Thoughts, Weeks Away

 The first time I watched Wasteland I was enthralled, captured by the stories of garbage-pickers at the largest dump in Brazil. It’s amazing how powerful film can feel, and how after watching a 90 minute film you can feel like you know a person. That film was one of my inspirations for starting our project this summer — currently known by the working title Jivani (story of life) — in Mumbai. For those of you who don’t know, Jivani is a project that was catalyzed last summer when Soha and I sat in the Indigo Cafe in Mumbai and promised each other that we’d return the next summer to do something to capture the stories of the students we met in Akanksha — these kids faced challenges, but they were constantly, ceaselessly, bright and smiling.

At that point, it was only a far-off dream, but when we returned to the US, met each other back at school in the fall, and began talking with Rachel (who also was on the trip with us last year) about the project, we knew we had to go back, and made it happen. We’re making a documentary film, collaborating with those kids that we met, who feel somehow like family even after just working with them for a couple weeks. We’re trying to capture the story of their community — Worli, an unsuspectedly beautiful hillside community facing the Arabian Sea, and which happens to be a slum. Even after spending just a couple hours in the community last year, I knew I wanted to help capture the story of that community in the way that Lucy Walker — director of Wasteland — captured the stories of the garbage-pickers.

And so, by some stroke of luck, one of my mentors here at Andover, Ms. Harrigan, brought Lucy Walker to campus this week to present at an all school meeting. Soha, Rachel, and I had the opportunity to meet with Lucy yesterday at a small presentation as she used our project as a case study to developing the idea for a documentary. The advice she gave us was brilliant and invaluable, and I now see our project taking a completely different turn just from that advice. Today I had the chance to meet with Lucy again over lunch with a small group of students and faculty (unfortunately Soha and Rachel couldn’t make it), and asked her just one question, “Do you have any more advice for our project?” She did, and spoke for a good thirty or more minutes listing off tip after tip, both logistical and philosophical, from how to capture good interviews, best shots, and quality audio, to how to represent a person or community accurately, and how to deal with the fact that it is impossible to capture the true story of anything because simply by being there you change the situation.

It was an incredible opportunity to be able to meet one of my favorite filmmakers just weeks before I begin my first documentary, and her visit reminded me of how close we are to beginning this project, and reminded me of this time last year weeks before the trip. I remember all of us feeling surreal that we’d be going to India, such a foreign place to most of us, and now this year I have a similar feeling of surreality, but this time because we’re going to somewhere that now feels so familiar in our memories, but in some ways still feels like another world.