“There’s a difference between wildlife films that they show on Animal Planet and the films on conservation and environment,” Shekar Dattatri tells me while explaining the economics of environmental films. “Who wants to see a boring hardcore film on conservation or ecosystem that are usually depressing, after a hard day’s work?” the filmmaker asks. And that’s why “television channels do not show these films, advertisers shy away” and filmmakers are “forced” to make such serious films on “small budget.”
As a filmmaker since 1980, Dattatri has been consistently focusing his lens on the environmental issues “that we must all be aware of.” And out of 22 such films he has made, Dattatri “randomly selected three films” screened as his retrospective at the first Vasundhara International Film Festival at the National Film Archive of India in Pune.
Taking about awareness, Dattatri accepts that environment is “not just the concern of few experts or enthusiasts.” It’s our planet and “we cannot ignore the problems that are plaguing our environment.” But Dattatri sounds little unsure about the effective ways to get across the messages. For him television is not a good medium; “it’s fragmented.” On being asked about the way out, Dattatri says, “Filmmakers need to be more creative. I think if the story is compelling and engaging enough that helps a lot.” However, budgetary constraints can stand in the way of making good films, he reiterates. “If there’s enough money, films like An Inconvenient Truth (presented by former US Vice President Al Gore) can be made by Indian filmmakers too. It’s like a Catch-22 situation. You have passion but no money. Independent filmmaking is a tough job.”
Citing lack of “proper distribution network” for the environmental films, Dattatri hopes things will change for better. He banks on the Internet as the medium. “YouTube can be used for this; environmental enthusiasts will find these films and watch them,” he says. Admitting that children are much more receptive than the adults (“We are little cynical”), Dattatri informs about his lectures and workshops in schools. “My films are also screened there. But despite their tremendous interest, it is not possible for all the schools to locate the films and the filmmakers easily. There’s no catalogue of environmental film,” he adds. Perhaps, the only way to reach out to the schools and young people is through the environmental educators who will coordinate; “It’s a specialised task though.”
However, environmental films for the children “must not be boring.” That means “careful selection of the films” is needed before they are being screened for the youngsters “or else they will never again watch such a film.” Talking about children who are making films on environment, Dattatri hopes that they remain passionate about the environmental issues later. But “many of them may lose interest,” the ace filmmaker is sceptical.
Referring to his three films at the Festival, Dattatri informs that The Ridley’s Last Stand is a film on Olive Ridleys found along India’s east coast. “The film is investigative in nature dealing with the slaughter of the ridleys and a look into the need to conserve the animals. Two other films Nagarhole and Little Kingdom By The Coast are about the respective ecosystems in those areas. “I had to stay in the Nagarhole forests for a year. I didn’t mind the hardships. For a true wildlife and environment filmmaker, it shouldn’t be so,” he affirms. Currently “busy with preparing a training film” for a tiger conservationist in Bengaluru and his team, Dattatri is “also into advocacy films meant for the decision-makers.” The “purpose is not to broadcast as such but narrowcast.”
(Photo courtesy: Shekar Dattatri)