The screening of the acclaimed documentary, “A Pestering Journey” followed by a riveting talk and discussion with the director, K.R. Manoj, at VMFT stirred many uncomfortable questions about modern society and its claims of economic and social progress. Moderated by Dr. Fathima Nizaruddin, the discussion covered the themes of the documentary, the motivations of the Director, the ethics of documentary film making, as well as his creative journey. The event was organized on 26 August 2023 at the VMFT hall.
The documentary captivated the audience with its powerful storytelling, showcasing the struggles, triumphs, and resilience of the individuals it featured. The film’s cinematography and narrative structure received special praise, highlighting Manoj’s skill as a filmmaker. A Pestering Journey is an attempt to interrogate the legitimate forms and technologies of killing available in a culture. Taking a pestering turn, the journey blurs the boundaries of nature and culture, of self and other, of life and death, and many other comfortable binaries we inhabit. It tries to ask how much regard for life a culture should have and to ponder over the question, what is a pest.
The film unravels the many interwoven layers of culture and agriculture and foregrounds the logic of green revolution. In an atypical move, it challenges and changes the idioms of pesticide and genocide and reveals the claims over knowledge and expertise which pushes a pesticide like Endosulfan to a dubious position between poison and medicine.
Director Manoj shared his motivations in making the documentary, including the need to address the challenges faced by a marginalised community and the responsibility of a filmmaker to bring such stories to the forefront. Participants engaged in a lively exchange of ideas, discussing the ethical dilemmas faced by documentary filmmakers when dealing with sensitive subjects, the impact the had on the community it portrayed and the role of documentaries in shaping public opinion. Manoj responded to one of the queries concerning ethics in filmmaking by saying: “When I was travelling by train for the shooting of the pestering journey across Punjab, we encountered a woman vomiting; she was a cancer patient undergoing chemo treatment. We wanted to film the footage, but we were unsure whether it was proper to shoot at that time.”
As the discussion progressed, Manoj offered insights into his creative process, from research and pre-production to the challenges faced during shooting and the emotional impact on both the subjects and the filmmaker. He emphasized the power of empathy and storytelling in bridging gaps and creating awareness.
In the end, it was a day well spent, where cinema, empathy, and social consciousness converged, reminding everyone that documentaries like “A Pestering Journey” have the potential to be catalysts for meaningful conversations and positive transformation in society.