Key Takeaways: Discussing the Impact of COVID-19 on Archive Researchers.

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Archive Valley’s international panel of archive researchers

A month ago, at Archive Valley, we’ve run our first webinar that was fully dedicated to our international community of archive researchers. We organized this webinar to connect archive researchers across the globe and bring light on what the industry has been experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The panel brought together 5 archive researchers from different countries. And, as it is standard at Archive Valley, we used this discussion as an opportunity to shed an international perspective on current events bridging distance-gaps.

Discover our selection of take-aways, from 5 different perspectives.


Rich Remsberg (U.S.A.) tells us that production has completely changed; the focus is now on editing, scripting, and researching rather than film shooting. And as a consequence many archival dormant projects have suddenly awaken as they recently sold offering new opportunities for archive researchers and archival driven stories. 

That being said, both Stephanie Jenkins and Rich are concerned for the success of smaller archives during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Stephanie, industry giants like ESPN or NBC are powering on, yet smaller archive libraries are finding ways to stay afloat


For Laura Tusi (Argentina), lockdown has proven to be an ideal moment for developing new projects in the documentary, and this, as a result, had brought her lots of new work.

On the other hand, Laura voices how difficult it has been during the lockdown to access the footage. She expressed concerns about closing deals. If nobody is in the office (as archivists work remotely) it is difficult to negotiate and secure a project.


Stephen Maier reported how creative collaboration in Germany has been maintained, even from a distance and through the chaos of lockdown. As a new freelancer, his personal experience of archive research during these difficult times has been full of networking (virtually) and building connections.

In Germany, archive research seems to be moving along as usual with minimal slowdowns. “Because [new] streamers [and broadcasters] need fresh content, filmmakers are selling their old programs…”. Personally, he says, he had lots of work in renegotiating right extensions of old programs for streamers. 


Alessia Petitto from Italy express both her excitement and concerns. She sees that currently in Italy, the demands for archival driven projects is rising. But  COVID-19 has financially affected Italy’s film industry since it is linked to a struggling national capital pool. Alessia points out how the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic might affect the film industry in Italy even well past lockdown.

Alessia strongly believes that home movies will play a major role in archival driven stories. Home movies will be out next week webinar topic.

While the pandemic has seriously impacted the documentary industry, the lockdown brings as well new opportunities for archival driven stories worldwide“.

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Archive Researchers, Documentary Productions

Interview with the archive researchers behind “Diego Maradona”, Asif Kapadia latest documentary

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“Diego Maradona” is the latest Asif Kapadia documentary, and it is fully archive-driven – more than 500 hours of never-before-seen archive footage were used. The documentary explores the man behind the icon and it was in the spotlights at Festival de Cannes 2019. The archival production is a result of a joint effort of Archive Producers Fiammetta Luino and Lina Caicedo, and Argentina-based Archive Researchers Laura Tusi and Rita Falcon. Fiammetta and Laura are part of Archive Valley’s community of professional archive researchers and it was a great opportunity to get some insights about one of the most anticipated documentaries of the year.

The project has involved a “small army” of archive researchers. How did you all end up working on this film?

Lina: Before this I had been working as a researcher at a television production company where I had been lucky enough to work with Miriam Walsh, an incredible Archive Producer who not only had a wealth of experience under her belt, but who also taught me to see archive in a different way. Doing archive research with Miriam was never boring, I was always learning something new and through her support and guidance, I started developing my own taste and eye for what I felt worked well visually in a story. Perhaps it was the space and confidence she gave me that allowed me to develop the curiosity and appreciation that I have for archive today.

After working with Miriam, I decided that it was time  to spread my wings and look for something different. I had been a huge fan of Asif’s work and I was particularly inclined to work with him after watching a Film4 interview where he discussed the filmmaking process of “Amy”. In this interview he spoke about the forensic research that had been carried out, the layers to the story and the importance of archive. But what caught my attention the most, was the fact that he didn’t know much about his protagonist at the start of the process and it was only along the way that he started to figure out who she was and what the story was. To me this sounded like the sort of creative process I wanted to be part of. A creativity journey and deep filmmaking of sorts.

I reached out to Asif’s company and didn’t hear back straight away. About 6 months later, I received an email telling me that Asif was developing his third feature doc and whether I wanted to come in for an interview.

