Asia Pacific Rice Film Award 2008/09 – And the winner is…

Winners of the Asia Pacific Rice Film Award 2008-2009 were announced this week. The award was established ‘to recognise excellence in audio-visual creations on rice-related issues in Asia, where most of the world’s rice is grown and consumed’.

The co-organisers, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) and Public Media Agency (PMA) of Malaysia, invited innovative film-makers from the Asia Pacific region to submit short creative television, video or cinematic films on rice. I was part of the regional panel of judges.

The film winning the first prize is titled SRI – Challenging Traditions, Transforming Lives (10 mins, 2008). It is directed by Gautam Chintamani in Haryana, India.

I found it a well-focused, positive story compellingly told, with an unhurried script — just enough information, not bombarding the viewer with facts and figures. It’s about a new, more efficient way of growing rice called System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

But this is far from a boring instructional film. It focuses on lives of farmers on and off the field (e.g. SRI’s benefits to women farmers – such as less labour and time intensive). The visual experience is completed by the excellent camera work, sound track and seamless editing – altogether a highly professional production that is also a persuasive advocacy film.

Here’s the official synopsis for the film, taken from Vatavaran 2009 film festival website:
A revolutionary method, System of Rice Intensification (SRI) requires almost no standing water for paddy to grow and is fast transforming the rice cultivation. Developed by a French priest Henri De Launi in the 1980’s in Madagascar, SRI not only uses almost half of the water required but drastically reduces the physical labor associated with rice farming besides increasing the yield by almost one and a half times. For a country like India rice is more than just a mere crop.

There are myths attached to its cultivation. While SRI offers an alternate and a very sustainable method of growing rice it also battles hard with the age-old traditional approach of growing rice. The perils of global warming, the drying up of perennial rivers and the excessive use of fertilizers pose numerous threats to rice cultivation; making life very hard for the humble farmer. SRI offers a workable solution to all problems related to traditional rice cultivation.

SRI- Challenging Tradition, Transforming Lives looks at how SRI is helping the modern farmer cultivate India’s traditional crop without the burden that it had become. In addition the film highlights the transformation in the lives of millions of women who toil the hardest in Indian farmers thanks to SRI reducing the need for manual labor. To its critics the System of Rice Intensification might not be the greatest thing but the fact that SRI significantly reduces the demand for water for rice cultivation makes it worthwhile in the current scenario of the world.

Starting out in 2001-02, Gautam Chintamani worked in the capacity of Associate Producer on India’s first daily news spoof show Khabarein Khabardar. There on he did freelance writing for numerous shows for MTV, Sony and Zee amongst others. He has written and directed an 18 min short film, Alterations. In addition to writing for television Gautam Chintamani regualraly writes for the print and electronic media. He has extensively written for Man’s World, Hard News, Media Trans-Asia and MidDay, and Buzz in Town. Gautam also worked in the capacity of Associate Director and Executive Producer of the Hindi feature film, Amavas. Of his television work the law drama, Siddhanth (Star One) was nominated for an Emmy in the International Drama section. Gautam’s episode dealing with an HIV positive college student who fights for her basic right to education was selected as a case study for a Writers workshop conducted by Hero’s Group in Hyderabad & Chennai.

Asia Pacific Rice Film Award: Say thank you to rice in moving images!

Have a rice day!

Have a rice day!

If an alien spaceship were to randomly descend to the one third of our planet that is not covered by ocean, chances are high that it would land on a rice field.

So I was told a few years ago, when spending time with some rice researchers. Rice is the most widely cultivated food crop in the world. It is also the most important staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the West Indies. From risotto to sushi to paella, food-savvy consumers are using rice as the main ingredient in recipes from around the world. Rice lends substance and texture to many dishes.

Despite all this, rice is under some pressures both economically and culturally. For one thing, it has been taken for granted by many of those who regularly have a ‘rice day’ and think nothing further about it.

That’s the reason for the first-ever Asia Pacific Rice Film Award – a regional competition to celebrate the role of rice in Asian cultures and societies. This is a regional partnership involving Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN-AP), my own organisation TVE Asia Pacific and Public Media Agency of Malaysia.

APRFA logo

APRFA logo

I have just given an interview to TimeOut Kuala Lumpur magazine, October 2009 issue. In my capacity as head of the seven-member international jury, I answered questions from the magazine’s Brian Kwan. Here is the full text of the interview, which is also available online here:

How effective do you think this award will be?
When we set out on this joint effort, we posed two big questions: What feeds 3 billion people? And what is slowly but surely disappearing without anyone noticing it? The answer to both questions is Rice! We wanted this film award to draw attention to the central role that rice plays in Asian and Pacific cultures and economies. The measure of our success will be a long term one, and will depend on how many take part in this competition and how far and wide we will be able to distribute their creative efforts.

Why do you think Asia is in need for a wake up call on the subject of rice?
Rice one of our most revered treasures in the Asia Pacific, and many of us take it for granted. It is central to the Asian way of life — its cultural heritage and diversity, spirituality and traditions. This precious rice heritage is under threat from corporate or industrialized agriculture, neo-liberal globalization, private control of the rice seeds, and genetic engineering of the rice genome. Rice lands are also being torn away from small rice farming communities in the name of “development” projects such as special economic zones, cash cropping, and agro-fuel plantations.

Time Out KLPesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN-AP) has for the last two decades championed the food sovereignty of the grassroots, namely, farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous people and consumers. In 2003, PAN-AP launched the SAVE OUR RICE CAMPAIGN. It is founded on Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom: Rice Culture, Community Wisdom, Biodiversity based Ecological Agriculture, Safe Food and Food Sovereignty. Last year, PAN-AP joined TVE Asia Pacific and Public Media Agency to organise this film competition as part of the on-going campaign. We all share the ideals of promoting rice in Asia and the Pacific.

APRFA co-organisers

APRFA co-organisers

What would you be looking out for in the short films?
The Asia Pacific Rice Film Award will be presented to creators of short innovative television, video or cinematic films that effectively educate the public on the role of rice in Asian cultures, economies and communities/societies. The films should use the ‘Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom’ as guiding principles. They should enhance appreciation of the rice heritage of Asia; raise public awareness of the issues on and threats to rice; highlight the role of small farmers, women in rice; strengthen the people’s resolve and action to save rice; and encourage a stronger role for youth in rice.

Any tips for the participants?
We are looking for short films that are innovative, imaginative and ultimately effective in raising public awareness. Rice may be a pervasive topic in Asia, but the threats to rice are not yet widely appreciated. How do we take this message to the three billion rice growers and eaters of Asia using moving images? How do we engage the YouTube generation – predominantly youthful populations of Asia – with films that open eyes and provoke minds to think further? What would work best — factual reportage, drama, humour, performing arts or other formats? These questions are worth pondering. As organisers, we are open to all formats. We want to be surprised!

After all this, what would be the next step/project?
As I said, this is an on-going campaign, so the winning and commended entries will become new tools and resources for that campaign. Making films and ranking them is only the first half of our shared challenge. We then have to get these films distributed far and wide, using broadcast, narrowcast, webcast and mobile platforms. Three billion people means six billion eye balls that need to be reached! That should keep all of us busy for a while…

Read more about the Asia Pacific Rice Film Award 2008/2009

Deadline for entries is 31 December 2009!