Magic Lantern Movies

We play plural roles in the production and circulation of culture. We are filmmakers, we also produce films,  distribute documentary and independent films,  exhibit and screen films,  curate film festivals, support skill development, create public cultural events, we bring films into the public domain, we write and research on media and the documentary, and we help to classify and archive films.

The information on this site is organised under two streams:

On this page you will find details of Production Exhibition Skill Development and Knowledge Creation. This part of the website is still under construction, but very soon, from this page you will be able to browse all the issues of Media Mail/ Alternate Media Times, research of IPR, articles, all the editions of Persistence Resistance and other film festivals, and read about DocWok, our initiative in the field of tutoring and mentoring documentaries in production/ works in progress.

Film Archives: Here you can browse catalogues of documentaries curated by us as well as produced by others. You can also view a large number of films on-line, and buy DVDs.

Production

Documentary filmmaking has often been misconstrued as a vagrant practice that that simply superimposes the aesthetics of journalism onto cinema. Such clearly demarcated boundaries between fiction and documentaries and by implication, between commercial and non-commercial cinema, has largely relegated the documentary as a mere hybrid social art.

Documentary practice in India however has entered an exciting new phase of experimentation and formal exploration. Film makers are experimenting with the form as well as subjects, and are continually redefining the contours of the practice. There has been an unprecedented explosion within the field and Magic Lantern Movies works closely with the practitioners as well as the films, in the locating, signposting and often shaping the new aesthetics of documentary.

We direct and produce films. Our films cover a wide range of subjects but also present unique form and aesthetics. A film on climate change, for instance, searches for folk music across India and local poetry on climate while a film on surrogacy recreates the claustrophobia of the life of the surrogates, women who remain invisible. A film on the Khap panchayats traces the resistance by women against the feudal practice of the Khaps while the television serial GORA, brings alive 18th century Calcutta in the dramatisation of the celebrated novel of the same name by the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. The classic novel raises issues that are not just relevant but appear to be as contemporary today as they were GORA was written in 1910.

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Exhibition

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.

- Marcel Duchamp (Session on the Creative Act; Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, April 1957.)

A participatory public culture has always been an an intrinsic component of cinema’s history. Over a 100 years back, what started with the travelling screening spaces, and temporary projector screens eventually led to an overriding dominance of the closed theatrical spaces. While the digital boom in the contemporary has on the one hand broken the tyranny of traditional sites of exhibition, the all-encompassing virtual domain has further accelerated the possibilities of multiple viewing spaces.

Each year Persistence Resistance, Magic Lantern’s annual film festival in Delhi travels to many cities, both in India and internationally, especially to colleges and universities and stretches the nature of viewing practices of cinema. The festival constantly explodes the traditional, closed spaces of exhibition by screening films multiple spaces: in simulated video parlours, in multi hub libraries and also as installations.

For Persistence Resistance we also collaborate with different organisations, foreign embassies and academic organizations to reach out to multiple audiencs. Simultaneously, our archives are open for screenings, festivals, workshops, seminars, discussions, and other cultural collaborations that articulate multiple renditions of meaning of films in different times, spaces and contexts and brings together film practitioners, academicians, theorists, curators and audiences to engage in debates, issues, discussions and interpretations around the practice.

As the global circuits of circulation intersect at the nodes along multiple web portals, while the viewing screen shrinks further and gains greater mobility in the form of mobile phones and tablets, a new virtual audience comes into force. Our YouTube channel makes part of the archive visible space; it is also our mini screen which takes documentary exhibition in a different trajectory.

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Training

There is a virtual absence of film courses and colleges that specialize in documentaries. At best, documentaries feature as a mere subset in the course and are often swept under the umbrella courses on production. Given this lack of structured support and the ever-limited space within the market, documentary filmmakers continue to be mostly self-reliant for resources, guidance as well as feedback.

Magic Lantern recognizes the need for specific strategic interventions within the field that would create a hyper-imaginative learning environment for the artist.  Our training is not only aimed at expanding production skills and creating video producers, we also focus to equip people with skills and understanding to be able to integrate films. 

Since 2012 we have started DocWok, an international tutoring and mentoring programme for documentaries in production. Our endeavour here has been to erect a support group of senior professionals and ease the way for innovative projects through a dedicated program. At present DocWok is open to Indian filmmakers but we hope to extend it to South Asia soon.

We, at Magic Lantern, also envision a much bigger role in the future for ourselves with dedicated programmes for pre-production, development and post-production stages of films as well.

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Research and Publications

In India, documentary film practice has faced many setbacks in the past; its virtual absence within the discourses of cinema- both popular and academic, points to its miraculous survival in a market driven industry of filmmaking.

In the current age of information, there is a crisis of image and representation. The study of the discipline becomes crucial point of intervention through which critical questions can be addressed.

Tom Gunning in his influential essay ‘Animated Pictures: Tales of cinema’s forgotten Future, After 100 years of Films’ argues for a defense of film culture through a retrospective glance at the non linear film history of the “chaotic and protean identity” (of cinema) which holds within itself both the “utopian possibilities and (the) uncanny premonitions”. What Gunning accentuates here is the possibility to break the continuum of a linear, non-inclusive history of the discipline by offering a counter strain in the development of the history of cinema. Thus, there is an urgency to develop sustained theoretical and critical study of the documentary and to place it in the broader context of art, history, performance, sociology, politics, and cultural studies.

While on the one hand, a multi-disciplinary approach to the practice needs to be studied in relation to other disciplines, on the other hand, continuous efforts have to be made to engage with the documentary as cinema’s variable identity.

Magic Lantern stands to facilitate a culture of vibrant discourse around the discipline by easing the channels of communication between practice and theory. We have a dedicated body of work that aims to engage with questions about representation, aesthetics, form and language.

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