Cinematic documentary film tackles India’s gender bias

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‘The Daughter Tree’ explores the aftermath of a cultural preference for baby boys sweeping through India. Its award-winning Canadian filmmaker, Rama Rau talked to CanIndia about her documentary which is premiering at the Hot Docs Film Festival. It will be screened in Toronto from April 27 to May 2.

Rama Rau’s films have screened in over fifty international film festivals, winning awards like the Hot Docs Don Haig Award, the Stuttgart Best Director Award and the Golden Panda for Best Director. As with previous films, her latest offering ‘The Daughter Tree’ features daring subject matter. Here are excerpts of an interview with one of Canada’s Top Ten Women Filmmakers.

What made you take up the subject of female feticide?
Growing up in India, I’ve always known about this issue so when I started researching and developing themes that interest me as a filmmaker, I pursued it. The more I researched, I discovered that it was a growing problem and now there are entire stretches of land where no girls have been born the past twenty or so years.

What did you mean when you said, “This is a film that’s been in development all my life”?
Having grown up in India and seeing this issue grow, this is a topic that’s near and dear to me, the human rights of unborn baby girls. Although I started actual development of the film a few years ago, I’ve known all my life that girls and women have been devalued in India and this was something I wanted to make a film about since many years.

You also said, “I was born in India. I grew up in India, so I know how girls are treated.” Can you share any personal experiences?
My personal experience growing up in India was hardly as bad as that of many of the women I meet in these villages. However, there is a recurring theme that I think every Indian woman (and indeed, many women across the world, if you ask them), that society does devalue its female of the species. Look at the recent #MeToo movement, all this is because women have been considered ‘lesser than’ and we are talking about the present, not some ancient times when we know it was a lot worse. Girls don’t go into the Sciences because they are not told by their parents that intelligence is a valued thing for girls. Instead, they are told to consider their looks to be their most important feature. From the beginning, boys get a feeling of being valued and that grows into taking up space in adult situations, a space that girls and women are sometimes hesitant to take up.

What difficulties did you experience in making the film?
Making this film was really tough. Firstly, getting it funded was very tough. Canadian broadcasters won’t touch it because it has sub titles and is therefore deemed not ‘Canadian’ enough. Then I had a really hard time finding characters to tell this story the way I wanted to tell it. The midwife was initially not my protagonist, it was supposed to be a pregnant woman, whose journey I will follow and observe the pressures on her. But that proved impossible, no women were free to talk to me, on camera, about what they were facing. It goes to the heart of the issue that the pressure they faced itself lead to them refusing to talk to me about it, and sometimes their very lives are in danger, because it is a well-known fact that in many villages, a mother who gives birth to a girl will herself be either thrown out of the house or killed. So, I decided to go with the midwife as my main protagonist. This turned out to be a good decision as I could examine the issue at ground level and follow her as she worked.

Another huge problem was finding men in the Village of Men who would agree to be on camera. We were dealing with a subject that’s shameful. To be unmarried, in a village in India, as a man, you’re almost not a man. So, no one would agree to talk to me. We got a different family of brothers and they cancelled on me mid-way through the shoot. So, I had to put the production on hold and return to Canada. I hired a researcher in Mumbai who would go into the Village of Men and meet families and send me pictures etc. I finally found the three brothers who agreed and then we started filming again.

What is the Canadian connection?
I’m a Canadian filmmaker and this is my film. I think Canadian content is too narrow a way of thinking about what we Canadians who are immigrants from all over the world, consider ‘our’ stories. Besides all this, the populations of India and China, where the male/ female gender imbalance is creating massive shifts total up to billions. It is predicted that there will be 30 million single males in India alone, by 2020. This is a problem that North America, Europe and the rest of the world will be forced to consider very soon, just like the refugee problem

Where will this film be screened and how will it make a difference?
We plan to get the film into as many international film festivals as possible. After that, it will go into TV channels and SVOD. I am negotiating with a distributor in the UK to fund a grassroots Outreach initiative with an NGO based in India to help me edit a 15 minute film that will then be viewed on tablets by women in villages and this can be used as a teaching tool for midwives and medical workers in the villages in India.

What are future plans?
As a filmmaker, I will continue to explore and develop films that are not just deeply meaningful to me but films that will form a collective voice of all the women in the world who don’t have an opportunity to have their voices heard. -CINEWS

The film can be seen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 on Saturday, April 27 at 6:30 pm and Tuesday, April 30 at 10:15 am. It will also be shown at Hart House Theatre on Thursday, May 2 at 9:00 pm.

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