Why Filmmakers Are Uniting Against The SRFTI Watermark
Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India (SRFTI) are the only two central government funded film institutes in the country. Both are under the governance of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. A larger debate on whether or not cinema should be encouraged thus using government funds is gaining popularity. Keeping that aside, if you take the case of SRFTI, where I am a student of Direction and Screenplay Writing, time has come to address its very many problems.
In December 2015, SRFTI was in news not for cinema but for the sexual harassment that it was encouraging in the name of cinema. Three professors lost their jobs as a result of complaints by female students. One case is that of rape and is being dealt with by Kolkata court. Incidentally I am one of the complainants in these cases. Soon after that there were rumours about big scandals involving money. As students, we have to confess that even though we were alarmed by it we did not poke our nose into those affairs.
It was common knowledge that in each of the student projects, certain people – sometimes even students – are involved in the embezzlement of funds. It was also common knowledge that there was high scale corruption in buying of equipments. Even though funds had been allotted for higher quality equipments, students only got low quality equipments for shooting, projection etc. We even knew who were the ones eating all that money but we kept out of it thinking that it was really not our business. We didn’t think that we could do anything about it. Until, they decided to put their stamp of authority on our sweat and blood.
SRFTI offers post-graduate diploma in the following courses. Direction and Screenplay Writing, Cinematography, Editing, Sound Recording and Design, Producing for Film and Television and Animation Cinema. Animation Cinema students don’t collaborate with the other students from other departments for any of their projects. The others are required to form crews and work together in projects. The core student crew is thus formed by the coming together of one student each from these five departments.
Starting with exercises such as the Continuity project and the mise-en-scene exercise, we go on to more complicated levels of filmmaking and production in the projects called ‘Short Film’, ‘Documentary’, ‘Playback’ and ‘Diploma’. In layperson’s terms (which make so much more sense), we students get to make one documentary film, one music video and two short films, apart from other exercise short films. For example, the mise-en-scene project is an exercise but in layperson’s terms, the product is a short film. So is the case with the Continuity project. Some of our exercises like ‘waiting without showing the clock’, ‘murder without showing the weapon’ are short films. Our ‘documentary exercise’ and ‘actuality exercise’ resulted in the making of two documentaries. So, a direction student like myself would have – combining every project and exercise – made 3 short documentary films, 1 music video and 6 short films by the end of the course. That is not a joke.
The joke is SRFTI thinks that they have a right to have their seal on all of our projects. Please see the picture below.
It says that the students shall be provided with just one copy of their films. I, for example, just finished the principal photography (‘shoot’ in layperson’s terms) of my diploma project. So suppose after edit, and sound and colour correction, I go to get a copy of my film, then the Editing Department will give me a copy with a watermark on it. That is the ONLY copy of the film that I, the student director, will have. For the rest of my life. Apart from violating my right to my own body of work, let me also show you how ugly the thing looks. No, I am not talking about the poor aesthetic sense of the person who designed the SRFTI logo. I am talking about how ugly a frame like this looks for a person who had originally created it. I believe that the concept of beauty has to be broken, especially when it comes to women, but definitely not like this, by vandalising films. Below is a frame from my Playback project (music video) called ‘When Father Came’. This is the only copy of the film that I have with me.
Even though the notice does not make it clear, we believe that the editor, the cinematographer and the sound person of the film will also be given such ‘watercrapped’ images when they ask for their own work.
Implications of this:
- Firstly, the rule is completely against the dignity of a student filmmaker. The process of making a film, small or big, starts with an idea. From there to giving it a body and a shape and to do everything that 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 (that SRFTI’s current logo is an eyesore is the opinion of the author) of SRFTI, or simply SRFTI watermarked on the frame is a violation of our rights to our work of art.
