Goodbye documentary, hello non-fiction

The director of Kathmandu's Film South Asia festival of documentaries looks back at the history of documentary films, maps evolving trends in the genre, reflects on the emergence of a substantial body of viewers for serious non-fiction and ponders on the ways in which these films can be taken to a larger audience

When the Travelling Film South Asia festival of non-fiction films arrived in the central Nepal hill town of Pokhara in early November, the screening of 15 films—some light-hearted, but mostly activists' fare—proved to be the documentary filmmakers' dream come true. Could this really be happening? The venue, a commercial cinema hall with capacity of 600, was often showing documentaries to a packed hall of more than a thousand, tickets of twenty rupees were being sold in 'black' for up to Rs 200. Even an eighteen-minute film on the sexual identity of Bombay transvestites got a respectable audience of 250.

"Let us have a screening revolution!" has been a slogan of the organisers of the biennial Film South Asia festival in Kathmandu, and the Pokhara response to the travelling festival seemed to herald just such a revolution. It proved that documentaries, firstly, had an audience aplenty even beyond the serious connoisseurs in the capitals and main metros. Pokhara also proved that an audience that is not accustomed to seeing documentaries has nevertheless developed a taste for it, from word-of-mouth travelling all the way west from Kathmandu, from watching documentaries on television, and generally being capable of imbibing more information in audio-visual format than earlier generations.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian