Chouette Films is ecstatic to be part of the upcoming Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival (RAI Film Festival 2021), running from 19-28 March. The RAI Film Festival is the leading forum exploring cutting-edge filmmaking for visual anthropology and intercultural dialogue. Two of our films have been chosen: Gũlā – Music For A Sacred Time for ethnomusicology and Nobody’s Metaphor for short films. Not only is this a thrilling recognition of our films, but an opportunity to expand their audience and impact.
Gũlā – Music For A Sacred Time immerses you in the spiritual music of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. For the Newar community, music is about maintaining a relationship with the gods, expressing social identity and helping people discover the meaningful ideas locked within themselves.
Going to Nepal with Prof. Richard Widdess was a great privilege, made possible by SOAS Seedcorn funding. As a recce trip, the aim was simply to meet people, hear their music and find out if they would like to make a film with us. Working pro bono, we lived with the community for two weeks, learning about the Hindu-Buddhist musical heritage of the ancient royal city of Bhaktapur.
Nepal is a filmmaker’s dream, vibrant with diverse colours and cultures. It is all too easy for a place of such beauty and interest to be exoticised. Film has a long history of taking advantage of people, treating them as objects rather than subjects and misrepresenting them for profit.
To avoid falling into the same exploitative colonial patterns, we include social actors as key collaborators, letting them guide the direction of the film. We did not arrive in the town with preconceived plans, we arrived with questions. Who will be represented? How are people best represented? Ultimately, it is the community’s story, not the filmmaker’s.
We sought the community’s feedback at every stage. Without their help choosing the most authentic recordings and inviting us to film celebrations, we would never have been able to capture such a rounded experience. The act of making the film became a process of research, bringing to light many case studies and issues at stake.
The rich music of Bhaktapur survives tenuously today, but is increasingly threatened by natural disasters and pervasive socio-economic change. Through this film, not only do we bring the sights and sounds of Newar culture into public and academic reach, but we preserve it for posterity. We hope it has given the community a strong sense of the value of their heritage as something worth keeping alive.
Nobody’s Metaphor follows the unfolding stories of a group of young Muslim women trying out poetry and fencing workshops, run by Maslaha. These workshops provide a refreshing and playful space for the girls to discuss experiences of discrimination, explore intersectional feminism and find the empowerment to express themselves.
The combination of fencing and poetry may seem strange at first. However, as the girls develop their styles, the brilliance behind this synergy of physical and communicative activities shines out. Rather than enforcing a predetermined technique, both advocate the value of embracing your individuality and being unpredictable.
Fencing is stereotypically a high-class white male sport, while literature’s history of canonical poets is dominated too by white males. Breaking through the exclusivity of these two arts, the girls discover the strength to challenge stereotypes they face as individuals.
The choice of whether to omit the documentarian’s presence is always complex. We can never deny that filmmakers will inevitably have some impact on what they film. However, we wanted the girls to be the driving focus of the film, without a filmmaker’s narrative detracting from their own. So, we were careful to make the crew as unobtrusive as possible.
It was clear that the recordings of the girls reciting their own poetry called for a special place in the documentary. But what visuals could enhance their words without distracting? Animation seemed to promise an emotive accompaniment. Collaborating with Abbas Abbbasi Vazin, our animator, we developed a flowing brushstroke style. Overlaid onto the recording footage, the animations bring metaphors to life in a visual space of imagination around their poet’s face.
Nobody’s Metaphor exposes descrimination against female muslims as a pervasive current problem, affecting many school children. As a valuable research piece, it showcases the amazing impact of an innovative workshop-based approach to helping young people confront descrimination.
Film is a compelling tool, powerful in giving voice to marginalised people, broaching controversial issues and sharing important research. However, it is also susceptible to misrepresenting the people it claims to portray, manipulating information and perpetuating colonial narratives. We see it as our role as filmmakers to involve all collaborators as equals and give voice to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to speak out. We are excited to share our decolonial approach to research through film alongside exceptional filmmakers from across the world at the RAI Film Festival.
Anna is a documentary film producer and PhD by practice candidate at the London Film School/ University of Exeter, and a Creative Producer at Screen Worlds- Decolonising Film and Screen Studies at SOAS.
Chouette Films is a green film production company on a mission to produce films for social change with the smallest possible environmental footprint. Based at SOAS, University of London, Chouette Films fuses the worlds of academia and creativity.