Entrepreneur Osama Manzar wants to bring a billion rural Indians online by 2020. This documentary belongs to a trilogy of films on our platform by Andrew Garton dealing with resilient communities responding to grief, native customary rights and the right to be informed. The other films include Higher Ground and Forged From Fire.
Interview with Director/Producer Andrew Garton
Why did you decide to make this trilogy of films? What themes and discontinuities are there between the three films?
With these films I have attempted to cultivate a space in which we may observe ourselves, where we see ourselves in each other, each an ocean in an ocean of drops. They are as much about informing an audience as they are an experience; stories of triumph against innumerable odds via intrigue and curiosity in such a way that we draw and align the viewer to our subject(s), a route to empathy. “Empathy,” the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer says, “is a practice. A practice that's worth practising.”
The aim of the Digital Empowerment Foundation is for 1 billion Indians to come online by 2020. How does your film represent this bold ambition?
The film demonstrates this bold ambition by the uncompromising zeal of the Foundation's co-founder, Osama Manzar. We also see how diverse their means for broadband outreach is, from far-reaching wireless networks to basic computer desktop training in rural communities and the impact this is having on women and children in particular.
‘Communities are erecting their own towers, teaching themselves English, travelling online and finding refuge for their culture on the internet,’ state the Ocean In A Drop intertitles. How do you show this in the film? Whose stories do you tell?
In one rural community we found women who literally travel to pilgrimage destinations online. They tell us, in spite of knowing they will never reach these places with their physical presence, that visiting them online is a good as performing yantra, or pilgrimage. We visit a family of traditional musicians who play an unusual instrument, the bapang, little known outside of India.
They describe how digitising their poetry and music is preserving their culture for generations to come whilst their village succumbs to urbanisation and with it the means to teach their skills through traditional means. We also visit a broadband wireless initiative where tribal villagers built a communications tower from junk. This tower, and others like it, support video conferencing that brings children together daily in a region where they may have never met at all. Here they sing and share stories irrespective of cast or tribal heritage.
What were some of the challenges you faced making this film?
No challenge was insurmountable, no challenge that anyone could not learn from. There were many, however one could say that each challenge was to be a gift of sort. In spite of various logistical challenges and the paperwork one must face throughout much of India, the curiosity and welcoming nature of all whom we visited was astonishing as it was humbling. That aside two significant challenges were that of the personal safety of the only woman on our crew and the incomprehensible nature of dialect.
On personal safety. There was at least one occasion we were concerned for the welfare of the only woman in our crew who, if left unaccompanied found herself surrounded by young men that was both alarming as it was challenging to diffuse. At the very least Cathy had her crew mates to bail her out of these situations, securing her in one of our vehicles, but the countless women in these villages that had no one to fend for them… This was indeed frightening.
On language. I've worked on projects with numerous languages and dialects before, but nothing could prepare me for working with Hindi. I was to learn that Hindi is a language of languages with so many variants even the most gifted of our translators struggled some what. We had to translate 64 of 100 interviews from various Hindi dialects into English. It took a year. We ran two translation and subtitling sprints before I left Dehli to reduce the workload, but overall it was left up to a small, dedicated team of translators who were taught in the use of Amara, an open source subtitling tool, to complete the task.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
The film, from its epic eight minute trailer to its teaser, viewers have been surprised by both 'new hope' and the focus on tangible impacts, often surprising impacts. Ocean in a Drop is more a film about the ripple effects that come from a computer installed in a rural community than what that computer does and what it took to get it there. It's about the unknown, and no doubt unintended consequences of access to broadband, from government services accessible via smart phone apps and the web to information improving the health of pregnant women.
“Great capturing of all those strong gutsy women on film.”
Sue, Victoria, Australia, 2015
“Thanks for posting! The strength of these women is formidable! I look forward to seeing more and sharing so that these women's stories can be heard and seen.” Janice, UK, 2015
“Great work @freq_ghost and congratulations @OsamaManzar, look forward to the documentary :)”
@SaniaFarooqui, Freelance journalist, Guardian, December 2015
More recently enthusiasm to see, and assist in seeing the film completed, has come from unforseen sources which I will discuss further once we have agreements ratified.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
All the feedback has provoked considerable discussion, particularly given the unanticipated outcomes of something as rudimentary as a single laptop and internet connection arriving in a small rural village.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
Firstly I would like to stimulate interest in stories that deal with a kind of new hope, particularly that which seems mediated and / or motivated by access to the internet and the right to information that can positively affect change in ones life.
Secondly I'm interested in broadening the audience for this film. It's a film for all audiences, not simply those interested in new media and information technologies. We have so much to learn from each other, particularly through stories of reliance in spite of one's circumstances.
I have confidence in curated platforms such as We Are Moving Stories in giving audiences a wider, more diverse range of films, not only their topics, but how they are made.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
I'm looking for post-production partners, which may include another producer, media interest and coverage and a commitment to debut screen the film at a local or international festival. We have a screening partner in India, the Internet Society (https://isoc.org/), but no alignment with a film festival or equivalent event as yet.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
Firstly that unintended consequences are sometimes more important than the ambitions of those who roll out information communication technologies throughout rural India, that making a decision to not own a computer is just as empowering as knowing there is at least someone one can trust to use it well on your behalf.
Secondly that organisations working in the field understand what digital literacy means, that it may mean more that simply teaching non-English speaking children how to navigate a spreadsheet, that providing the means to make something useful, say for example teaching kids how to code, may have far more significant outcomes than doodling with Paint.
And finally that the stories of people who have not yet forgotten how to remember, who are entirely literate in their own traditions and means, have just an important, if not more important role to play in the future of how we live well on and with planet Earth. Such people have shown me that their approach to mobiles and the internet are unique, that some can be indifferent to social media whilst others see their use in more nuanced ways.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Why is it important to bring one billion rural, mostly below-the-poverty-line Indians online by 2020? What would they bring to the internet and how would we, the digitally literate welcome and / or respond to them?
Interview: April 2016
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OCEAN IN A DROP
Current Status: Post-production.
Length: 55 mins
Director: Andrew Garton
Producer: Andrew Garton
Looking for (ie buyer, distributor, sales agent, producer, media interest): Seeking post-production funding, a co-producer, cross-media marketing, distributor and media interest.
Funders: Digital Empowerment Foundation, INOMY Media
Made in association with: Internet Society