On the 3rd of April I arrived in Mumbai to participate in the Good Pitch India 2018 summit. This is my first time here.
Good Pitch is a non-profit initiative that leverages the power of documentary film to advance struggles for social, economic and environmental justice in India. It provides opportunities for documentary filmmakers to seek funding and other support for the projects they're working on. It was started by Doc Society, one of the leading initiatives for documentary filmmaking today.
Aside from providing support to the most important docs that we have seen the past years, Doc Society designed the Impact Field Guide and Toolkit. This field guide shows new and old documentary filmmakers alike how the power of their artistic craft in documenting social and environmental issues can catalyze change.
Good Pitch is a unique event for documentary filmmakers. Usually there are film festivals that showcase the finished works of filmmakers; grant bodies contacted by the filmmaker that may or may not provide funding.
Good Pitch is something more than this. It is an initiative that highlights social responsibility. The filmmaker is encouraged to produce a film based on realities faced by an individual or community and then the donor or supporter is brought to the arena by Good Pitch to provide possible support.
In India, the main partner for the event is the Indian Documentary Foundation, which did an excellent job of gathering funders, NGOs, distributors, ad agencies and other individuals from all backgrounds who may give financial and other kinds of support to the films.
Out of the 150 entries received by Good Pitch India 2018 last August, four films were selected to be part of the pitch. A series of workshops were facilitated by Doc Society to help the filmmakers develop the story of their film. In my conversations with the filmmakers, much attention has been given by Doc Society to ensure guidance with regards to the impact of their films.
A Marathi speaking middle class family, the Patils live in Mumbai, India. Suresh (53) is a lawyer. Archana (45) is a homemaker. Rashmi is their 20-year-old happy-go-lucky daughter.
Although hearing and speech impaired, she is a classical dancer and designs jewelry. In the center of the Patil family is Jatin (18). He is a person with autism.
2) Her Song
Her Song tells the story of three women from one of the lowest castes in India: the Banchara. Because of the intense prejudice this caste experiences, the men cannot find work. So for generations, the women and girls have prostituted themselves, often starting as young as 10 years old.
Every other home has a girl child missing in the village. A well known photographer journeys into the Sunderbans. Helped by two village girls they uncover a trail of intriguing clues to reveal the subcontinent’s darkest secret…
4) Writing With Fire
In one of the most socially oppressive and patriarchal states of India, emerges Khabar Lahariya. Meera, its popular reporter, leads the move to magnify the newspaper’s impact
with an audacious decision - to transform it from a print to a digital news agency. Working in media dark villages, mocked and discouraged, this is the story of a unique journalistic
movement in building what will be the world’s first digital news agency run entirely by rural women.
THE PITCH PROCESS
Each filmmaker was given seven minutes to pitch the film to an audience composed of potential funders and supporters. They showed the audience the most compelling images of the film they're working on. All of the filmmakers came with the protagonists of their films. The most touching moments of the event came from the short inspirational talk given by the films protagonists. After the presentation, a panel composed of foundations, NGOs, advertising and media companies and government agencies most likely to support to the film are given two minutes to react to the filmmakers' presentation.
Much of the event's highlights came from the overwhelming support of the people from the audience who spoke on the microphone to either give financial, material and even moral support to the protagonists and filmmakers. Not all the filmmakers were promised financial support, but the support pertaining to film distribution and free post-production services that were offered was overwhelming.
It was quite an experience to be inside an auditorium where art and film patrons who were mostly from cultural and civic organizations give a flow of support to the filmmakers and the protagonists of the films.
The protagonists of the film felt the impact of event, too. The journalists from Khabar Lahariya featured in the film Writing With Fire were given a brand new scooter by a businessman who attended the event. Archana and Rashmi, protagonists of the film Climbing Uphill, were promised financial investment by two patrons in their jewelry business.
EngageMedia expressed willingness to support Khabar Lahariya of the film Writing with Fire through digital security guidance. The rural women journalists use their smartphones a lot in their reportage. EngageMedia can give online tutelage in communicating online securely and access to apps that can help them in evidence gathering and human rights reportage. It was quite an experience for me, too, to talk in an auditorium where I see myself projected in a big screen to an audience of almost 250 people.
The event may have ended but our opportunity to support the films is still very much open. One of the filmmakers needed a couple of 4TB hard drives to expedite the continuity of his project. Good Pitch and other institutions expressed willingness to convene engagements between filmmakers and potential supporters.
To contact the filmmakers and to know more about the project, send a message to the event's Facebook Page.
Name: Hathairat Phaholtap (Wist)
Position: Senior Reporter
Organization: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)
Ms Hathairat Phaholtap (Wist) works with the Thai PBS Television as a senior reporter at their investigation desk. She is also a human rights defender and a documentary film maker who is dedicated to presenting human rights issues, especially during a time where press freedom in Thailand had been restricted and freedom of expression was limited.
Phaholtap recently got recognition from Thailand's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for her work. In 2014, the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was deposed in a military coup-detat and Thai PBS, along with 24 other television channels, were shut down by the military. Phaholtap recorded videos of herself reporting the turn of events in the streets of Bangkok and uploaded them on social media—Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. In absence of mainstream media reports, these online videos went viral.