Fiammetta : I started working on the project as a translator back in 2016, when they were cutting a teaser to raise the money for the film. Some Italian footage needed to be translated into English, so a friend put my name forward as an Italian speaker who could do the job. At the time I was leaving behind a career in the art world to follow my dream to make documentaries. I knew about Asif’s work, I had watched and loved both Senna and Amy. So I gave all I could on that first assignment and communicated quite strongly my interest in the project! Then came more translations, then a work experience, then some research and in the end… everything that had to do with Italy, from the research of the story, to the relationships with all contributors there and the sourcing and delivery of all the Italian archive.

Rita: I met George Pank, one of the producers at On the Corner, in Buenos Aires, in a bar, back in 2015. We started talking casually, and he told me he was interested in going to Fiorito, the neighbourhood were Maradona was brought up, for a project in development he was working on. A friend of mine helped out with this Fiorito visit, and we stayed in touch over email. George already knew I worked on film archive research and distribution. In 2016 during Berlin Film Festival we reconnected and he asked if I could send my CV because they needed archive researchers on the ground to bring in material from Argentina. I immediately thought of Laura to partner up in this because she is on of the most experienced professionals in the field and I knew it was going to be a very intense journey.

Laura: I have been working as an archive producer and researcher for a decade, Rita and I had worked together before and we trusted each other. In the first interview we had on Skype I felt that the OTC recruiting team saw that we were well prepared to do this. I had seen Senna and Amy, when they hired us I couldn’t believe it, but quickly it felt both right and daring.

Director Asif Kapadia has gained a huge recognition with two others archive-driven stories – Senna (2010) and Amy (2015). What was different, in terms of gathering archive footage, in this film?

Fiammetta:  From an archive perspective, Diego Maradona presented some specific challenges that maybe were not so predominant in Senna and Amy. The language is one: everything is either in Italian or in Spanish, so everything had to be translated. On top of that, Naples is a city with a unique, strong identity and culture. Part of my job as an Italian mother-tongue Archive Producer also became a matter of being able to convey to Asif and Chris King, the editor, the flavour and nuances of the language being spoken in the archive and the cultural context behind the images.

The other challenge we encountered was that hardcore fans in Naples had told us at the beginning that everything concerning Diego had already been seen! So Lina and I had to delve into a vast array of secondary and unconventional sources of archive, in order to find unseen archive material, crucial to the story Asif wanted to tell. This meant that we were often dealing with individuals and institutions not used to license material, a process that has demanded a lot of perseverance, care and creativity !

Lina and Fiammetta in Napoli

Lina: I didn’t work on Senna or Amy – but as Fiammetta said one of the huge differences was language.

Asif didn’t speak Spanish or Italian, so it was very difficult for him to build up a direct personal relationship with Diego and the key contributors. So he had to trust in both Fiammetta and I to create the links, build the relationships, set up the interviews, get access to personal archive and finally negotiate the deals. It was a huge collaboration.

The other difference was perhaps a cultural one. Although I am Latin-American, I do not live there and so it took me awhile to get used to the fact that the archive sector isn’t as developed as it is in the US and the UK. There isn’t a whole structure of people exclusively dedicated to archive, who can give you clear answers with solid results. Everything is quite elusive and you sort of have to find your own way. Everything is case by case and there are so many grey areas. This was something that was constantly playing against us, which I don’t think was the case on Amy and Senna.

Laura: Although I read about the archive research methods applied in Senna and Amy, I didn’t take part in those films so I’d rather refer to the overall process of covering a celebrity like Diego Maradona: we had a very long career to document, 4 decades of registers in many countries, as a sports man, a family man and a celebrity, so the sources for footage were definitely too many: from long standing TV networks, sport institutions, to his relatives home movies, (to begin with)…  All in several supports, with different levels of access and licensing terms. Chaotic at first glance. Rita and I set up a map of archive footage providers and an access approach plan. When we got the first screeners everything started to fall into place and we started to work with Lina. That process took three years and we faced different challenges along the way. I was amazed with their level of organization, Raquel Alvarez, production manager,  was very helpful. She worked in both Senna and Amy so she knew!

