Fossil fuels and fossil fools in India

‘‘People in India, unlike the West, don’t understand the seriousness of climate change….They think global warming is a fantasy. Indians are using fossil fuel like never before. We have constructed oven-like buildings and spend enormous energy cooling them.’’

I came across these words by the well known Indian environmental film-maker Mike Pandey in an article in NewIndPress that surveyed how Indian documentary film-makers are rising to the challenge of communicating climate change.

The article, ‘Meltdown on Film’ published on 15 March 2007 highlights the formidable task of raising awareness in India, now one of the fastest growing economies in the world, consuming larger volumes of fossil fuels every year.

Mike knows what he’s talking about: his film Global Warming went largely unnoticed when it was released in India three years ago.

And he is one of India’s top notch film makers on environment, wildlife and natural history. He has won three Panda Awards — also known as the ‘Green Oscar’ — at the Wildscreen Film Festival held every other year in Bristol, UK — and considered to be the most important festival of its kind in the world. (Modest cough: I was on the jury of Wildscreen 2000, when we gave Mike one of his three Green Oscars.)

Viewer apathy is not the only problem that India’s environmental film-makers have to contend with. Here’s an extract from the article:

Like any environmentalist, our documentary filmmakers are “concerned” about issues like global warming. But the lacklustre reactions of research agencies (who ‘‘support” the cause but don’t really come forward to fund documentaries), zero interest from broadcasters who, according to one filmmaker, prefer ‘‘sexy environmental stories’’, together with viewer apathy, are the reasons why the few impressive documentary films on climate change vanish after a few screenings at festivals. Take the Public Service Broadcast Trust’s (PSBT) Open Frame, for instance, the annual documentary film festival held in Delhi. Or the roving environmental and wildlife film festival CMS Vatavaran, where open discussions are held after every screening. Barely a couple of films are chosen by the public broadcaster Doordarshan after they are screened at these two festivals, which is why most of the documentaries don’t ever reach the masses.

‘‘Public interest stories and documentaries are the last thing broadcasters want to show,’’ quips Pandey. ‘‘People like me are lucky to have found space on DD. Value-based programmes are nudged out so easily by broadcasters these days.”

The article continues:

A few years ago, when Mike Pandey returned to his favourite spot in Austria to capture a snowcap for one of his films, he was shocked to see it had melted. He says, ‘‘I had seen the ice cap the previous year. I had to go deeper into the area to get my shots. It’s common in Austria to see ice caps vanishing. You see blossoms and splendid crops in many areas.’’ After Earth Matters, which is being shown on Doordarshan, Pandey is coming up with a series of six films on global warming, which will talk about ‘‘using alternative energy for the future.’’

Whenever out for shoots at Lakshwadeep, Kochi and Gujarat, Mike has been noticing ‘‘visible changes’’ in ‘‘ocean ferocity’’ and where the sea neighbours the land. ‘‘The water has come in a bit more into the land over the years,’’ he observes.

‘‘You don’t have to be a scientist to notice these changes; you can see it all happening now. Unfortunately, people living along the Indian coastline will be the first ones to face any kind of major impact,’’ he adds.

On my visit to Hyderabad last week, I was told that there are now close to 50 TV channels that cover news and current affairs on a 24/7 basis (in English and other Indian languages). Yet this kind of news hardly seems to make the headlines….it’s probably moving too slowly.

Mike Pandey and other environmental film-makers have their work cut out for them.

“If (Indian cricketer) Sachin Tendulkar or (Bollywood star) Shah Rukh Khan loses his cell phone, the news will reach every nook and corner of the country, but the fact that iodine is essential for the human body is still not known widely,” Mike told India’s Frontline news magazine in 2004. Read full article: Nature’s film-maker in Frontline of 18-31 Dec 2004

Read TVE Asia Pacific website feature on Mike Pandey’s 2003 film on the whale shark in India

Capturing Asia’s Wild…Life

To paraphrase Woody Allen, 90 per cent of success in life has to do with just showing up.

That’s one reason why I travel extensively in Asia and beyond. The other reasons are networking, meeting interesting people and being inspired by them.

Last month I was at two international film festivals. I’ve already posted several items from the DC Environmental Film Festival. On my way to Washington DC, I stopped over in Singapore to catch the first day of the inaugural Wildlife Asia film festival, held from March 13 to 17.


The festival organisers asked me to speak on a panel on the indie (independent film-making) scene in Asia. I used that opportunity to take stock of TVE Asia Pacific productions, which rely largely on freelance TV and film professionals across Asia. We have a policy of engaging locally-based, native talent wherever we film.

But we are not into wildlife. So I had to clarify where we fit in:

For a moment, I was wondering whether I’m at the wrong film festival -– because we don’t cover any wildlife!

But what we do cover, with great interest and passion, is wild…life –- we chronicle life itself going ‘wild’ in different parts of Asia Pacific. Disasters, conflicts, pandemics, migration and desertification -– these are a few among many topics, themes and subjects in the television and video films that TVE Asia Pacific produces and distributes.

I continued:

Everywhere in the media we hear of Asia rising –- economies, cultures and people are all on the move. Indeed, things are happening at a mind-boggling pace. But not everyone is part of this frenzy. Many people -– and societies -– are being left behind. We are interested in both those who run ahead as well as those who get left behind….and we try to find out why.

That’s the small challenge we have set for ourselves. ‘We’ are Television for Education Asia Pacific -– trading as TVE Asia Pacific –- a small media foundation trying to tell this big story of our times. We are driven by a strong belief that what is happening in the world’s largest and most populous region has far-reaching impacts not just on our region, but on the entire planet.

Read the full text of my panel remarks on TVEAP website.