The directors of the Oscar-nominated Indian documentary Writing with Fire have said that they stand by the portrayal of Khabar Lahariya in the film, in response to the rural women-led media house’s statement on innacurate representation.
Writing to Silverscreen India, filmmakers Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas have said, “We respect that this may not be the film that they would have made about themselves but we stand by this portrayal of Khabar Lahariya, which focuses on the range of the important work that they do – and their hopes, fears, vulnerabilities and dreams.”
The media house recently expressed its views on the film, and said that it inaccurately represented them, with respect to their composition and ethics. It also critiques the film, which had won two awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, for revealing the identities of survivors of rape and assualt, while they had worked to always safeguard them.
The filmmakers have called the statement “deeply disappointing”, which “is an acknowledgement of the fractured and complex times we are in.”
In an e-mail conversation with Silverscreen India, the team of Khabar Lahariya had earlier talked about their recent statement, and noted, “After watching the film, one emerging presumption is that Khabar Lahariya comprises of only Dalit women, which is not accurate. It is a Dalit-led team, but also includes Muslim, OBC, and upper-caste women.”
They further mentioned, “The documentary is the filmmakers’ perspective, but the film’s portrayal of our local journalism eclipses our work over the years. And it’s not an accurate representation of our unbiased-feminist reporting, which sets us apart from the clouds of fake news on social media, and even from other mainstream media – which tends to be highly polarised.”
The organisation noted that the filmmaking process was based on “mutual trust,” but the issues raised by their leadership team right after watching the pitch trailer back in 2016 and the first cut in 2020 were both ignored. “Over the course of filming, the filmmakers formed a bond with the protagonists and the KL (Khabar Lahariya) team and we always thought our views would be factored in and given due consideration when the final product was ready.”
While Khabar Lahariya‘s team maintained that they had watched the film, for the first time, only in February, the filmmakers noted that an in-person screening was set up for the key contributors of the documentary, back in January 2021, much before the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Soon after seeing the film, Khabar Lahariya‘s Bureau Chief joined the filmmakers for a post-screening conversation at Sundance in January 2021. In the 14 months since then, the Khabar Lahariya team has joined us in many virtual panels and post-screening conversations around the film and their work,” stated the filmmakers, and added that the Bureau Chief had also joined them to present the film at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).
With the Oscars around the corner, it remains to be seen if any changes, including suggestions of blurring the faces of rape and assualt survivors, will be implemented in the documentary.