Rita: I didn’t work in the previous films either, so I couldn’t compare. It was very challenging because Maradona’s career was an incredibly rich story to tell and we were driven by the desire to find different footage of Maradona than the images we were used to seeing on TV or on the hundreds of documentaries made before. We started our process by getting our hands on all the biographies written on him, in order to jot down significant events that would have been taped and broadcasted from Argentina, which is were our research took place, or that could be in hands of fans, or collaborators of Diego. We also did many informal interviews with people that had worked with him or covered sports for different media, in order to secure our sources of archive. So we pretty much covered all the angles: press, radio, photos, broadcasters. We became addicts to Maradona’s footage and at the end of the process we felt like we knew him deeply!

One could say that he has a very personal and modern way to create doc portraits out of archives.
How did you collaborate with him in terms of archive ?

Fiammetta: Working with Asif on this film has been an amazing experience. Asif’s documentaries truly emerge from the existing archive and from the interviews he conducts; they are distilled through a long process of watching and listening, of observing and reflecting. For that reason, he likes to watch and work on the footage on his own Avid, while Chris, the editor, cuts the film on a nearby station. So while Asif and Chris were discovering the footage and cutting the film, Lina and I were in the room next door, doing our own parallel review of the footage in function of the evolving cut of the film, looking for new archive footage when new directions in the cut required new images or simply helping Asif and Chris to find the right material among the thousands of hours that we had gathered.

That meant that we were in constant dialogue with Asif throughout the making of the film and that has been an incredible privilege for me, as it has allowed me to peer straight into the creative workings of Asif’s filmmaking.

It also meant that impossible footage requests landed on my desk regularly! But I like challenges. And thanks to Asif’s relentless optimism, we did end up finding things we thought we would never find. So that was a precious lesson in itself and I am grateful to Asif for having taught me that.

Lina: The collaborative process with Asif is an ongoing conversation. Very open, constantly moving, constantly changing and a lot of trial and error. At times it drove us crazy, but the journey was always interesting. Asif is obsessive, so he needs and wants to see absolutely EVERYTHING, hence our research had to be very expansive. Fiammetta and I read many books, spoke to many people and pulled in tons of archive (from my end, with a lot of support from Laura and Rita, who were always on the ground to help). Throughout the process, we would be discussing ideas with Asif at all times: in the edit, over email, through Whatsapp or team meetings. For Asif, it was important that he was to be able to watch any footage that came in on a timeline, He is very curious and finds appreciation in the smallest and most nuanced things, so we always knew that we could throw in anything that we personally found interesting and there would always be a fruitful discussion.

Laura: Asif delves into the psychology of the character in a way that makes you, as a researcher, approach the subject from multiple angles. I’d say every archive production is one of a kind.  However, a movie that is made with only archive footage is a very different thing. Once Asif told us something like “I don’t use cameras, so you are my eyes”. Then our mission was crystal clear, we had to “show” him Diego Maradona.

How did you manage to gather 500 hours of never-before-seen archive footage? Where did you dig? What was your process?

Fiammetta: The production of the film really took off when the producers James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin secured access to the archive of cameramen Juan Laburu and Gino Martucci, who had worked for Diego during his years in Naples. I came onboard when that archive footage had already been secured. It included mostly football, albeit shot from the side of the pitch and with a special eye on Diego. And it also included some really great family videos. It was an incredible starting point, but we knew there were many gaps we needed to bridge and, indeed, some of the most memorable scenes that are now in the film were found later on, via other sources.

I’d say that rule number one was: research, research, research. You’d be surprised by how many crucial archive cues are buried in books, articles or random YouTube posts!

Second rule was: meet the people. We cast our net very wide and we met and talked in person to as many people as we could. You never know what people may have recorded and then forgotten about it.

And the third rule was: don’t accept ‘no’ as an answer. There were so many instances in which, had I stop at the first ‘No, we don’t have that’, ‘No, we can’t licence this’,  then we would have missed some great moments that are now in the film.

Lina: As Fiammetta said, when we started on the project, On The Corner had just got access to the archive footage of two cameramen who had closely followed Diego’s football career between 1981 and 1991. So when we began, there was already a good foundation for us to get a taste of Diego’s time in Napoli. The archive footage had tons of great football and some fun home family footage, but it was also quite disorganised. There were duplicates, things cut in half or different versions of the same thing. So, we had to go back to basics – that is, create a very tight timeline and as Fiammetta said research, research, research”.

