Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Watermark Scandal: Independence Day Special Bulletin from SRFTI

Hi everyone. Please take a look at this notice which was displayed in the Department of Editing, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute till i took it off to click a picture of it. Whatever is displayed on boards should be displayed before public too.

The Watermark Scandal Exhibit A: Order signed by Mr Debashish Ghoshal, Dean in Charge, with instruction to be circulated in all departments.

This time i am trying to approach the problem with a calm mind so that i can save some energy for creative purposes like making films, writing etc. Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute is a film school and all of us here are people who enrolled to learn cinema, lest we forget.

The Problem.

Like the notice says, a student shall be provided with just one copy of their film. Whichever project it is. I, for example, just finished the principal photography of my diploma project. So suppose after edit and sound and colour correction, i go to get a copy of my film. [The reason why i am calling it 'my' film and not 'our' film is here in this Facebook post. Things change here in SRFTI.] Then somebody from the Editing department will give me a copy of my film with a watermark on it. That is the ONLY copy of the film that i, the director will have. For the rest of my life. Apart from violating my right to the my own body of work let me also show you how ugly the thing looks. Below is a frame from my Playback project called 'When Father Came'. The only copy of the film i have with me.

Exhibit B: A frame from my playback project titled 'When Father Came'. On the top left and right you can see 'SRFTI' and 'Only for Preview' watermarked. This is the only copy i have of the film.


1. Firstly, the rule treats students like shit. The process of making a film, small or big, starts with an idea. From there to give it a body and shape and to do everything it takes to make it take the form of cinema is done by students. Yes, there are technicians who help us through this. Like light people, people who manage equipment, those who help with location permissions etc. In any case SRFTI/the Govt. of India/any of the professors do not have claim to even one frame of any of the student work. So then in the end when there is a watermark called 'student copy', or watermark of the ugly logo of SRFTI, or simply SRFTI watermarked on the frame it is a violation of our rights to our work of art.

2.Suppose i am sending my film to a film festival. For students of cinema especially those who are aspiring directors, film festivals are the biggest opportunities to showcase their work. Take any film festival, like IDSFFK. Now even in this stage there are problems in SRFTI which i think should be viewed as a corollary to the Watermark Scandal. That is the Selection Committee Scandal.

The Selection Committee Scandal

Till the previous AC[Academic Council] meeting, the 'selection committee' in SRFTI was a farcical one. First it had people who knew nothing about cinema in it. For example,

The FRO [Film Research Officer], Mr Sougatha Bhattacharyya. Do you know that this man made a 'documentary' and sent it to festivals where he was supposed to send student films? The film is horsecrap and that is what makes it worse. Some employee drawing salary from a government job decides that his own film which is horsecrap can be placed over student films and be sent to festivals. Yes, he has every right to do that but not without first doing his job of informing students about festivals.Not by stealing these students' opportunities.

Vaibhav Hiwase, final year student of Direction says ‘About one and half year back, I sent my short film 'Gavhankur' to Clermont-Ferrand film festival, which is one of the most important short film festivals in the world. As per my knowledge this festival is a great platform for the experimental film. My film falls into same category so I sent it there on my own, as institute (FRO) never communicated with me regarding this fest. Few days later, on d fest website I see three films: mine, venkat's diploma film (8th batch) and FRO'S film (a documentary)! To my surprise, FRO never informed me about the festival, but he sent his own film for d fest. I don't have any problem in him sending his own film to fest, it's his right, but my point here is, he is treating students as his potential competitors and hence he is not informing them about the festival, that is extremely corrupt behaviour from his side, he being FRO, institute has given him responsibility to handle film fest submissions, he is not keeping any transparency in it.’

What's more. SRFTI encourages the same man to make more films.
For example every year a batch of students come to SRFTI from BNA [Bhartendu Natya Akademi], Lucknow. Based on the number of students who arrive, SRFTI collaborates with them and make two or three short films. When i was in first year some senior students were asked to direct these projects. Last year too, a junior of mine directed one such project. It turned out to be better than most faculty directed films and even films for BNA earlier directed by ex students. Now, by the look of it, FRO and faculty are directing those films, again denying students an opportunity to practise their craft. Let us not even consider the quality of films. My understanding of cinema might be different from yours. What i find horseshit could be a masterpiece for you. Even in such a scenario, whenever filmmaking opportunities arise within the institute it is my opinion that students should be allowed to make their (good/bad) films and not faculty their own (good/bad) films. This nasty tradition of looking at students as one’s opponent is a tradition in SRFTI and it is quite saddening.

