Persistence Resistance @ the Mondavi Center, UC Davis

Posted by Magic Lantern Foundation on April 29, 2017

A festival of Contemporary Documentaries from India and South Asia

Since its inception in 2008, in New Delhi, India, Persistence Resistance has interrogated what happens when art gets inextricably linked to the politics of subversion and resistance. What persists then, the art or values residing in resistance? Persistence Resistance, the six-part film series at the Mondavi Center, is premised on the belief that documentary practices in any place actively participate in the shaping of our times. From the personal to the conceptual, the essayistic to the poetic, the performative to the self-reflective or the fictional – these films create distinct political voices and impulses in which their audiences can engage. The visual engagement with films does not end simply with screenings. This film festival is an invitation to celebrate the changing limits of history, narrative, ideology, culture and aesthetics as expressed through independent documentary cinema from South Asia.

Since its inception, Persistence Resistance has engaged with another crucial cinematic question that concerns audience participation. Marcel Duchamp in 1957 at Session on the Creative Act; Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, says:

“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.”

The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) is conducting a year-long festival India in the Artist’s Eye, celebrating and interrogating the role of the artist in shaping the understanding and reception of India. The festival is curated by Professor Archana Venkatesan, Chair, Department of Religious Studies and Associate Professor of Comparative Literature in partnership with The Robert and Margit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis. Persistence Resistance @ UC Davis is a part of this festival.

Persistence Resistance @ UC Davis invites the spectator not simply to view but to engage, argue, articulate and to participate. It is an attempt at bringing together the documentary and the audience to collectively create and define public cultures. There are pressing issues that these documentaries touch upon, they are often ethically charged, but without being bereft of what film theorist Michael Renov would term as the “jouissance” or pleasure. We hope you will join us in this journey of reflections, tributes and public as well as private histories— stories that need to be seen, heard and repeated.

Session 1: Resonances

Monday, 17 April 2017, 7 PM | Vanderhoef Studio Theatre | Total Screening Time: 104 minutes

Resonances brings together two very different films on music. Rasikapriya is a contemplation on Indian classical music drawing on the fact that the classical arts in India are deeply linked whereas Word Within the Word locates folk singers in the Malwa region who sing the Sufi poetry of Kabir, Gorakhnath and other poets.


Director: Arun Khopkar
Englsih (subtitled), 30 min, 2000, India

‘Rasikapriya’ is a cinematic exploration- the camera's desperate attempt to "see" music. The journey becomes a meditation on Indian rock paintings, sculpture, nature and cities and what the camera manages to create is a canvas of vivid calligraphic designs that often allude to poetry and rhythms of Indian classical music. The terminology of Indian classical music like Khayal and Dhrupad are examined through this canvas. The perfect cinematic gesture is perhaps created when architecture, monumentality, pillared arches, the curve of the rock caves or the drop of waterfall meets a musical moment and we realize that both abstraction and concreteness have emerged from generations of influences.

Word Within the Word

Sabad Nirantar
Director: Rajula Shah
English (subtitled), 74 min, 2008, India

The film looks at how the Word lives, resonating ordinary lives across centuries. Beginning from an everyday cloudy monsoon morning in the city of Bhopal, it travels to Malwa, Madhya Pradesh, (the hub of tribal India) that is also known as the second home to Pt. Kumar Gandharva, one of the greatest musicians of our time. Here within the fast altering fabric of a challenged rural life we encounter common people, age-caste-gender regardless, fighting hard to earn a square meal daily, yet keeping music alive at the bosom of a gnawing fate. Far beyond the scope of any intellectual resolve it is at once a refusal to die, and more significantly a bid to seize eternity from historic annihilation.

'Sabad Nirantar' is a crucial gateway to the India we are fast forgetting, one that is difficult to classify and categorise but simpler to understand if you hear its common folk talk. It is this human landscape within which one can aspire to come to terms with one's contemporary dilemmas stemming from learned responses, fragmented dreams.