The research allowed us to get a better understanding of the footage that we were logging, but also helped us decipher what was missing or what we thought could be interesting and didn’t have yet.  Once we knew what were looking for, we would reach out to various sources in order to try and trace it. A good example of this would be a clip we released last month, which Asif calls “The Gladiator Walk” of Diego’s arrival to the Napoli stadium in July 1984. This sequence alone, came from three different archive sources. We had read about this conference over and over again and nobody seemed to have it. But we kept on digging and finally were able to piece it together through various sources.

To conclude, the footage was a mixture of broadcast, personal footage (which included Diego’s camera men, family and friends) and private collectors. Every single person that we spoke to or interviewed, we would ask them archive related questions. It was like piecing  together a huge puzzle.

Laura: I mostly worked with Argentinean audiovisual and graphic archives, where we eventually found some archive footage coming from news agencies or international services as well. As mentioned before, Maradona’s life in media is 40 years long and we had plenty of time to work, which made the whole difference. In general as a Latin America based archive researcher / producer, I am given an average of 4 months to cover an entire project, be it  film or series. Working with On The Corner was awesome in that sense: they know how to make good archive productions and they allocate the means for that to happen. We had enough time to work on a highly complex licensing process, which was vital.

What were the biggest challenges you had to face…

Laura: Easy: keeping it confidential. Diego Maradona and his entourage are very active in all kinds of media in Argentina. We were constantly careful of not leaking any sort of information because it could damage the production. Fortunately we managed to get along with everyone involved and it all went on in a respectful way.

Fiammetta: The biggest challenge I had to face was… not having worked in Italy for a long while ! I forgot how convoluted systems can be there, how longwinded and improvised some processes are, how hard it can be to have your emails answered. You really need to be on the ball and be ready to persevere to be able to work there.

But I was also very quickly reminded of how genuinely friendly people there can be. I had the chance to find a few incredibly kind and helpful people and that made up for all the rest of the struggle!

Archive research process in Italy
Italian archive footage from RAI

Lina: There were many challenges, but I would have to go back to what I was saying earlier about archive processes in Latin-America. Although Argentina has a long history of great filmmaking, the archive sector is totally underfunded and under developed, making the archive research and clearing process extremely slow and very bureaucratic. There is no clarity on copyright either, so sometimes it felt like you were jumping through a black hole. There was actually a very frightening moment in post production when we had 2 weeks to pull in all the final masters for the film and at last minute, one of the Argentine broadcasters told us that we couldn’t receive the masters because the archivists had gone on strike and  the issues were not likely to be resolved until the following year. I think I didn’t sleep for two days, trying to find all possible solutions.

… and  your eureka moments ?

Laura: My personal eureka moment was at America TV archive, where Rita and I saw the footage of Diego about to die being carried in an ambulance, Claudia Villafañe, his then ex wife, is with him and asks the journalists to stay out. It was so shocking, I could feel Diego’s pain and that helped me connect with the character. This happened during the first weeks of work, June 2016!

archive research in Argentina
Archive Footage library in Argentia

Fiammetta:  I think the best feeling of this job is when you have spent months of research and tricky conversations to get to some archive and then you watch it for the first time and something jolts in you and you just know it:  that image will be in the film.

It happened a few times to me on this film and every time those specific images come up on the big screen I’m reminded of the very first time I encountered them.

Lina : Ummm. After so much research, there is archive that you come across at the beginning of the process and perhaps don’t think is relevant. But later on (maybe two years later) it becomes relevant and it suddenly it’s like “aha! I know where that is”. And it’s heartwarming, because it makes you realise how important the process is.

How was this experience unique / different from working with other directors?

Fiammetta: One of Asif’s greatest qualities  is that he is incredibly curious and an extremely active listener. While many directors may only be interested in telling you what they think, Asif’s approach is diametrically opposed: he comes to you with a thousand questions, to start with. That creates a very collaborative atmosphere in the team. He is also a die-hard optimist. If an obstacle arises, he will keep pushing – and expect you to keep pushing – till it has been overcome. I found that incredibly motivating and energising. Finally, he has an incredibly fine instinct when it comes to suss personal character and the hidden workings of a story, like the one of Maradona. It has been amazing to be able to watch him find his way into this story and make sense of it. 

Rita: Participating in the recording of interviews in Argentina was definitely a lesson in documentary filmmaking for me. Asif’s way of phrasing the questions, some of which were very delicate; how he managed to make the interviewee feel comfortable to speak from the heart; his obsession in understanding this buildungsroman story of Maradona; his attentiveness to the small anecdotes which at the end were what created this sense of intimacy that is so powerful.

