Documentary screening: A bumpy journey through River Vitasta

Urfi and Bali’s documentary on Kashmiris suffers from major technical glitches.

Bilal Iqbal August 21, 2011


If good intentions were enough, Arif Urfi and Pawan Bali’s latest effort would position itself as a contender for awards everywhere.

“A Journey Through River Vitasta” documents peoples’ stories from both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir. But the finished product was far from doing its message any justice.

The 12-minute documentary was screened at Safma Media Centre on Friday amid great expectations as a healthy number of people showed up to see a film that was made “despite all odds”, as claimed by a pamphlet distributed at the screening.

Urfi documented stories from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, while Bali dealt with Jammu and Kashmir. The film was funded by Conciliation Resources (CR), a non-governmental organisation based in the United Kingdom. Before the screening, Tahir Aziz, representing CR, prepared the audience for a subpar product by saying “content [is what] matters, quality is secondary”.

Urfi spoke before the documentary began. He explained the difficulties that they faced while filming - the two directors did not have contact with each other, save for email and the occasional video conference. Both shot their footage independently and later got together to edit the film.

The documentary, he said, is about “the water that is free to go anywhere, but the 1.5 billion people that it feeds are not; the links between them have been broken”. It was “very hard to produce a documentary about friendship in times of enmity”, he added.

And finally, the documentary was played. To say it was a let down would be an understatement. Budgeted at roughly Rs1.3 million, the production quality was worse than a student project. Some of the problems, such as the movie’s frame not fitting on the screen and the mysterious disappearances of sound, might be because of a faulty DVD (the equipment at Safma is unlikely to be at fault as screenings at Safma have normally been fault-free); however, the product itself felt unfinished.

The sound, where present, was not clear and sounded like it was recorded from a handycam. At times the background music overpowered the dialogue, leaving one wondering what the person was just saying.

The source material itself was good, if not exactly strong. Stories such as that of Nawab Din, who was separated from his family 40 years back, moved the audience. Another Kashmiri said he did not want to go back; he just wanted two yards of land for his grave right where he was, nothing more.

Yet another interviewee said how he wants India and Pakistan to take their war elsewhere and leave them alone. He spoke in Kashmiri, and his choice of words brought a chuckle to those familiar with the language.

The screening was followed by a brief question and answer session, where people, mostly of Kashmiri origin, explained how the documentary had touched their hearts and how appreciative they were of the effort. Responding to a question, Urfi said “A Journey Through River Vitasta” is not a standalone effort, and he has plans to make another documentary on Kashmir.

The producers hope to officially launch the film in November. For their sake, and the sake of the message that they wish to disseminate, one hopes they will iron out issues that plague the current copy. Because no matter how noble the message is, without a proper vessel, it will stop dead in its tracks before even starting its journey.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2011.


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