Making a good film begins with a good story, and Garo filmmaker, Dominic Megam Sangma has got it down to a T. Hailing from the West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, he has always been a storyteller since he was a little child. ‘My family has many people who are oral storytellers. Back when I was little, there was no access to electricity in my village. It was only at the age of 10 that I came across a television. The first time I saw a film was when a rich family in the village hired a television and screened a film. Growing up, I loved writing and telling stories, but even as a teenager, I never thought that one day I would make a film,’ shared Dominic, in a conversation with Eclectic NorthEast.
A post-graduate from Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, India, the 31-year-old filmmaker worked in National Film and Development Corporation Ltd for two years, before he opened his own production company called ANNA FILMS. He also teaches Direction and Script Writing at the Film and Television Institute, Itanagar, India. He was in a preview committee for International Film Festival of India 2017 and also in a selection committee for the 2nd Guwahati International Film Festival. He had directed a number of short films and documentaries, and his films have competed and been showcased in many international film festivals including the La Fabrique Cinéma, 2019 Cannes.
‘I wasn’t even aware of filmmaking schools out there. It was only at college that I came across the premiere film institute in India. I never thought that I would be a filmmaker, while in school. I did like poetry and drama, although I did not pursue them in college. There is a series of events that led me to becoming a filmmaker. People take up filmmaking for different interests. I took up filmmaking because I could use the medium to express my stories.’
The Reel Story
Ma.Ama, a Garo film and the first feature film by the young filmmaker was selected for the international competition section of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image Film Festival. The film has a Chinese co-producer, Jianshang, and tells the story of a man accepting his mother’s death and bonding with his father thereafter. ‘I was thrilled for Ma.Ama’s selection into the MAMI Film Festival. I was waiting for another premiere, but the selection in MAMI came as a surprise. I am happy about the way people reacted to the film. It is important that people talk about your film. Then you realize that the film is making an impact on the audience. There was a girl in the MAMI Film Festival who came to me and shared her story, and what helped her connect to my story in Ma.Ama. As a director, I am always looking for audience members who get influenced. Film festivals are places where we can directly connect with the audience and receive direct feedback.’
The second project of the independent filmmaker, Rapture, was selected for La Fabrique Cinéma, 2019 which was organised by the Institut Français for this year’s Festival de Cannes. Set in Nongthymmai Garo village in Meghalaya, like his previous film, this film revolves around the disappearance of a boy when villagers are busy collecting an insect that appears only once in four years. ‘I have shot the opening scenes. The insects, called cicada, come in millions and people throng the forests to collect them for food because these are soft, tender and tasty,’ adds Sangma.
In Cannes, he came across agents, producers and festival programmers. ‘The programme invited directors and producers of 10 selected projects from across the globe. They helped us get co-producers and funders so that the films can be completed. I was thrilled by the news of the selection. It means a lot to an independent filmmaker like me, coming from a remote part of our country. It gives me hope to do the kind of cinema that I want to make.’
A Work of Art
According to Sangma, the effectiveness of film school training depends on the individuals. ‘There are many filmmakers who have made commendable films without any proper training. I think it is the story and the script that matters. But as a film school trained filmmaker, I believe that in a film school, you get to experiment and explore the art with endless liberty. You work on films within a curriculum but have the scope for more experiment. In my case, SRFTI provided me with the environment that has helped me process and work on ideas and thoughts before working on a script or a story.’ He also realized the importance of festivals when he was still a student. ‘Initially I made short films and documentaries as part of my assignments and projects. Some of them were sent to festivals while I at the institute. I understood that one needs to send films to the festivals for critical feedback of the audience.’
Mumbai is referred to as the film hub of the country and attracts countless independent filmmakers looking for a good start. ‘But I would say that it is not always necessary to travel to Mumbai for a good career in filmmaking now. With the increase in film awareness in the Northeast, we need not travel outside. But yes, if you have training on the mechanics of filmmaking then you surely have an advantage.’
Local Stories in Local Languages
Regional films in India at most times have been dominated by mainstream Bollywood cinema. Lately, a change in taste has improved the scene slowly. More and more people are appreciating and enjoying films made in local languages and telling local stories. ‘Rather than focussing on the language, filmmaking should be focused more on the art, I believe. Films should be made in local languages, but not with the aim of promoting languages. It should tell only stories.’
Acclaimed independent filmmaker Shanab Alam revealed, ‘The stories from Northeast India are yet to be told to the rest of the country.’ With over 220 languages spoken in the Northeastern region, there is immense scope for regional cinema to thrive. Sangma is reportedly the first person to put a Garo film on celluloid.
While many independent filmmakers look at crowd funding as a common source to complete a film, Sangma has a slightly different approach. Speaking to Eclectic about the problem of funds, Sangma informed, ‘This is not only a problem to some section of filmmakers. Every filmmaker goes through the trauma of funding or to get a producer for a film. But, for me I minimize the expenses of the shoot as much as possible. And I concentrate on the things I have in my hand. My friends and family helped me a lot for during the shoot of Ma’Ama. It is not always necessary to have a big budget, what matters is the story that you are telling. Many films shot with cell phones have won awards and hearts at the same time.’
By Manjum Mahanta
This feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast August 2019 issue