- Suppose that I am sending my film to a film festival. For students of cinema, especially those who are aspiring directors, film festivals are the biggest opportunity to showcase their work. Take any film festival, like IDSFFK. SRFTI 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 that 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 was 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 (Film Research Officer), Mr Sougata Bhattacharyya. I don’t think anybody will have any questions after that. Let us say that the committee decided that my film is not to be sent to IDSFFK, but I, as the director of the film, feel that it should be sent there. 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 I can send a copy with a watermark for the selection process, if you insist. Now the film gets selected (this is, apart from an example, a true incident; SRFTI had decided not to send my film ‘Gruhapravesham’ and IDSFFK had still 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 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, the 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 sceptical 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.
a) 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 have not been recorded and perhaps never will be unless they speak up.
b) 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 that 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.
c) 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.
d) Debjani’s (Final year student of Direction) short film was ‘missing’ from the department of Editing for two months. “They first said that it was lost. Then I wrote a letter, after which they told me that it was still missing and that I have to do sound sync and subtitles again. But Guha sir (Debashish Guha, professor, Editing) took 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.
- We saw what the implications of watermark are 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? It is part of our portfolio and 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?
‘Err…sir…it’s a logo’
Haneke: ‘What logo?’
‘Sir…it’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 wanted 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 your 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 that I am talking about. Why wouldn’t the director 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.
Film: Pather Panchali
Director: Satyajit Ray
Produced by: West Bengal State Government
Watermark status: No watermark
Film: Anhe Ghore Da Daan
Director: Gurvinder Singh
Produced by: National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC)
Watermark Status: No watermark
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 works 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.
- 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 films anymore. At least that’s what happens to me whenever I see that seal of authority on my work.
What are the reasons that SRFTI is giving for this regressive practice?
- A 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. 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 the girls or all the Mallu girls in SRFTI? That’s what is called stupid. Also a clear sign that people’s brains are currently not inside their skulls.
- As the producer, SRFTI has every right to do this.
This time, I am not taking the trouble to shatter the 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)
- 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 was during Sati.
- 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 stamped 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.
But alas, people like Gurvinder Singh are not in the governing council of SRFTI. Even in the Academic Council, the dean of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) is reported to have said that he would like to implement this rule at FTII as well. So yes, get ready, FTII.
This is the reason why we students had to reach out to the larger filmmaking community to make them aware of the issue that is happening at SRFTI in the name of cinema.
Even the veterans in the world of cinema are unanimous in their opinion that this is highly objectionable. Anand Patwardhan said “Compulsory water marking student films is wrong. SRFTI’s name should obviously appear in the credits where it belongs and nowhere else. Students should have the right to make as many DVDs of their work, as this is a part of their portfolio.” Anand Gandhi was of the opinion that “SRFTI should immediately revise its obtuse practice of demanding a watermark on student filmmakers’ copies of their films! It’s ridiculous that filmmakers are not allowed to keep a clean copy of their own work.”
Among other eminent film personalities who expressed solidarity with us are C.S. Venkiteswaran, eminent film critic, Arun Khopkar, filmmaker, Kani Kusruti, actor, Leena Manimekalai, documentary filmmaker and poet.
Some film students also expressed solidarity from FTII and K. R. Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA).
Filmmaker Prachee Bajania from FTII said “I watched some films from SRFTI at a festival recently and was horrified to see the watermark. It’s not a question of how ugly the symbol looks but of the skewed nature of this mandate. A filmmaker’s work cannot be branded without consent. The producers can be acknowledged in unobtrusive ways. The watermark is an oppressive way of asserting ownership over creative work produced in an academic space. This decree is undemocratic and inexcusable.” Georgy Abraham, KRNNIVSA, said “Engraving the producer’s name/logo on an art is worse than vandalism. How can someone send such a crappy copy to film festivals around the globe? No other film school will ever enforce such stupidity.”
It is clear to the world, it is clear to different filmmakers who believe in different kinds of filmmaking, it’s clear to film enthusiasts all over and yet, SRFTI is a nice little pussy cat who thinks nobody can see it because it’s drinking all the milk with its eyes shut. Meow.
Update: In the days which followed our campaign, a junior student and I were both given copies of our projects without watermarks. As long as there is no official order which says that all students shall be given quality copies of their work (the copies given to us were not of the greatest quality), we will see it as a move to silence a few of us who are actively involved in this campaign against watermarking. The fight shall continue till SRFTI makes it official that the watermark shall cease to exist for all student projects.
Written by Kunjila Mascillamani
Edited by Pallab Deb