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Reel salute to real heroes

- Story of four city champs on Goa film fest screen

From the brickfields of Ichhapore to the big screen at Inox, Goa, for the International Film Festival of India — it’s been a long journey for Kajal.

The teenaged brickfield worker’s story, along with that of Sikha and Salim who are battling to bring a drinking water tap to Nehru Colony near Ultadanga, and Priyanka of Arjunpur, Rajarhat, who dances away the shackles of an abusive family, are part of a film, The Revolutionary Optimists, by two film-makers from Stanford University who tracked the work of Amlan Ganguly, the head of city-based NGO Prayasam, for three-and-a-half years.

“We were on the lookout for visionaries who were working to improve global health, especially in areas where people are deprived and caught in a status quo,” Nicole Newnham, the university’s film-maker-in-residence and the director of several Emmy Award-nominated documentaries, told Metro over phone from Goa, where she attended the screening.

Newnham’s partner in the project and an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and director of the bio-ethics and film programme at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, Maren Grainger-Monsen, could not be present because of a last-minute change in the festival schedule.

“Our research brought up some amazing people and initially we thought of doing a series but when we met Amlan, we realised we had a much bigger story in hand and decided to concentrate on him. It is inspiring how he has managed to empower the children he is working with to become change agents in their communities,” Newnham said.

Though focussed on the Prayasam model, the film became character-driven, tracing the lives of the four protagonists and, in the process, encompassing the city and its language and culture. “I told them that more than me it is these children who are the revolutionary optimists,” Ganguly said.

The Californians did face a few problems initially with the children unaccustomed to the camera. “Our Calcutta-based associates Ranu Ghosh and Ranjan Palit conducted film workshops with them and made the intimate footage possible,” Newnham said. “It didn’t take long for us to become their ‘didi’.”

The docu-feature was filmed in part by Jon Shenk, the cameraman of Oscar-winning documentary Smile Pinki, and has been financed by Sundance Institute, the Robert Redford-founded non-profit organisation that aids independent film-makers, and Independent Television Service, US, which funds documentaries for public television.

Shots from the film were screened at TEDxChange events in New York and Berlin, hosted by Melinda Gates, thus introducing Salim and Sikha to a global audience.

The Revolutionary Optimists will be aired as part of the Emmy Award-winning series Independent Lens in the US in May. It has also been selected to be part of a new ITVS series titled Women and Girls Lead Global, where it will be screened on national television in nine countries, including India, taking Ganguly and the children’s inspirational story to Kenya, Egypt, Peru, El Salvador and other countries.

“The Gates Foundation is sponsoring this attempt at horizontal learning by which Amlan’s model of change-making through youth empowerment will be taught in African communities,” says Newnham.

Ganguly is planning to screen the film in Calcutta for the children he works with on December 31.