Serpent Mother

Directed by Allen Moore & Akos Ostor, Produced by Robert Gardner
1985, 28 min.

Serpent Mother is about devotion to the Goddess of Snakes and the importance of divine female power in West Bengal Indian life. The film’s focus is the Jhapan festival, the great celebration of snakes. Shown are festival preparations, the role of traditional arts and crafts in the worship of the Goddess, devotional singing, and an exposition of ritual action. The difficult and complex symbolism of the ritual is explained by the participants themselves and this, with the commentary, makes accessible what is, at first glance, exotic and inexplicable behavior.

When Women Unite: The Story of an Uprising

Directed by Shabnam Virmani and Nata Duvvury
80 min
Telugu with English Subtitles

The film narrates the incredibly moving story of the anti-arrack (state-supplied distilled liquor) movement that led to the eventual ban of arrack sales in Andhra Pradesh in 1995. The movement started when a group of women participating in a literacy program started questioning their oppressed status. Spurred into action by the killing of a village woman (who was beaten to death by her drunk husband when she tried to prevent him from molesting their daughter), they took on the men of the village, the powerful arrack contractors, and the repressive state machinery in a valiant struggle that demanded a stop to the endless supply of arrack to their village (the only village tap dispensed water once in two days while the arrack shop received its supplies twice a day). The movement took hold and spread across the state over a period of four hard-fought years. It was a true grass-roots movement; even today it has no identifiable leaders. The movie documents the incredible courage of these women, their political and social consciousness and their steady realization that, through struggle, they could control their own destiny.

Who Will Cast The First Stone

Directed by Ahmed A. Jamal and Sabiha Sumar
1989, color, 52 mins., VHS
English and Urdu with English subtitles.

Examines the impact of Islamization on women in Pakistan, revealing the oppression and injustice which has led Pakistani women to the forefront of the political struggle for equal rights. In 1979, Zina (defined as adultery, rape or extramarital sex) became a crime against the state punishable by stoning to death. These new laws were intended to promote the middle class image of an ideal Muslim woman–chaste, submissive and confined. This documentary focuses on the case histories of three women and features interviews with them as well as with human rights activists, religious leaders, lawyers and scholars.

Wheat Cycle

by David Hancock, Herbert DiGioia, Louis & Nancy Dupree
Documentary, 16 min., 1975

The people and their labor are bound to the land in the cycle of activities to the sowing to the harvesting of wheat. Without narration or subtitles, the film conveys a sense of unity between the people and the land. Filmed in the Balkh Province, an area inhabited by Tajik and other Central Asian peoples. The town of Aq Kupruk is approximately 320 miles northwest of Kabul. The theme of the film focuses on rural economics. The film and accompaning instructor notes focus on herding, and fishing under diverse environmental conditions. The impact of technological change, human adaptation, and governmental extension of market systems are parallel themes.

We Are Not Your Monkeys

By Anand Patwardhan
5 min., 1996

Recently, the brutal 4,000 year-old Indian caste system and its “divine” justification for class hierarchy has come under attack. Modern scholars examining the Sanskrit roots of Hindu mythology have found references to a story about a nomadic Aryan tribe’s conquest of darker-skinned indigenous peoples. The Sanskrit word for caste – varna – also means “color.” One of the original functions of the caste system, which prohibits inter-caste mingling, may have been to preserve the racial purity of the ruling class. We Are Not Your Monkeys, a song composed by Daya Pawar and sung by Sambhaji Bhagat, offers the dalit (lower caste) perspective on the Ramayana story of Hindu legend, one which refutes the notion of divine superiority.

War & Peace

By Anand Patwardhan
90+ min., 2002

Anand Patwardhan’s impressive and impassioned documentary digs beneath the patriotic fervor that followed the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in 1998, revealing the essentially political nature of nuclear proliferation and the divisions in Indian society it both cloaks and fosters. A wide-ranging look at the issue of nuclear nationalism, the film features extensive news footage and a well-rounded series of interviews with government officials, nuclear scientists, pro- and antinuclear activists, and ordinary citizens, including the poor who suffer without recourse the brunt of nuclear testing and uranium mining. (“The government is like a mother,” one old man says, shrugging. “If the mother decides to feed poison to her child, what is the child to do?”) In their promotion of nuclear weaponry, the logic of international prestige and the global arms trade suffuse the very concept of security with Orwellian irony. At the same time, the film moves beyond India’s borders to Pakistan, Japan, and the United States to understand efforts to transcend nuclear world politics by building an international movement for peace.

Voices of the Sidis: Two documentaries

by Beheroze Shroff
DVD (2005)

1) We’re Indian and African
22 min
This documentary explores the lives of the Afro-Indian Sidis of Bava Gor village in Gujarat. The Sidis talk about the challenges of their work as caretakers of the shrine of their ancestral saint Bava Gor. They also discuss their sacred Goma-Dhammal dance as it is performed for devotees and for spectators. The documentary also gives a glimpse into the spiritual legacy of the Sidis through the Parsi devotees of Bava Gor in Bombay.

2) Ancestral Links
26 min
In this entertaining portrait of an urban Sidi family in Bombay, India, the father Babubhai traces his ancestry to Zanzibar, Tanzania. Babubhai’s wife Fatimaben talks about her grandmother who worked in a Hindu royal court. Finally, Heena the daughter talks about issues of identity. Babubhai also discusses his past work as a stuntman in Bollywood films.

Vaastu Marabu

By: Bala Kailasam
52 min., 1992

India is a country where an ancient civilization survives not only in its artifacts but as a living entity. The Vishwakarmas, holders of architectural and artistic heritage, have maintained the skills and the theoreticla basis essential for the designing and executing of almost all facets of the built environment.

This film attempts to bring this heritage to life through one of the foremost sthapatis and documents the theory and practice of the Vaastu tradition before it is lost. Ancient technologies that continue to be used today are shown in great detail. The film documents the process of making sculptures and explores meaning of various symbols, icons and mathematical principles from a point of view of a shilpi (sculptor).

Turbans

By, Erika Surat Andersen
29 min., 2000

Based on the memoirs of the filmmaker’s grandmother, “Turbans” explores the inner struggles of an Asian Indian immigrant family torn between their cultural traditions and the desire for social acceptance in America. Although born in the United States, the Singh boys are attacked for being different. The turbans they wear, a tradition sacred to their Sikh ancestors, serve only to identify them as outsiders in the prejudiced landscape of Astoria, Oregon circa 1918.