India, INTERVIEWS, NEWS — 01/10/2011 5:25 PM

Sophy V. Sivaraman (Sophodok / India) : “we want to connect docs and wider Indian audience”

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Sophodok’s Managing Director Sophy V. Sivaraman speaks about her doc platform, the DocResi festivals (22-27 February 2011) and she explains how she sees the present and the future of the Europe India cooperation in the fields of doc production and distribution.

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What is your personal story ?

I was born in Kerala ,South India and grew up in a boarding school in Ootacamund in the hills. My father was a tea estate owner, so in effect I am a hilly billy. I graduated in  Sociology and arrived in Mumbai to study Mass Communication where I was selected to work for a prominent advertising film producer.  I then studied editing at the Film Instiute Pune and worked as an assistant editor for a couple of years. I started my production company called Sophy’s choice and supervised and produced over 150 commercials for major brands in India as well as corporate films for International clients.

Why do u like docs ?

I have sold an image or a brand for the better part of my years and had become disillusioned with the “lie” that the truth started appealing to me and the “real” became important to see.

What is Sophodok ?

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Sophodok’s purpose is to develop and grow audiences in India for documentaries. It will principally do this by distributing world class films to Indian audiences by DVD, VOD and TV.  It will also work closely with industry partners in festivals, training programmes, TV markets to increase opportunities for films to be seen in numerous contexts and on various platforms, and the range and diversity of films available.

Why did you launched Sophodok ?

Because we believe passionately in the power of documentary to tell stories to enlighten us, and to help change hearts and minds.  Indian audiences have been slow to recognize that documentary films can also be great films and that they should be a part of their media consumption, and also play a part in the national debate. We want to be at the centre of that change that helps connect films with wider audiences.

How many docs do you offer in your catalogue ?

We are a start up company about 4 months old. We have 24 films in our catalogue from all over the world from Iran, Turkey, other European countries like Greece, India … Approx. one third of our films are Indian. We  have targetted 75 films by the end of 2011.

What are the topics most requested by your online users ?

We are not aiming at the normal documentary watchers but we are trying to create an interest towards documentaries by people who have never watched it before. So  we identify our target audience and recommend certain documentaries to them which would appear to hold their interest, and we slowly hook them to it : but we find that the ones on hope and inspirational documentaries are the ones that are liked by the first time viewer.

Are you looking for more European docs ?

We are looking at European documentaries together with documentaries from anywhere in the world that tell a story well. Our supporters and collaboraters are mostly European.

What kind of contracts you have with producers or distributors ?

We take an exclusive on dvd sales for the Indian territory and any other platform that is interested in a particular documentary then we make an agreement in approval with the film maker and distributor.

What is your partner for Sophodok ?

Our partner in this project is Documentary Resource Initiative . Documentary Resource Initiative is a non-profit institute registered under the West Bengal society registration act 1961 working on developing documentary culture through training, publications and intensive workshop modules. Documentary Resource Initiative aims at creating awareness among young people and educates them with potential information, skill development, global networking and appropriate creative exposure connecting them internationally.

The objective is to further generate capacity building, impart knowledge and widen the foundation of independent filmmaking that helps ascending alternative mode of cinematographic art and innovative voices. Since last 10 years DRI team members are especially engaged in promoting the art of independent documentary internationally with a pioneering skill and success. The same expertise and energy are congregated into a holistic initiative that will bring about changes for popularization of documentary filmmaking in India striving for unadulterated real-life content for greater social discourses.

How do you the future of doc production in India and the emergence of independant producers and directors ?

There are a growing number of filmmakers in India, but they have not been supported by the infrastructure seen elsewhere in the world of public television, private investment  or foundation investment. They are just beginning to access international markets and co-production finance through initiatives like docedge. We need to find more sources of finance in India that can support our best film makers so we can begin to see a real industry emerging, rather than a diverse group of individuals struggling to make a living.

In India, is documentary successfull on TV or in theaters ?

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Right now No. There is one channel NDTV that screens a documentary on the weekend. There is the rare musical documentary that screens in theaters eg; Michael Jackson or another Indian group called Indian Ocean. The advent of 3g arrival into India has brought  a rush toward procuring short content with nobody knowing the outcome.

Is it possible to watch European docs in India ?

The best way of watching some European documentaries in India would be the net; or some select private screenings by diplomatic circles  etc. The demand for such films can only come with awareness.

As mentioned above  we are aiming to create an awareness towards documentaries but an often asked question is why should we buy a documentary when we can get to watch them free on the internet ? A question that we answer by saying the directors we distribute you don’t get to see their films free on the internet .

What could be the cooperation between European and Indian doc makers ?

Cooperation is vital in several ways. Firstly there is real need for producer skills, which European companies can offer. They can provide creative skills, access to markets and to co-production finance. They can also offer support for Indian filmmakers to see different perspectives on their own country, and the kind of stories that international audiences want to see coming of India.

Can you present the “Documentaries are great” festival in Kolkata, next February ?

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This festival is not mine. I am associated with it in terms of funds and organizational aspect. “documentariesaregreat” is an international festival showcasing best of the creative documentaries coming from around the globe for public viewing. The festival is an event for 5 days with screening, Q&A, sharing of thoughts and deliberations. The festival also includes presentation of filmmakers,  Seminar, Open Discussions with audience and Masterclasses. For this week long festival from 10-8.30, we are expecting to cover 10 films a day. The films would be largely European. We have a Baltic Retrospective, a selection from Dok-Leipzig, the IDFA award winning films, a new German Documentary and an international selection.

This event is linked with “DocedgeKolkata Asian Forum for Documentary” with participation from international films for vibrant dialogue beyond cultural boundaries. One of its kinds in India, “DocedgeKolkat”a promotes creative and socially engaged documentary through workshop and intensive training. This year is the 8th edition of Docedge and the festival documentariesaregreat is the natural growth to this pitching forum. Kolkata is culturally one of the most culyurally intelegent cities of India and it seems the perfect place to showcase the best of 2010 there.

Docresi (the organizer of the 2 festivals) is spearheaded by Nilotpal Mazumdar, the dean of SRFTI Kolkata and Sophodok is helping docresi to organize the festivals.

Sophodok website and facebook page

Doc Festival website (22-27 February 2011)

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