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Water For Birds takes award at Melb Documentary Fest

An Australian Hindi film on preventing second-generation prostitution wins hearts at Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

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An Australian documentary in the Hindi language, Water For Birds, has taken out the Best Melbourne Documentary award at the 2023 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival just concluded.

It highlights the efforts of a certain charitable organisation in India that is so successful that it can be replicated globally to end second-generation prostitution.

Scores of girls and young women are kidnapped, trafficked and forced into prostitution in India. From 2006 to 2016, at least 1.2 million girls between the age of 9 and 12 were trafficked into India’s sex industry, as per data from India’s National Crime Record Bureau.

But there is hope in the holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. In the red-light area in this northern city, an NGO-run education centre wants to prevent sex trafficking, second-generation prostitution, and eliminate child prostitution. Called Guria, the organisation provides art therapy to vulnerable children of sex workers.

At Guria, children learn bead-making, painting, music, dance, theatre, and more. The idea is to empower these kids so they don’t get pushed into prostitution.

Water For Birds
A still from the film Water For Birds

Guria’s efforts are now at the centre of the documentary Water For Birds, co-directed by Henry Gosper and Cameron Trafford from Melbourne’s Good Grief Productions.

Gosper and Trafford first learned about Guria’s work in 2017. “This was thanks to my mother, who volunteers for an organisation called ‘The Liora Project’ which rescues Indian women from trafficking and reintegrates them back into the workforce,” shares Trafford.

The compelling 52-minute film, having won over the audiences and critics alike at 2023 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, will hit the screen again on August 2.

“When we stepped into the centre for the very first time, we realised that Guria’s passive teaching style, which humanises young people, transcends social class, while providing a replicable learning model that can be utilised in other parts of the country and globally,” Gosper tells Indian Link.

Telling an important story

Gosper and Trafford began filming Water For Birds in 2018. The five-year journey was not smooth sailing.

“We faced challenges while building trust and familiarity with Guria’s students,” shares Trafford. “To break the ice, we gradually integrated ourselves into the education centre’s life, starting off by hosting lessons about film. Then, we gave students cameras to shoot their own stories from within the centre and helped them edit these into their own creations.”

It took them two weeks to build a rapport with the staff and the students.

Water For Birds
A still from the film Water For Birds

And then, there were language barriers. A local translator to the Australian filmmakers played a key role in this.

“Aman [the translator] helped us identify and capture important developments for the narrative,” Gosper adds. “His English was a lot better than our Hindi, but there were still some gaps in our on-the-ground communication. Usually, we’d have a basic understanding of what was happening at the time; however, it wasn’t until we received full transcripts for different scenes that we were able to piece together the entire story.”

Therefore, post-production was a “fascinating process”, Gosper recalls.

Besides being the duo’s debut feature documentary, Water For Birds is also their first foreign language film. Why did they not consider making the documentary in English, we ask.

“Because it carries far more educational power for the students at the centre and the Varanasi community more broadly, as opposed to an English language film with Hindi subtitles,” Trafford outlines.

The July 22 premiere had an incredible response from the audience.

“Although the film is in Hindi, we found that everyone who attended was shocked with how easily they understood and engaged with the narrative, which was a really pleasing aspect of the film’s launch for us,” Gosper smiles.

Talking about the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival award win, Gosper said, “The entire production process across planning, shooting and releasing Water For Birds has been an incredibly fulfilling journey. We are deeply honoured to receive this accolade for our first feature film project and would like to thank all the inspiring people in both India and Australia that have helped us bring it to life.”

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Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Bhosle Chakraborty is a freelance journalist. With over nine years of experience in different Indian newsrooms, she has worked both as a reporter and a copy editor. She writes on community, health, food and culture. She has widely covered the Indian diaspora, the expat community, embassies and consulates. Prutha is an alumna of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru.

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