The Watermark Scandal Exhibit C: Sougata Bhattacharyya, FRO, directs a BNA project. Source: Mr Bhattacharyya's Facebook page

That’s just one member of the selection committee we are talking about. Others are faculty. And it’s no secret that faculty have their favourites. I, for example, am nobody’s favourite. So when this selection committee sits to evaluate which films will be sent to IDSFFK, professor A might have had a problem because i am one of the girls who complained against his co-worker who had sexually harassed me. Prof. B might be somebody who said that SRFTI had made a mistake by selecting me. [Yes, a professor said this to me and i had made a complaint in my first year] Prof. C, for all you know, could be somebody whom i had questioned on the very issue of film selection.

Till last week when the AC [Academic Council] meeting happened, this was the situation of the selection committee. Due to the demands of students like us, they have agreed to have an all-external members-selection committee. When this will be implemented is something to which nobody has an answer. So we can leave this corollary problem over here.

Now back to the issue of watermark.


2. Contd.
It is now clear how institute has not, till today, sent ‘all’ films to any festival or even encouraged the sending of films by students. If a student wins an award, then it’s a different story. We students have always wondered, if there was no time limit given by the festival as to how many hours/minutes of films can be sent by one institute or organization, then what is the problem in sending all student work. Surely, that is the most logical and egalitarian way of handling festival submissions? We were told by the ex-director Mr Sanjaya Pattanayak, that SRFTI was not doing it because it wanted to send films of a certain standard. For all those who want to see a sample of this standard i invite you to SRFTI to watch films directed by FRO, Mr Sougata Bhattacharyya. I don’t think anybody will have any questions after that.

So now let us say that the old committee or the new all-externals-committee decided that my film is not to be sent to IDSFFK. I, as the director of the film feel that it should be sent. Since this is a festival which doesn’t ask for an entry fee, i go ahead and submit my film. Till this part it’s okay, for selection process i can send a copy with a watermark, if you insist. Now the film gets selected [This is, apart from an example, a true incident. Institute had decided not to send my film Gruhapravesham and IDSFFK selected it last year.] Now what do i do? What does any student do at this stage?

The student has to go to the department of Editing and has to say that their film has got selected and request for a copy of their own film without the [damn] watermark. Is the student going to get it? No. The student’s ‘request’ will be processed and SRFTI will decide if they need to send the film or not and if they decide to send it SRFTI will send the film themselves.

As a result of this student will not get to know if their projects have been sent on time or if they have been sent at all.

Why are we so skeptical about SRFTI? Because, as students, we know better than to trust SRFTI with anything and particularly not with films. Since this is handled by the Department of Editing i shall now explain why it is all the more dangerous.

1. The department of Editing has a history with student projects. I am going to state instances where this was made clear by the behaviour of editing students themselves. Please bear in mind that i am mentioning only those incidents to which i have evidence and witnesses. Those numerous stories of ex-students where they have been pushed against the wall by this department has not been recorded and perhaps never will be unless they speak up.

2. The student who was my editor ‘accidentally’ lost a memory card of a day’s shoot. Later i got to know from people who had been present there when he said that he had deliberately thrown it away because he wanted to take ‘revenge’ on me for personal reasons. I am fighting a court case against him now.

3. An editing student accidentally deleted raw footage of one whole day of one of my classmates’ Diploma film. The director of the film confirmed that it was an accident which again shows how irresponsibly work is handled by students of this department. This is of course, not to say that all editing students function this way. The problem is when this kind of unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour is not stopped by the department. In fact by not taking action against these students the department is encouraging such behaviour.

4. Debjani’s [Final year student of Direction] short film was ‘missing’ from the department of Editing for two months. ‘They [the department of Editing] first said it is lost. Then I wrote a letter. After that they told me it is lost and I have to do sound sync and subtitles again. But Guha sir [Debashish Guha, professor, Editing] taken responsibility and found it,’ she said. They never gave her any explanation as to how or why the film was ‘missing’ from the department.

I just stated some instances to give a picture of how things are done over here. So as a student, when the Editing department tells me that they will send my film to some festival i have no reason to believe them and i won’t.


3. We saw what the implications of watermark is in sending films to festivals. Now let’s forget film festivals for some time. What about when we show our work to senior directors/cinematographers as and when we get the opportunity? This is another major way by which we find work after leaving film schools. Suppose i get an opportunity to meet Haneke. [Never be stingy with your imagination when you have the chance to use it] I’ll be like

‘Hi sir, *drool* can you please *drool* watch my student film? *drool*
Haneke: Yeah sure, i am very busy making films but i’ll always have time for you, kunjila [told you, imagination…]
‘Here it is sir’. *drool*
Haneke: ‘What is that ugly thing on the top left of the frame?
‘’s a logo’
Haneke: ‘What logo?’
‘’s the logo of the film institute where i studied’
Haneke: ‘What!- Are you serious!’ I can’t watch a film with this thing on it! Why on earth is its logo on your film?’
‘Sir...because sir...they said they want to because they are the producer.’
*Thunderous, wonderful laughter of Haneke*
*Thunderous, wonderful laughter of Haneke continues*
‘Sir, are you alright?’
Haneke: My dear child, don’t they know that all films are produced by someone or the other. Are they really that stupid to put their own logo on their work of art? *laughter continues*
Err...yes sir, they are, by the look of it…*resumes drooling*

-the rest of this conversation shall be printed as soon as it actually happens.

