South Asian Projects
Our Hoolock-Ragini Nath (India)
In the village of Barekuri, the locals are stepping in to conserve India’s fast-vanishing ape species, the Hoolock Gibbons. However, this endearing tale of human-animal coexistence is threatened when a nearby oilfield blast disrupts the delicate ecosystem.
Barekuri, a quaint cluster of villages located in the biodiversity hotspot of the Northeast Indian state of Assam, is home to India’s only ape species, the Hoolock Gibbons. In Barekuri, the villagers have been living with the species for over a century and consider the apes as kin. Barekuri stands out as an idyllic example of animal-human harmony in a world that is largely disconnected from life in the wild. However, this animal-human harmony stands on a fragile ecological balance.
Sidhanta Moran, a 35-year-old fisherman who lives right next to the wetland in Barekuri has been doing his best to attend to the dietary needs of the Hoolock Gibbon family that resides in his backyard. In recent years, he feels the apes have become more dependent on the villagers for their dietary needs as food sources become scarce in the forest cover. Additionally, the expansion of hydrocarbon exploration in Barekuri by OIL India has further worsened the situation by accelerating deforestation, restricting the movement of the apes to even smaller patches of canopies within the village. The population of Hoolock Gibbons in Barekuri has been declining at an alarming rate.
In May 2020, when an oilfield blast just across the wetland impacted Barekuri, Sidhanta is left to grapple with the brutal ramifications of the hazardous oil blowout on his livelihood and the survival of the apes. This oilfield blowout which took the authorities over 6 months to douse caused irreparable damage to the region. Oil spills on the wetland have severely affected Sidhanta’s sustainable livelihood from fishing. The pollution that emanated from the blowout also led to the untimely death of the female gibbon residing in Sidhanta’s backyard worsening the already imbalanced sex ratio of the female gibbons in Barekuri. Sidhanta holds OIL India limited accountable for all his losses and sets out to seek compensation for the cumulative loss from the fire by collecting testimonies from other villagers. Barely two months after dousing the inferno, Oil India Limited began constructing a new rig, this time right on the banks of the wetland and even closer to Sidhanta’s home. As the fury of the villagers increases over the new developments, Sidhanta who has been at the forefront of these protests suddenly gives up and begins working on the new oil rig as a local contractor for Oil India Limited.
The film is a collaboration between two filmmakers- one who has dealt with human subjects at the intersection of journalism, film, and social change and the other who has had considerable experience in wildlife filmmaking and photography. As a film that explores the animal-human relationship, resource politics, and the nature of ecological change, we are able to contribute to each other’s perspectives in order to effectively visualize the nuances of the story. As filmmakers from Assam, this project was a means for us to connect back with our roots and we feel privileged to be able to tell a story from within our own community. We strongly want the film to go beyond its facts and be more experiential in its tonal and structural elements. The film is representative of the collective experience of the people of Barekuri and the Gibbons, and we want the film to be co-created in a manner that the audience is able to witness a story of resilience and effort put forth by the locals to conserve nature despite adversities.
It is deeply saddening to see that we are at a juncture where the endangered species could be completely wiped out from regions like Barekuri. It would be tragic that posterity might not get to see a species that has peacefully coexisted with mankind. Through this movie, we hope that the viewers will spare a thought for the Hoolock Gibbons who stare into a bleak future. The film is our endeavor to add to the conversations around the urgency of environmental conservation with an empathic lens. If we are able to evoke these emotions through sound and visuals we will feel that this story and this film are a success.
The story builds through the interactions of Sidhanta with his surroundings and events that unfold in his life. We switch between the observatory and participatory cinematic representations. The camera follows the characters and the Hoolock Gibbons, observing their daily life and interactions. The pacing is unhurried and stays with the character. The key character is seen at home, going about his daily activities, and socializing with his family and with others in the village. We want to draw a more personal and intimate picture of the protagonist and his relationship with the environment around him. Similarly, the camera also follows the movements and activities of the Hoolock Gibbon families that reside along with the protagonist. The camera captures the Hoolock Gibbons swinging along the high canopies venturing into orchards and backyards of villager’s homes, sometimes helping themselves with food from the orchards or waiting for the villagers to feed them a banana or two. The connection and coexistence between the community and Hoolock gibbons are underlined through the documentation of their everyday life.
Just as the monotony of the daily gives way to periodic dramas, similarly when events unfold, emotions come to the surface setting a dramatic tone in the film. Eventually, the stakes get higher as the film progresses. The camera stays with the key character and creates an unobtrusive reflexive account as experienced by Sidhanta. The observational style sometimes makes way for a participatory approach when Sidhanta directly confides to the filmmakers through the camera.
The creative process merges the visual style with the story’s setting and character arcs. The landscape of Barekuri is captured with long, static shots to transport the audience to the rich biodiversity of dense canopied forests, the wetlands, sprawling grasslands, and the variety of birds and wildlife species in the region. The elements of the fire and destruction are also documented with long, static shots to immerse into the gravity of the damage faced by the residents in the region and give a sense of claustrophobia as experienced by the residents. The use of diegetic sound along with the sound design is crucial in the narrative style of the film as we wish to bring the audience closer to the core of this ecological disaster.
Ragini is a documentary filmmaker and photographer. She has training in documentary filmmaking from The New School, New York. She has previously worked at the intersection of journalism, film, and social change. Her first independent short documentary production ‘Bar and Girl’, 2018 has premiered at national and international film festivals. She has also had experience working on projects for the History Channel and Bollywood. Her photography work has been exhibited in the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival, Angkor Photo Festival, and India Photo Festival. Our Hoolocksis her first feature-length documentary.
Chinmoy is a documentary filmmaker, landscape photographer, and mountaineer. He has studied creative documentary filmmaking at Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication, New Delhi. He is currently working as a freelancer based in New Delhi. His first film ‘Bound By Us’ looked at the impacts of human intervention on a forest bounded by the city of New Delhi. He has a keen interest in working for films that revolve around conservation, natural history, and resource politics. Our Hoolocks is also his first feature-length documentary.
To date, we have raised $22000 through private donations and personal investments. Our goal is to further raise $14000 through crowdfunding campaigns and other in-kind support. We intend to partner with grassroots conservation-based non-profit organizations in Northeast India and raise $10,000. We plan to raise $50,000 through film foundation grants. We have already applied to Sundance Documentary Fund, IDFA Bertha Fund, Chicken and Egg Pictures, and
EIDF Korea. We are planning to apply to Good Pitch India, Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, Asia Cinema Fund, Doha Film Fund, Whicker’s World Foundation, Ford Foundation, etc, as and when applications open. “Our Hoolocks” has been part of Docedge Kolkata, we are currently in negotiation to secure a co-producer for the film. We will continue to use out-of-pocket expenses to bridge the funding gaps along with crew deferrals as much as possible.
Budget: Total – 138,225 USD
The project is currently in its early production.