Hearing ‘Voices’ from the Waters

The Voices from the Waters International Travelling Film Festival has been a novel enterprise regarding the critical issue of water scarcity which was held in Bangalore recently, Deepa Bhasthi reports …

We are largely made of it; the earth is largely made of it. A world without water, drinkable water, that is, isn’t a world humans could long inhabit. Yet, the urgency that surrounds the issue of availability of water is an urgency that rings alarm bells only in a few quarters, periodically. This apathy from most people was one of the reasons why the Voices from the Waters International Travelling Film Festival was started in 2005.

The organisers have been consistently calling it the only film festival of its kind in the world, for how it concentrates entirely on water and water related issues. The 9th edition of the festival was held in Bangalore recently. With over 90 films from 38 countries in the final screening list, it sure has been a unique themed festival, highlighting water scarcity, dams and the havoc they give rise to, water harvesting, floods, global warming, river pollution and myriad other issues. Aiming to bring together grass-root level water activists, environmentalists, policy makers, filmmakers, artists, and students and engage them in a process of learning and awareness of various water related issues has been the standing concern of the festival.

Spread over four days, the festival included a photo and painting exhibition on water, songs and mimes to create awareness and shed light on parts of the water crisis that aren’t always written about in the mainstream media. Organised by the Bangalore Film Society and Deep Focus cinema in association with Rolling Frames Film Society and BirdspotBird Habitat Observers, the festival focused on the struggles, the hopes and despair of people caught in the midst of uncertainty, brought by global warming and its related phenomenon.

The festival screened films from far flung countries like Peru, Serbia, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. But if the success of a festival is to be measured by how full the hall is, then Voices from the Waters did not have much going for it. Festival director Georgekutty A L is the first to point it out. Disappointed with the empty halls on the inaugural day of the festival itself, he tells me that the attendance has been coming down since the last couple of years. “We are getting more popular internationally. This year 400 films from 48 countries were submitted. The poor attendance is something that the team is concerned about,” he says.

Georgekutty says that he was expecting at least 200 people every day. In reality, there were far less, students often making up the majority. I wonder if it is because of the large number of film festivals that Bangalore offers for the film buffs; there is always a festival every second weekend or so. Not really, he says, adding, “If all the water activists in Bangalore had come, the hall would have been overflowing. They do not follow up on the conviction they have, believing that they know everything there is to know. But over the last nine years, I am still learning, there is always something to learn.”

Funding is another crucial factor. Georgekutty tells me that the festival is essentially non-funded, they manage with donations, etc. “The resource crunch shows. We do not have the money to bring in a national figure to talk on some environmental issue. There are several activist scholars around the world. If we had the resources to bring them, more people would have come. We are looking for resources to bring in more scholars, that would change the character of the festival,” he says. There were not many resources to give the festival its due publicity either, he tells me.

Voices from the Waters is an ongoing effort, not restricting itself to a single venue once a year. Georgekutty tells me that there is a small group in Sweden that organises the festival. There are plans to show these films in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Coimbatore. After October, there are plans to take it to schools and colleges.

Money is the thorn on the side of creative ventures. While the initiative to focus entirely on water and various fields around is admirable, the lack of funds, the lack of interest made it a poorly attended show. Yet, the festival could not be more relevant today in the themes it seeks to explore and the awareness it strives to create among an uncaring society.

​Deepa Bhasthi ​was recently introduced to someone as a hippie. In other descriptions, she has been a journalist​, translator​​ and worked in the development sector briefly. ​She is now a full time writer living and working in Bengaluru. ​Her works have appeared in several publications including Himal Southasian, Indian Quarterly, The New Indian Express, OPEN magazine, The Hindu Business Line's BLInk, The Hindu, Art India and elsewhere on the web. ​She is the editor of The Forager magazine, an online quarterly journal of food politics, available at www.theforagermagazine.com​ Through her column 'Filter Coffee', she will take you through the states that lie below the mighty Vindhyas; tell stories from that land, of those people. This column will carry features, interviews, commentary, travelogues and much more, everything infused with a healthy dose of South Indian flavour.

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