Village Tales is a participatory film made by four young women in rural India who were selected to take part in an Indian government video journalism project.
On the basis of that description, the AHRC-award winner might sound like a film documenting a group of people making a film. But it is also – more importantly perhaps – about how the process of filming made them.
Finding the 'third voice'
“I had heard about this Indian Government-funded videojournalism project and it sounded fascinating,” says filmmaker Sue Sudbury, who is based in the Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University.
“I thought it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to find out more about how the women lived – from their point of view.”
Sue travelled to India and asked 4 of the women in the group if they would use the project cameras to also film their day-to-day lives. The result is a remarkable insight into the raw experience of women who had endured child marriages and were determined that their daughters’ generation and beyond didn't suffer the same fate.
In particular, Sue wanted her film to find the 'third voice'; the point at which she as the ethnographer and the subject come together and the audience can't find the seam between the two.
To help achieve this, Sue filmed the women as they introduced their families and homes so she could cut between the footage from the two different cameras. On other days, the women continued to film by themselves and would hand over their footage that they’d shot. It was their decision to interview family members and friends about child marriage and by doing so compel them to reflect on the tradition and destruction it causes. “When they came back to me with the footage that they’d shot I had no idea what it would contain”, says Sue.
Sue developed the use of ‘video diary interviews’ and asked them to speak their answers directly to the camera. The women chose to speak about experiences of domestic violence, the death of children as well as the abuse and harassment inflicted upon them by in-laws.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the filmmaking is that, during the segments shot when Sue was present, she had no idea what the women were saying because they didn't share a common language.
“But in many ways it didn't matter,” she says. “It was quite remarkable how much we could communicate anyway. There were moments when were filming, and the women would be telling very emotional stories, and they'd be crying. I may not have understood what their words meant. But you could feel what they were saying. The atmosphere in the room was so powerful, so intense.”
A catalyst for change
While films documenting hardship in the developing world may be familiar, Village Tales offers something different. It doesn't preach. Or curate our experience. There is an edit, of course. But the content is essentially an unscripted and unvarnished portrayal of communities on the cusp of change from the perspective of those at the heart of the experience.
More than that, perhaps, it shows how the presence of the camera itself can acts as a catalyst for change and a source of empowerment for the women.
“I hope people are moved by what they see. There's humour in there. But real sadness as well. I want the audience to empathise with the the four women in the film. More than anything, I want them to understand that, while we live in very different societies – we are materially much richer, for example – we are all essentially the same. We all feel proud of our children; we all worry about their future.
“I wanted the film to add something to the study that had already been done around ideas of the everyday. That was the research goal. But I also wanted Village Tales to break down the barriers between the audience and 'the other'.