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Northeast catches the eye

Saibal Chatterjee, New Delhi

Two revelatory tales set in the Northeast — one centred on threatened floating homes, the other about life in a ‘rat-hole’ — bagged top prizes at the 14th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) for Documentary, Animation and Short Films.

Bengaluru-based filmmaker Chandrasekhar Reddy’s 88-minute documentary, Fireflies in the Abyss, about the horrors of rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills, bagged the Golden Conch for the best feature-length film in the festival’s national competition.

Young Manipuri director Haobam Paban Kumar’s Phum Shang (Floating Life), about a fishing community forcibly evicted from its traditional habitat on Loktak lake in the southwest part of the state, won the Golden Conch for the best documentary (up to 60 minutes) in the international competition.

MIFF, launched in 1990, is a biennial festival of documentaries that is regarded as one of the premier events of its kind in Asia. It is organised by the Films Division.

Interestingly, both the Golden Conch-winning documentaries mentioned above emerged from other film projects that the two directors were in the process of developing. 

Imphal-based Paban Kumar, an alumnus of the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, stumbled upon the plight of the Loktak lake dwellers uprooted from their floating homes on phumdis (biomass) while prepping in the area for his upcoming fiction film debut, Nongmei (Gun).

“It is because of the long-running people’s conflict over Loktak lake that the protagonist of Nongmei ends up getting a gun,” says the director who, while waiting for funding for the fiction film, decided to record the fallout of ‘development’ on a way of life that has survived for centuries.

Paban Kumar’s Nongmei is now at post-production stage, and the 52-minute Phum Shang, having picked up a number of prizes along the way, including a national award for best investigative film ...

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