In an exchange over email with EngageMedia she tells her story of courage by presenting the truth to the people of Thailand. Below are excerpts from the interview.
EM: How did it all start?
Wist: In 1999, I wanted to be a writer and went to study communications at a university in Bangkok. After graduation from the university, I got a job in a local newspaper as a journalist. For seven years I worked as a reporter covering usually politics. Then I decided to move to television because I thought that newspapers were becoming less relevant. As I started to work in TV, I discovered that I’m passionate about presenting the news on TV.
EM: Can you tell us in details about some of your notable films?
Wist: I do not think any one of my films are more or less relevant than the other. I like all of them because I dedicated all my energy working on them. However, there are 3-4 films that were impactful and were able to make a change in the society. The first one is the story about the conflict and peace in the southern border provinces of Thailand. Produced 5 years ago, this film was about a medical student who was detained by authorities and was not being treated fairly. Two weeks after I presented the film, the medical student was released and now he is a doctor at a public hospital in Bangkok. I cannot describe my feelings after I found out that he had been released. It was a joy that I had never felt before. Later, the film won the Human Rights Press Award from Amnesty International of Thailand.
The second story is about the impact of gold mining in the Central Region of Thailand. I discovered that mining in the area had caused pollution in local water and soil. The villagers were sick from chemicals which had leaked from the gold mine. I have been reporting on the impact of mines from 2014 onwards. In 2016, the mine was closed by the government after the scientists confirmed its adverse effect on the local people. In 2016, this story got a press award from Amnesty International, Thailand.
Another story from outside the country is also worth mentionable. It was the story of the Rohingyas who escaped the fate of genocide in Myanmar and entered Bangladesh. Many foreign news agencies were interested in this issue but only a few Thai media had traveled to report the situation in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Five years ago when many Rohingyas migrated from the Andaman Sea to the southern provinces of Thailand and became victims of human trafficking in Thailand, their plights caught my eyes and I have been monitoring this issue ever since. Last year, my story received a Human Rights Press Award from Amnesty International of Thailand.
EM: Which would you say is your favorite, among the films or reports that you've made?
Wist: I like all the movies that I made - I cannot say which one is my favorite. Every movie has a special place in my mind as they have meaning for me behind the scenes. If I only have to choose one, I might say I like the story about the deep-south, Thailand because I want to see “peace” after I screen them. I felt the urge to make them because I needed my films to help resolve the violence in that war zone. I think the three provinces of the southern border (Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat) have seen enough violence. The film should be completed very soon.
EM: What is the background to the story?
Wist: Every time I went to the southern border provinces I felt uncomfortable and insecure. In addition, I saw tanks used in local area and I saw battle at every corner. I saw military checkpoints all along the ways that I passed. I saw machine guns even in primary schools. I saw the distrust of the local people of the military and the government officials. I'm an outsider, but I am hopeful that they will end the violence with a peace talk.
EM: What were the opportunities you gained from producing the film?
Wist: Every time I filmed for this story I felt that I grew up. I learned a lot from traveling and talking to people. And it is very good if each documentary that I present can create opportunities for others. This is enough for a journalist.
EM: What first attracted you to work as a reporter?
Wist: When I was a student at university I saw a reporter in a news TV station doing very good investigative reporting. At that time, I told myself that one day I will be like them. When I had the chance to become a TV journalist, I did not hesitate.
EM: What are the challenges for you working in Thailand especially with current Social-Politico situations? What's the major threat now?
Wist: Reporting in Thailand after the military took over the country was quite difficult especially if you were covering political issues. Three-year ago, I presented a documentary titled “one year after the coup” which focused on freedom of expression of people after the coup. While I was working on this topic, I got a lot of pressures from different wings of military but I did not fear to carry on with my tasks. I completed three episodes of the series.
After they were aired, they became the talk of the town because at that time only a few journalists dared to cover this kind of story. I realized that we won’t have freedom if we were scared to speak out. That situation have passed and from that moment on I am never scared to speak out even though at present the Junta's era still persists. I'm still covering political issues and also highlighting some forbidden issues.
EM:. How can online distribution help your work, and what are your thoughts on online and offline distribution?
EM: I knew the influence of social media after the 2014 coup in Thailand. After the military Junta took power from the elected government on May 22, 2014, all TV channels were ordered to stop broadcasting. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took control of broadcast media. At that time, I used social media for reporting the forbidden situation to public and they went viral for the Thai community.
I think reporting online is a free platform that I can use without paying. It is the best way to use whenever the main stream media are under the control of the government.
EM: What are you working on now and what's your next project?
Wist: I am still interested in highlighting human rights abuses. I continue to cover human trafficking issues including the situation in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Of course, I still care about the violence in the southern border provinces of Thailand. I am preparing to make a film about the missing persons and the tortures in the southern border that is a huge problem in the area.
EM: Do you believe that films can change society?
Wist: Definitely, I believe films can change the society that is why I am still working as a journalist and a film maker. I think if the journalists are able to work hard enough our society can change for the better.