Lina: This is the first director I have ever worked with so closely and so intensely. But from previous short stints and observation, I would say that Asif is one of the most open directors I have ever come across. He is up for and not afraid of a challenge and there is always good dialogue with him. He is compassionate and a good listener. More importantly, he gave both Fiammetta and I a voice and trusted us intimately and I thank him for that, because that’s ultimately what helps you grow

Laura: All things mentioned above and… The unique opportunity of being  Asif’s translator! Rita and I participated of many interviews as simultaneous translators, so that made me see  AK’s storytelling method. He interviews with a narrative arc in mind, because he knows the characters so well that he can anticipate to what they are going to say, and then he manages to make people to open up a little and say something new. I really appreciate the opportunity of being there, I learnt a lot.

Part of the Archive researchers' team in Argentina
Lina, Laura and Rita in Buenos Aires

Do you think Diego Maradona still has secrets from you? Did you develop any special emotional connection with the person behind the icon?

Rita: I can definitely say that I now have more empathy towards Maradona. Before getting involved in the film I was far more judgemental about everything he said or did. After so many months of digging into his fascinating life story, I have developed a sort of fondness that won’t go away easily.

Laura: Definitely, he’s unpredictable. However, I don’t feel the need to know more about him, working in this movie made me understand him as a highly mediatized person, sort of a prisoner of himself, both positively and negatively. I did enjoy getting to know the people who love him, his family, Fernando Signorini, Daniel Arcucci, they were key for me to empathise with both Diego and Maradona.

Fiammetta: I personally never met Diego Maradona. I only got to know him by watching and listening to the archive and by talking to the people who met him and knew him in Italy. And, in a way, I prefer it this way. I feel the world has demanded him to be a specific person before he could figure out for himself who he truly was. So, to have gathered an impression of him through stolen moments that survive in the archive, little slips in the footage and the inconsistencies he expressed here and there, seems like an appropriate way to have ‘met’ him.

Lina : I’m sure there are millions of secrets. But if you want to know the truth, don’t ask him. Haha.

I met him a couple of times with Asif, but I wouldn’t say that I built a special emotional connection with him. Perhaps more one of curiosity.  I think he was often baffled by this Colombian-Anglo girl and Indian-Anglo man. But there was always respect. In a funny way, I think he found Asif quite charming.

Licensing, The Right Footage

The Ups and Downs of Finding Footage from YouTube for Your Productions

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For amateur and professional filmmakers and content producers alike, YouTube has become for many, the first place to go when looking for footage of a range of topics past and present.

The sheer volume of material uploaded to YouTube, as well as the perception ease-of-use offered by the search engine interface, have changed the way we think about finding visual material both for consumption as well as professional productions.

However, for filmmakers seeking to use material found on YouTube in their final cut, here are a few of the ‘ups and downs’ of researching on the world’s most popular video platform. (more…)

Archive Valley, Documentary Film Industry

Interview With Mrinal Kapadia

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In this interview, we get the chance to get some inside information from producer Mrinal Kapadia, who lives in India and runs an Indian production company, producing fiction and documentaries for the Indian and international audience. Mrinal, is at the front-row seat of the industry in India and this is an opportunity to hear the voice of someone who knows well the Indian market and for us to have a glimpse at what is happening in the film and especially in the documentary industry, today and where does it head tomorrow.

Thank you, Mrinal for taking the time to share your vision with us. First, can you tells us about you, your background, what brought you to make films and what is it like to work as a producer/filmmaker in India in 2019?

I had studied Industrial Engineering in the US and my goal during college was to pursue a career as a Business Management Consultant. I tried some internships and a job after college doing exactly that, but I soon left the company. When I was in between jobs and thinking of what to do next, through a series of events I ended up joining my father’s production house as a trainee on a regional Indian feature film. One may (or may not) be able to understand what a learning experience that had been!

Beyond my training on that film, our company has gone on to produce multiple feature films and documentaries, initially for the Indian market but now progressively more focussed towards international markets. There is a huge skew between the number of films & documentaries produced in India (over 2000 per year) and the worldwide market share enjoyed, and that’s where I believe a gap lies that can be fulfilled.

