Morung Express Feature
Chizami (Phek) | March 14
A 14-minutes documentary film, ‘Millets—Securing Lives’ (2015), from Chizami village, Nagaland, has bagged the first prize at the first ever National Community Media Festival organised by the Community Media Trust of Deccan Development Society (DDS), Telangana, in February this year. A community’s telling of the growing, picking, harvesting and promoting millets, the film has been produced and made by three young people from the community.
This is a matter of great pride for a community that has been working hard with its young and old, women and men, alike to bring back a shared cropping culture that has been weakened over the years.
One of the film makers, 24-year-old Tshenyilo-u Chirhah, spoke to The Morung Express, at the North East Network’s (NEN) Resource Centre at Chizami, on her journey to securing this award.
‘We were very nervous’
It was their first time on a plane. The three young film makers—Chirhah, Vizoli Khamo (30) and Kewekhrozo (Peter) Thopi (28)—took a nearly 3000km journey (by car, train and plane) from their home in Chizami to Zaheerabad to receive their award on February 13. The film was selected as the best among 22 entries to the Jai Chandiram Memorial First National Community Media Film Festival.
“We were very nervous,” said Tshenyilou, who goes by the moniker Lele. This applied to two experiences she faced within a span of a month—first the flight from Guwahati to Hyderabad and then the award itself.
The award, given by Pawan Manvi, Founder Principal of Ramoji Academy of Film and Television (RAFT), left her speechless. Lele had dropped out of school after class 10—a prize for making a film on her community did not feature as a future prospect.
Born on August 13, 1993, Lele is the fourth of her parents’ five children. Predominantly, she studied at the Chizami Baptist Church run Eastern Mission High School in Chizami village. “Class 9 and 10 was the best part of my life,” she recalls, her conversation with us being translated by NEN’s Neitshope-u Thopi. Lele hardly speaks any English or Nagamese; she interacts fluently in her mother language Khezha, in which all her films have been shot.
Shy and reluctant, Lele shares her story, wary of mistakes she may make. After class 10, she was sent for a Diploma in Computer Science to Kohima but that interested her naught. She wanted to come back home, which she did, to weave with her expert weaver mother. Lele was also acquainted with farming activities in which she helped her family.
In 2014, InsightShare, UK, an NGO that trains communities in Participatory Video, organized one such training along with the NEN Nagaland, and North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS). InsightShare’s work seeks to engage and mobilize communities for social transformation. NEN Nagaland asked women like Lele who had dropped out of school but had much potential to avail of the opportunity.
In September 2014, Lele and Vizoli Khamo travelled for two days to Noklak, accompanied by a NEN Nagaland staff member, to participate in the training given by Chris Lunch. At the workshop, the two women held a Sony ‘handycam’ and operated an Apple computer for the first time. They spent a week recording each other first, and then learnt to weave a storyboard, shooting and editing.
“We shot our first film at Nokyan village in Tuensang,” says Lele, as she swings her legs sitting on a chair. The other two participants from Noklak helped in translations. “Their system of agriculture is almost like ours but they don’t use bunds, and they have a different storage method post harvest,” observes Lele while explaining how much she began to enjoy using the camera on subjects she understood well.
Language is a major deterrent for young people like Lele to become confident about their knowledge systems. Multimedia, she says, gave her thoughts body, and she began to document various processes of her community that had been previously made no records of.
Vizoli and Lele made their first independent film—‘Timeless Beauty’— in 2015 on a handheld camera provided by NEN Nagaland. The film naturally undercut capitalism—it compared natural shampoos from forest based products in her community with market based imported products. It became a super hit at a community screening. 2015 rolled quickly. Kewekhrozo (Peter) Thopi and Tshetsholo Naro, who were already teaching Eco Club classes at the NEN Resource Centre in Chizami, taught the two women to edit on Adobe Primer. They made eight 5-10 minutes films in 2015, in Chizami, about kitchen gardens, jhum cultivation, terrace fields, etc. ‘Millets—Securing Lives’ was one of them.
Lele, Peter and Vizoli shot the film together for 5-6 months, covering an entire millets cycle, from sowing to reaping—their whole community took part in the making and production of the film; Peter edited the film. It was first screened at the Chizami village community hall, followed by the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 at Mawphlang, Meghalaya. The award in 2017 came with a trophy, certificates and cash prize.
It is essential, notes Lele, for communities and our youth to become acquainted with social media. Their films are all available to watch globally on YouTube. She has begun to share community knowledge and wisdom on various platforms that have opened up for her. Lele now works at NEN Nagaland, while continuing to weave and farm with her family, apart from making films.
“My life has been transformed. I am learning of our community systems but also of how much of this work is done by women. I want to buy my own camera some day and continue to document all such stories through longer films,” hopes Lele, whose life itself has become a transformative message for the youth of her communities.