Session 2: Changing Landscape

Monday, 24 April 2017, 7 PM | Vanderhoef Studio Theatre | Total Screening Time: 90 mins

In Changing Landscape we encounter two different kinds of loss, and place it in conversation with environments both rural and urban, cultivated and not. Have You Seen the Arana?, takes us through the devastating impact of unsustainable development on livelihood systems whereas the silent film Last Rites exposes the changing nature of labour in Chittagong where ships breathe their last.

Have you seen the Arana?

Ningal aranaye kando?
Director: Sunanda Bhat
English (subtitled), 73 min, 2012, India

The film interweaves contemporary narratives with an ancient tribal myth to explore the effects of a rapidly changing landscape on lives and livelihood. Set in Wayanad, part of a rich and bio-diverse region in South India, we journey through a region that is witnessing drastic transformation in the name of ‘development’.

A woman’s concern over the disappearance of medicinal plants from the forest, a farmer’s commitment to growing traditional varieties of rice, organically and a cash-crop cultivator’s struggle to survive amidst farmers’ suicides, offer fresh insights into shifting relations between people, knowledge systems and environment. As hills flatten, forests disappear and traditional knowledge systems are forgotten, the film reminds us that this diversity could disappear forever, to be replaced by monotonous and unsustainable alternatives.

The Last Rites

Director: Yasmine Kabir
No Dialogue, 17 min, 2008, Bangladesh

'The Last Rites' is an allegorical portrayal of the agony of hard labour. Unlike a traditional narrative, the film relies on images to tell its story. The silent film depicts the ship breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh - a final destination for ships that are too old to ply the oceans any longer. Every year, hundreds of ships are sent to yards in Bangladesh. And every year, thousands of people keep coming in search of jobs in these yards. Risking their lives to save themselves from hunger, they breathe in asbestos dust and toxic waste. What emerges in a greater context is the tragedy of the human condition.

Session 3: Across Boundaries

Monday, 1 May 2017, 7 PM | Vanderhoef Studio Theatre | Total Screening Time: 97 mins

Can art surpass the barrier of language? Of religion? Of spaces and cultures? The two films in Across Boundaries confront these questions to open up conversations about what brings disparate people together.

The Bond

Director: Anjali Monteiro, K. P. Jayasankar
English (subtitled), 46 min, 2003, India

Naata is about Bhau Korde and Waqar Khan, two activists and friends, who have been involved in conflict resolution, working with neighbourhood peace committees in Dharavi, reputedly, the largest slum in Asia. This film explores their work, which has included the collective production and use of visual media for ethnic amity.

Language of War

Director: R. V. Ramani
Multilingual, 51 min, 1996, India

The film is based on the rehearsals of a bilingual play 'Gita - An Imagery', directed by H. Kanhaialal. The play, based on the Mahabharata war, in Tamil and Manipuri, portrays Arjuna, the protagonist in a dilemma - morality or duty. The filmmaker compares the struggle of Arjuna in the war, with that of the actors and the director of the play, struggling to seek an expression in regional language theatre.

Session 4: Between Popular and Mass cultures

Monday, 8 May 2017, 7 PM | Vanderhoef Studio Theatre | Total Screening Time: 95 mins

Are popular culture, mass culture, folk culture the same? Both the self-reflexive films, quasi autobiographical in nature, confront us with difficult questions of authorship, creativity and ownership. You Don't Belong searches for a popular song and meets a wide range of authorship, and questions the relation between creation and ownership. Nusrat … also asks a similar question, of ownership, of a well-known musician who transitioned over the course of his career from a popular artist to a commercial one.

Nusrat Has Left the Building... But When?

Director: Farjad Nabi
No Dialogue, 20 min, 1997, Pakistan

An experimental film made about the metamorphic career of late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the famous Sufi Qawwali singer from Pakistan. The film departs from the popular version of Nusrat and goes back to his early roots in Sufi music, before and after he exploded on the international scene. Nusrat's metamorphosis from a genuine popular artiste to mass produced exotica of the east left behind many disillusioned listeners and devotees in its wake. Perhaps for the first time this film gives voice to the other side of the song.