Working as a producer in India is very challenging, of course – the main problem I see is the lack of systems; since barriers to entry in the film industry in India are very low (anyone without a resume / requisite skill qualification can “become” a part of the industry if they have the wish), and this could lead to a product, not at par with the rest of the world. Also, on the production side, for smaller feature films and documentaries, there is very little distinction between Executive Producers, Line Producers, Production Controller, etc., so tasks are not clear at each level and it is tougher to point responsibility. On the other hand, this very lack of systems allows for lower production crew costs, so it must be seen from a wholesome point of view.

In the last few years, especially since digital cameras have made the medium less prohibitive in our ultra cost-sensitive country, people are experimenting more and more with the medium. Also, the internet has made the environment a more equal playing field, and systems by default are getting better and better.

Could you explain a bit how (through which channels) content is distributed today in India (mobile phones, cable networks …)?

The distribution channels, like almost anywhere in the world, have traditionally been theatres and television (satellite, cable, and home video). But in the last 3-4 years, due to smartphone penetration across semi-urban and rural areas, along with huge cellular data limits offered by a new entrant, Reliance Jio (of over 1 GB/day) at very low cost (less than € 2 per month), entertainment consumption on mobile phones has shot up.

Theatres are almost exclusively for larger budget feature films (Bollywood, Hollywood, and regional), of which Hollywood now has a healthy share. India has been exposed to

English for centuries, and is not an insurmountable barrier to overcome, but most big-budget Hollywood features come not only subtitled but also dubbed into Hindi and other major regional Indian languages. Satellite/cable television viewership is dropping in urban areas but rising in rural regions, where many households are still getting their first televisions due to the slow but steady economic upturn across India.

There is a particularly interesting and unique traditional concept of showcasing audiovisuals (films or government-sponsored shorts) in rural areas through ‘tambus’ or touring tents, where a truck goes from village-to-village, but even though it still exists, it is fast disappearing due to easy internet access for entertainment.

Who are the major OTT actors today in India? Are Netflix or Amazon present and highly watched in India? Who do you believe will be the main ones tomorrow and why?

As with many countries, Amazon Prime and Netflix are two of the top players in the OTT space in India. But they currently stand second and third (respectively) in terms of a number of subscribers to HotStar, a subsidiary of Star India (owned by Fox and consequently by Disney), which has the highest number of users by a large margin. The main reasons are 1. It showcases a lot of the most popular sports events and leagues, and 2. It follows a model which is a mix of AVOD and SVOD, a sort of “freemium” model.

There are some more prominent local OTT platforms (SonyLiv, Zee5, Eros Now, AltBalaji to name a few) that follow either the “freemium” or SVOD model, but all have a very low subscription cost. The general trend is that if a platform is part of a media conglomerate group, they would offer their TV soaps, music, etc., for free whereas movies, original productions, and live sports with zero delay would be available with a subscription.

There is no doubt that Netflix and Amazon Prime are here to stay in India, even though they have begun with differing strategies (Netflix charges between €6.5 and €10 per month, whereas Amazon Prime has a low fee of €13 per year, obviously targetting a larger section of the population to allow combining of their other mainstay offerings of free Amazon.com delivery, etc., within it). But leaving them aside, and also the fact that other huge international conglomerates like Disney, BBC, etc., shall be launching their own platforms soon, a lot will probably depend on the cellular data packages that are offered here.

As mentioned above, if the offering by Reliance Jio continues in a similar fashion, and other competitors maintain similar pricing to keep pace, data consumption will keep growing significantly and, as a result, so will online viewership across OTT platforms. If not, overall viewership might not grow much, and the market might hit a saturation point or continue with slow growth.

We start to see more and more Indian documentaries at international festivals such IDFA award for best documentary,  “Reason” by Anand Patwardhan’s. Would you say that Indian filmmakers, like you, have a stronger desire to enter the international market and are they looking to work on subjects connected to India with an international appeal?

Apart from big-budget feature films (Bollywood and regional), funding for other features, documentaries, and shorts is very difficult. Hence funding becomes one major reason for Indian filmmakers to look internationally in order to tell their stories.

Additionally, since English is spoken by many Indians, communication with the West is less of a hindrance. With the exposure/influence of international (largely American) media for the past 25-30 years (news, television, films, etc.), connect with the West and western ideas is quite strong.

With the general influence of the internet being the “democratization” of products, suddenly audiences have the world to choose from and want to find good, engaging stories, gain knowledge about places/people quickly, and from my recent interactions at exhibitions it seems the world finds India fascinating/interesting and wants to know more, adding yet another incentive to like-minded filmmakers to look outside for funding and/or showcasing.