So this is the kind of situation i am talking about. Why wouldn’t the director of the film have a copy of the film like they made it? Without any logo or watercrap sorry, watermark? Even though i am stating the obvious let me illustrate with examples so that i feel good, generally.

Film: Pather Panchali
Director: Satyajit Ray
Produced by: West Bengal State Government
Watermark status: No watermark
Proof below

The Watermark Scandal Exhibit D: VLC Snapshot from Pather Panchali. Captured by Prahas

Film: Anhe Ghore Da Daan
Director: Gurvinder Singh
Produced by: National Film Development Corporation of India [NFDC}
Watermark Status: No watermark
Proof below

The Watermark Scandal Exhibit E: VLC snapshot from Anhe Ghore Da Daan captured by author

I selected these two films for specific reasons. Ray’s masterpiece because SRFTI is named after this legendary filmmaker [Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, lest they forget] and personally, like most of india, Pather Panchali is one of my favourite films too.

Gurvinder Singh’s film because it was one of the latest films produced by NFDC and this body is also under the same Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that SRFTI functions under.

In this context let us look at how ridiculous these work of art would look if the respective producers, like SRFTI had said that they wanted to have their logo watermarked on the films. Then it would mean that the world would have watched those films like this.

Watermark Scandal Exhibit F: Pather Panchali with Producer logo. Logo credit here
The Watermark Scandal Exhibit G. Anhe Ghore Da Daan with producer logo. Logo credit here
 Implications contd.

4. At their leisure if a director felt like watching their own film they would be watching it with the watercrap on it which will make them feel like an idiot and leave them with no desire for making anymore films. At least that’s what happens to me whenever i see that seal of authority on my work.

What are the reasons SRFTI is giving for this regressive practice?

1. Some student director from an earlier batch along with his cinematographer re-edited his film and did not give credits to the editing student. The department doesn’t want this to happen again.

Shattering the warped logic easily: If a student decides to behave unprofessionally or unethically that student should face the consequences of it. There are many disciplinary actions that can be taken in such a situation. Did SRFTI do that? A boy from Bihar called me ‘behen ke laudi.’ Is the solution for this to ban all people from Bihar in SRFTI? Or better still, since i have not once stopped questioning SRFTI from the day i entered it, would they ban all girls or all mallu girls in SRFTI? That’s what is called stupid. Also a clear sign that people’s brains are currently not in their skulls.

2. As the producer, SRFTI has every right to do this.

This time, i am not taking the trouble to shatter this argument. Gurvinder Singh, the maker of Anhe Ghore Da Daan, a frame of which you saw earlier will dispel it for you. Like i said, the mentioned film was produced by NFDC. Now listen to what he says. ‘Of course it’s unheard of anyone dictating to put the producer's logo on any film. NFDC has never asked for it. Logo is not a part of any film. It’s only for publicity. Even DVDs don't carry it. Any mark on the film's print can only be decided by the filmmaker. Only television carries a logo while a film is telecast. Students should take SRFTI to court over this dictat.

[Emphasis in bold added by the writer]

But alas, people like Gurvinder Singh are not in the governing council of SRFTI. Even in the Academic Council, the dean of FTII[Film and Television Institute of India] is reported to have said that he would like to implement this rule in FTII as well. So yes, get ready, FTII.

3. Everybody does it

Wait, are we talking about masturbation here? No, SRFTI, nobody does it. No, not masturbation, everybody does that. Ha ha. Gotcha confused. So, believe it or not, nobody puts a logo on a film like that. Alright? And the last time somebody gave 'everybody does it' as a reason it was during Sati. 

4. SRFTI should be informed before students send films to festivals so that in case they win a cash award SRFTI can claim the money as the producer. A watermark ensures this

Dear o dear SRFTI, please take all the money you need. All of us students know of all the corruption you people have been up to just to eat money. Please eat and shit money all you want. We are willing to give it in writing in stamp papers that if the award goes to the producer of the film, your share shall be given. That's what bonds are for. Watermarking the logo is not the solution. 

I am ending this note by showing you what this place is up to right now. Please see the picture below. The campus is filled with these banners saying SRFTI is celebrating 70 years of independence of the country. Really? What can hold more proof to the fact that this place of learning knows nothing about the concept of freedom? On this ‘independence day’, SRFTI, i spit on you. [But will eat the sweets after spitting on you] On this independence day, you are able to erect such a banner simply because you have chosen not to hear the pellets and people of Kashmir, the Una dalits, the people of Bastar and your own students right under your nose who are bellowing for their freedom to make films.

SRFTI Celebrates Independence Day. Thoo.

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