In a sleepy hamlet in Naukuchiatal, where the only noise is the hum of birds occasionally interrupted by the barking of a dog, a small but loyal circle of documentary film lovers gathers together every year to live through the experience that is the Lake Side Doc Festival.
Now in its 7th year, the festival is the brainchild of Neelima and Pramod Mathur of Foremedia, who quit the hustle-bustle of Delhi for a better quality of life in the foothills of Himalayas. They took their big city ideas and applied them to a small town, the results of which are carefully curated niche products that measure quality over anything else.
The documentary festival that Neelima creates is at the centre of this nucleus. Held every year in March (the dates for this year were 15th to 18th March) at the Lakeside Resort, it is one of the only festivals in the country that showcases an impressive range of never seen before, foreign as well as Indian documentaries. Some of the notable line-ups from this year included Hemant Gaba’s Engineered Dream, a fascinating look at the often dark phenomenon of Indian parents grooming their children for engineering and medical sciences, often sending them to Kota for coaching, where they are caught in the cycle of studies and suicide.
You Have No Idea How Much I Love You, director Paweł Łoziński films the intimate psychotherapy sessions between a mother and daughter, uncovering layers of conflict, anger, love.
The Poetess, Stefanie Brockhaus, Andreas Wolff go behind the camera to tell the powerful story of a Saudi Arabian woman risking her personal safety and seizing an opportunity, live on TV in front of 75 million viewers, to use her wit and lyricism to critique patriarchal society and religious extremism and to urge for a more peaceful Islam.
Another refreshing hallmark that distinguishes the DocFest, as it has popularly come to be called, is the fact that there is never a representation problem for women filmmakers. This is perhaps because Neelima spends hours and days scouring through documentaries and making a shortlist herself. When you decide to participate in this festival, it is a commitment in itself, there will be no fast consumption—no parallel panels, rushed viewings, the din of people buzzing, alternate viewing etc. Instead, you will have an immersive experience, one documentary at a time. This is perhaps the reason that the crowd that DocFest attracts is not that of a typical fast-paced festival goer, but a slightly more mature audience that is in it to take in the new documentary trends, absorb the films and then have long discussions about them. The lakeside backdrop only adds to the charm of it all and slowly over the years, the DocuFest has managed to build a small but loyal group of patrons that keep coming back for more.
Despite all that it has to offer, organising the festival is not without challenges, funding remains a big pre-occupation. Currently the festival is made possible by the generosity of international embassies and institutes, yet last year they lost almost half of their budget to unforeseen circumstances, but the Mathur’s persisted, like they always do, uncompromising on their vision and looking forward to another year.