And lastly, with politics in the country (just like the world over) getting more polarizing, irrespective of the outcome of our national elections which are currently going on, there will definitely be more and more filmmakers looking to take their projects to international markets.

In the west, for many, the film & documentary industry is going a “golden age”,  within a very competitive landscape in which producers and filmmakers are being asked to produce more and more content: how would you describe the documentary landscape today in India? Is it facing a similar path or are there other challenges at stake?

Going back in time a bit, India was a closed economy pre-1990, and with the economy not being as large (“underdeveloped” from a capitalist point of view) then, the cost of filmmaking was prohibitive to even most feature filmmakers, let alone documentarians. There was even rationing of celluloid print during this time!

In the past 3 decades, the economy has opened up, the glamour quotient associated with this (film) industry has steadily risen, the number of avenues for showcasing (theatres and especially TV channels) have gone up considerably, and post the rampant adoption of digital technologies in the last 5 years, local filmmakers here to are producing more and more content.

In spite of a large number of local productions, a high percentage of the total money is concentrated on the top few feature film projects with the biggest stars; it is, in general, difficult to get funding for films, and even more so for documentaries.

There is the occasional institute (Jamia Millia, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, etc.) or semi-government body (Public Service Broadcasting Trust [PSBT], founded and run by the amazing Rajiv Mehrotra) that tries funding or training for documentaries, but there are limited local avenues.

How do you see the future of documentaries in India? Do you expect more and more international co-productions or is the local market with all its regional languages big enough to feed the industry?

We have succumbed to a Box Office driven mentality, where whatever makes you a quick return on your investment is the way forward. As with many places, what falls into this category (of getting the largest box office returns), is entertaining fiction with stars. We don’t nourish our culture on screen and don’t portray stories in their truest form since they might not be “entertaining” enough to earn big numbers. As a result, making a project deemed ‘risky’ in India is very difficult, which is where the documentary genre falls.

When it comes to the festival circuit, barring some exceptions, Indian documentaries have not been able to yet navigate the marketplace landscape of foundations, pitching forums, sales agents/distributors, buyers, etc. But again, awareness is ever-increasing.

The future does look bright – apart from taking documentaries to international markets/festivals, the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the host of soon-to-launch international platforms will be good potential fits for well-told documentaries on Indian subjects.

This will probably not happen overnight. We are at the very early stages of OTT dominance in audiovisual media, and since the business model is very different than it has been in the past, dominant international platforms will on one hand definitely want a strong Indian subscriber base, but will also have to work around the complexity of India, and will (to some extent, they already have) begin with trusted partners (many from the West). So yes, it does seem that international co-productions will dominate this space in the near future. And since these international platforms will be calling the shots, it’s not necessarily a question of what the local market feeds the industry; it’s what will work worldwide for the platforms that will determine what gets picked up / greenlit.

Is there a higher demand for documentaries today than in the past?

In the past (post independence in 1947), documentaries were an almost-exclusive domain of the Films Division (FD), the Indian government’s filmmaking unit. Independent documentaries were almost non-existent. FD shorts were compulsorily played before feature films in theatres and by mobile projection vans in villages all through the 50s, 60s, and part of the 70s; and so demand had very little role to play.

As the political climate shifted and technology offered the possibility of moving from celluloid to video in the 80s, and analogue to digital in more recent times, the supply has gone up as can be expected, but demand has been low. The average budget allocated to a documentary by the Films Division today, for example, would be in the vicinity of INR 1 million, which is quite low and would result in below average visual quality. This general trend has led to local audiences equating documentaries with being uninteresting, and demand has remained low.

The best way to address the root cause of this low demand is covered in a very informative book, ‘A Fly in the Curry’ by K.P. Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro. The crux of the matter is that documentary filmmakers are very vocal about their fight against power, and as a result have found very little support from either the state or the market to make their films. The visual quality continues to remain low, documentaries have remained a niche in the country, and as a result, we have very few internationally recognized documentarians like Mani Kaul or Anand Patwardhan.