You Don't Belong

Director: Spandan Banerjee
English (subtitled), 75 min, 2011, India

Disparate characters who are bound together by a filmmaker's search for the elusive author of a song, popular in collective memory as a traditional folk song. Paban Das is a Baul singer living in France singing songs of wandering minstrels. Arun Chakraborty is a poet living a quietly content life in a hamlet of West Bengal. Bhoomi is a band from Kolkata, popular for their renditions of folk tunes. Prabudha is a musician with a history of protest music. Paraspather is an erstwhile band left with memories of their popular songs and lost fame. A long self-reflexive journey into the world of folk, nudges established ideas of home, nostalgia, belonging, and authorship.

Session 5: Copy Right or Copy Left?

Monday, 15 May 2017, 7 PM | Vanderhoef Studio Theatre | Total Screening Time: 94 mins

The right to copy granted to publishers to exploit commercially, original works of art on behalf of authors for a limited period appeared to stem creativity itself. Piracy was the retaliation. Partners in Crime takes a wide angled view to the puzzling questions of who is the author, who is the collector and archivist, who is the publisher, and who is the pirate.

Partners in Crime

Director: Paromita Vohra
English (subtitled), 94 min, 2011, India

Is piracy organized crime or class struggle? Are alternative artists who want to hold rights over their art and go it alone in the market, visionaries or nutcases? Is the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration a cop-out or a whole other way of looking at the fluid nature of authorship? Who owns a song - the person who made it or the person who paid for it? When more than three fourths of those with an internet connection download all sorts of material for free, are they living out a brand new cultural freedom - or are they criminals?

Full of wicked irony, great music and thorny questions 'Partners in Crime' explores the grey horizons of copyright and culture during times when technology is changing the contours of the market.

Session 6: When Women Write

Saturday, 20 May 2017, 7 PM | Vanderhoef Studio Theatre | Total screening time: 113 mins

When Women Write traverses 900 years to explore what it means for women to write. It pairs a film about the radical 12th century South Indian poet and mystic, Akka Mahadevi with one about contemporary female poets, who have faced censure and censorship but continue to write. One might say that the mere (f)act of writing is an act of rebellion for women.

Scribbles on Akka

Director: Madhusree Dutta
English (subtitled), 58 min, 2000, India

This short film enlivens the life and work of the 12th century saint-poet, Akka Mahadevi, through a contemporary musical idiom. She is known for her radical poetry and her equally radical life—she is believed to have left her family and wandered naked, while composing poetry that challenged notions of caste and gender. Scribbles on Akka explores the meaning of this denial through the work of contemporary artists and writers and testimonies of ordinary folk who nurtured her image through centuries in their folklore and oral literature.


Director: Anjali Monteiro, K. P. Jayasankar
English (subtitled), 55 min, 2005, India

SheWrite weaves together the narratives and work of four Tamil women poets. Salma negotiates subversive expression within the tightly circumscribed space allotted to a woman in a small town. For Kuttirevathi, solitude is a crucial creative space from where her work resonates. Her anthology entitled 'Breasts' (2003) became a controversial work that elicited hate mail, obscene calls and threats. Malathy Maitri's poems attempt to explore and express feminine power and spaces. Sukirtharani writes of desire and longing, celebrating the body in a way that affirms feminine empowerment. The film traverses these diverse modes of resistance, through images and sounds that evoke the universal experiences of pain, anger, desire and transcendence.

More details, Venue and Screening Schedule | More about India in the Artist's Eye

Latest Updates on Persistence Resistance

Films at Persistence Resistance win awards at MIFF 2014

Films at Persistence Resistance win awards at MIFF 2014
Invoking Justice, directed by Deepa Dhanraj, won the Golden Conch for the best documentary above 40 minutes at the recently concluded Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2014. The film on the exemplary courage and perseverance of women in Tamil Nadu to establish a women's Jamaat will be showing at 19:00 on Monday, 17 February at the India International Centre. ...Films at Persistence Resistance win awards at MIFF 2014

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