SPS Community Media
BFMAF is pleased to present two recent films by SPS Community Media which provide a clarifying backdrop to urgent news stories such as the ongoing Farmer’s Protests in India, rooted in the experiences of individuals and families living in Madhya Pradesh, one of the most populous states in India.
In this first UK presentation of the organisation’s work, we show Hailstorm and Entrance Exam, two documentaries grounded in observation, deep listening and trust. Both films are built in community that make the interrelatedness between educational inequality and political indifference with the growing climate crisis and the violence of global capitalism impossible to ignore.
SPS Community Media was founded 20 years ago by Pinky Brahma Choudhury and Shobhit Jain, graduates of the Film and Television Institute of India. To date, they have produced nearly 200 films, working with, and for, the rural communities in which they are located. Their project moves from the belief in the power of cinema to provide platforms of unity in rural communities divided on the lines of caste, community, religion, and language.
The media initiative is part of the wider Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS), one of India’s largest grass-roots initiatives for water and livelihood security. The initiative works with partners on 1 million acres of land across 72 of the most deprived districts, mainly in the central Indian Adivasi belt. SPS is based in a drought-prone, tribal area in the Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh, which typifies the most difficult social and environmental problems facing the country.
SPS Community media output ranges from social documentaries to community videos and training films on subjects as wide ranging as watershed managements, sustainable agriculture, women’s rights and the environment. These are films made for and with the people most impacted by these issues, with local youth training in filmmaking fostering self-representation and determination in articulating the concerns of their communities.
Using handset pocket projectors, SPS Community Media conducts around 200 screenings every month across 365 villages, engaging households in discussions about soil fertility, government entitlements, climate uncertainties, commodity marketing, loans and bank linkages and much more. Once the monsoon recedes and the grounds are dry enough to sit, SPS’s People’s Mobile Cinema travels from village to village, screening films in open-air venues on a big screen, bringing the experience of cinema alive in remote locations. More than 25,000 people become a part of these screenings every year.
Understanding the power of the film festival circuit to both draw attention to the issues they explore and to contribute to the wider organisation’s resources, the team have shown films at various international film festivals including Dharamshala International Film Festival and Mumbai International Film Festival. Sometimes working with government funds, these films are neither partisan nor independent. But their situated methodology, dissemination and impact raise urgent and pertinent questions on our understanding of ideas of radicality in filmmaking. Equally also on aesthetics, representation, and agency, as well as questions of authorship, when global festival audiences meet with documentary stories from the global south. —Jemma Desai
In a village in central India, dedicated school teachers put their heart and soul into preparing a group of children for an entrance exam for a Government-run “School of Excellence.” Entrance Exam explores the stakes of the opportunities afforded by this continued, subsidised education for underprivileged children, as well as the many layers of struggle in this intense and surprising journey.
Hailstorm is based in the Narmada valley in central India, an area with extremely low levels of groundwater. Farmers here battle for survival, pitched against the vagaries of climate change. Following the events of a freak hailstorm over four seasons, the film unfolds the vulnerability and precarity of those that are at the sharpest end of global capitalism’s rapacious greed and the furthest from its benefits. —Jemma Desai