A way to learn from life. I believe that being a documentary the film language shouldn’t betray reality. Of course what is reality is always in discussion, (since observing an event make it a bit different anyway) it’s easier to try avoiding what is not real. My work is often a compromise between what would be possible to shoot, given certain circumstances, and what I am ready to shoot (what means also : how, when, why…)
I had an outline in my mind about the kind of editing the documentary should have built on but also I knew I was going to explore a reality and didn’t want to force it. So there were some basic rules while shooting that drove me to compose the film. Perception, connection, exploration. I read as much as possible before going there, then I made a first trip on location to meet the people in order to have a more concrete idea about the possible development of it. I wanted to take my time to connect with the village people, letting them to be accustomed to me and to the camera. Asking permission to shoot and explaining my motivation: knowledge and communication about a life style that can teach something precious to the western people: respect for nature, sharing and celebrating life, devotion to the real source of life itself. I wanted to make a film for the tribe, being accepted by them as “correct” and faithful.
The family I met was invested with this universal value but I never asked them to do anything for me. I asked only to not showing off for the camera and not shading from me. “I am trying to make a painting with you, (because they were about making a painting) I will be doing my work while you will be doing your ritual.”
I used a small camera for the first trip and a professional one for the second one, when the family invited me to come back for the ceremony to be shot. Using the tripod for establishing shot to focus only on a small scale movements, making the camera free from its gravity as much as possible because I was mainly shooting in a hut and the actions involved in this ritual were to be followed. Using only light they were familiar with: the ritual done by the women, working at the ground level, has been lighted only by a petrol max (a petrol lamp). When the men were painting standing in front of the wall, I used the sunlight falling from the roof as a meridian which was shaping the space. Not electricity, not intrusion, not “artificial shadows”.
Moving myself in a fluid way, trying to participate to their kind of slow dance, embracing my camera, my monocular eye, being on the floor with them. Focusing on the story of this painting, which was coming out from the gathering of a tribe: women, men and children with different body language and different tools, mirroring the group and their relationships.
During the editing I wanted to attain to the same principles I choose during the shooting. I knew from the beginning that I was not making a film of “quick montage” but of simultaneous actions and situations within the same frame: trying to catch the non-linearity of time they use in their representations, along with the simultaneity and the synchronicity of different living being working into the same space (the hut, the wall and consequently the frame) . Respecting the truth.
The story was in a way told by the process involved in the creation of this painting and for long time I couldn’t break with this kind of fidelity to the reality. I asked to myself to be as much transparent as possible, to be a sort of prism to canalize the fluid of this magic set coming through the lens on the tape. I chose not to have a narrating voice but to concentrate on the images because I think that to perceive a ritual you need to pay attention to the gestures and natural rhythm delineating it. In the interview with Jivya, the painter, I decided to keep all the laborious translation involving three languages, (English, Maharati and Warli), rather than having -in a more effective way- my question in English and direct the answer of Jivya in Warli with English subtitles, because the translation I have is only the understanding of my hindu driver, I can’t be sure that the Warli speech has been translated completely and I don’t want to make it simple, just to make it quicker. Some friends from Maharashtra could follow the whole dealing and understand by themselves and enjoy the nuances of this blend. This kind of slow dialogue is an inexorable part of this mediated encounter between three culture whilst the sound of the voices, the setting and Jivya’s body language add information which cannot be transposed into words.
Editing the sound was half of the work: I had hard time to level the voices, the chanting recorded without an additional microphone, the music and songs that were coming from a radio behind the hut, blowing all the oddest music I could imagine. That was part of the “contamination” from outside into the Warli world and I didn’t want to censure it -because they were enjoying it, they already absorbed it. I tried to concentrate it when was expressive. At the same time I needed to distillate some “special moment” of their devotion to Palghata (Warli Goddess of Nature and fertility) with an hypnotic sound able to drive western people into a kind of trance, stopping the noise of the mind and opening their eyes. When I showed the film to the village people this spring, I loved to see that they were immersed in their voices and music but also enchanted by the music composed by Jeff Greinke, a wonderful blend of different sounds.
These days, after the film has been shown at three film festivals (Locarno International Film festival, River to River -Florence Indian Film Festival, and Sguardi altrove- Milano) I still spend time in the editing room, working on perception. Editing is something that pushes the perception to become wider, deeper, and during this year, working with professional editors, I learnt to use the basic of Avid. This technology helps the author to try and see different solutions, and is a great tool for concretising the idea that editing is first thinking, and then meditating. Sometimes are just few frames more or less that give fluidity to a sequence and after the rough and the final cut I see I could go for almost ever to smooth and shine the skin of the film.
Born in 1966. Italian author and filmmaker. She received her PHD in 1996 from The University of Bologna specializing in Art, Philosophy, Semiotics and Film Theory. As a documentary filmmaker she has been working with artists and designers and realizing videos for contemporary painting exhibitions. Since ’97 she spends one third of the year travelling, living and working extensively in India. Based in Milan, Italy.