The turning point seems to be near though – it’s only a matter of time before we catch up with the rest of the world, and as the world gets more global, India will continue to remain interesting for a while. We should be seeing a host of international projects of either Indian origin or Indian co-production, with the subject centred on India. The worldwide recognition and appreciation of Netflix’s ‘Wild Wild Country’ (the subject is an Indian spiritual Guru and his cult) and ‘Period: End of Sentence’ (based on the taboo surrounding menstruation in India and winner of 2019’s ‘Best Documentary Short Subject’ Oscar) are just the beginning. Many Original projects on India by international OTT platforms (especially Netflix) are today produced or co-produced internationally, but this should change slowly but steadily.

As we are both passionate for archives, could you tell us a bit about India’s relation with archives? Do Indians have a strong interest in their own history, in their own past?

When we talk about India’s film archives, we must start at the beginning. From pre-independence (pre-1947) times, a majority of all official, educational, and amateur films were taken back to the UK, and the BFI National Archive holds a large collection of this time in the country. How much footage erstwhile royal families, old industrialist families, colonial-era institutes, etc., hold is not known.

When it comes to fiction (features and shorts), from the approximately 1,700 silent films made in India, only 5-6 complete ones remain at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). We don’t even have a complete print of our first ever talkie, Alam Ara, released in 1931. The fact is, it seems we’ve lost 70-80% of all film prints from before 1964, the year that the NFAI was established. A lot of these statistics have been collected by the pioneering Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, a filmmaker who has started his own non-governmental film archive in order to help preserve the medium in India. He has made a lovely tribute documentary on P.K. Nair, the founder-director of the NFAI (regarded as the Henri Langlois of India), and it is because of Mr. Nair that the NFAI at least has a considerable collection to begin with.

Films Division have, as per their website, “8000 titles including priceless Indian News Reels, documentaries, short films, and animation films”. This is a vast majority of all the non-fiction produced from the 50s to the 70s, and it seems they still haven’t got the funding to restore these titles.

The Indian Government is extremely apathetic towards our history and archives. As per a recent report, in the process of digitizing the list of records of the NFAI holdings, almost 31,000 (24%) of all the film cans/reels were found to be lost/damaged. More surprising still, about 5,000 reels which were not listed in the register were found! This indicates major bookkeeping and cataloguing errors, and possibly not an actual loss of stock, but the fact is there is rampant apathy.

When it comes to an individual Indian’s point of view, there is a sense of pride in our history, in our past glories, etc., but those are restricted largely to story form. Restoration, conservation, cataloguing, etc., as processes are just not a part of our training as in the West. Since I am involved in the antique visual art space, I know that many Indian antique booksellers, for example, would not fully understand the difference between selling a good versus poor copy, and their prices would reflect that lack of knowledge. The concept of provenance, which is of prime importance to a rare book, would not be of much importance here. So in conclusion, we appreciate our past, not necessarily our heritage, but this can largely be attributed to our ignorance and lack of awareness, and can definitely be changed with education / knowledge.

Are archives today in India easily accessible? Tells us a bit about the archive project you intend to pursue/build?

Government archives are, as stated in the example above, notoriously difficult to navigate. At the National Archives of India (NAI), according to a 2017 findings, eight in ten requests for access to papers, microfilms, etc., are turned down for ridiculous reasons (‘in search’, ‘tracing’, ‘destroyed’, etc.) On the other hand, the same researcher spoke of damage due to negligence on the part of staff and scholars (dog-earing, annotating, haphazardly filing, etc. of original historic material) The need of the hour is definitely education on preservation for future generations before too much is lost.

Important private archives (high net worth, industrialist, or erstwhile royal families) have been cataloguing and preserving their collections for some years. They are largely professionally run and approachable.

I recently had the privilege of producing a crowdsourced documentary to commemorate the 100thbirth anniversary of the renowned yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar (which we have just licensed to an American OTT platform), and for this project we got to work quite closely with their personal archive; sifting through thousands of images and many videos, matching the material to the specific emotion being conveyed was quite a challenge at times, and overall the outcome was very rewarding.

The project you are referring to is one I’ve been working on for the last three years. I have begun a small but (if I may say so) culturally significant focussed collection of antique Indian visual art, which has been steadily growing, and I have been cataloguing, restoring, digitizing, and preserving it along the way. Our weather makes it difficult for preservation, and digitization must be given utmost importance. My long term goal is to create a digital depository / archive of antique Indian visual art, and an extension of this would be an audiovisual archive (of material that is available, of course.) We shall have to see where life takes us! Thank you for this opportunity to speak on your platform.