Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Premiere Screening of "Abotani" in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Premiere Screening of the short animated film, “Abotani”, the first tribal story from the Tani tribes of Arunachal Pradesh to be adapted for animation is being held on 28 October 2015, at the Rajiv Gandhi University in Rono Hills, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. The Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, JP Rajkhowa is the invited Chief Guest for the Premiere Screening event.

This animation film project began in early 2013, with an Animation Workshop that was organised by the UK based organisation, the Adivasi Arts Trust, in collaboration with the Rajiv Gandhi University and the Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation in Naharlagun.  The three week long workshop introduced local participants to animation as a tool to sustain their storytelling traditions for future generations and also to communicate tribal culture to wider audiences.

The workshop was led by a team of young Indian animators: students and graduates in animation from the National Institute of Design.  It also attracted members of the Adivasi Arts Trust from the UK, who shared their experiences about the production process.  First of all the team chose a popular folktale from their Tani tradition from Central Arunachal Pradesh to develop into a short film.  As well as attending daily screenings of a wide variety of animation films made by independent artists and studios, the young artists researched their traditional art forms for the designs for the characters and world of the short film.

Abotani is their cultural hero, and in this story he quarrels with his brother Yapom. This leads to the division of the land.  After that, Tapen the Trickster Bat intervenes and reignites the battle between Mankind and the ancestor of the spirit beings.  The details of this origin myth that gives an explanation for how things came to be before there was any local knowledge of reading and writing were unraveled in discussions with cultural elders of the community.  The story was then adapted for a film script, from which the visual storyboard was developed to produce a detailed plan for the film.  The voices for characters were also recorded, to complete the plan.

Stop-motion puppet animation was chosen as the medium for the animation, as it could include the local traditions of handicraft and sculpture.  The puppets were made by British artist Jonathan Marchant, based on designs that emerged during the workshop.  The film shoot took place a year later, first in Ahmedabad, and then in Delhi in 2014, at the Lalit Kala Akademi.  The animation shots were recorded meticulously over two months by a team of students from the National Institute of Design.  Being from tribal backgrounds themselves, Wangdan, Rabindra and Kirat appreciated the story and the opportunity to bring it to life in a new medium.   They then went on to do the visual compositing, in which the characters are integrated into environments painted in water colour.

The story about Abotani is one of a collection called “Tales of the Tribes” produced by the Adivasi Arts Trust, with other stories from Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur and Madhya Pradesh.  The series is presented as a storytelling competition, young audiences will be asked to vote for their favourite story, and the host will offer a Trophy for the winning tale.  This format was explored in an earlier programme called “The Tallest Story Competition” (2005, produced by West Highland Animation, Scotland), based on Adivasi stories from Central India.  It is hoped that this new series, the first to be produced in India by traditional artists and Indian animators, will show how the animation medium can be used to tell tribal stories to local audiences that are now avidly watching commercial animation programmes on television media.

The “Abotani” film has been an enriching journey for the entire team, who found out more about the wealth of culture of Arunachal Pradesh through the project; about its current relevance to their community and about communicating contemporary cultural forms.  The film has already had preview screenings at the Nehru Centre in London and recently, at the Chitrakatha Animation Festival at the National Institute of Design, Gujarat.  The assessment will be on how it is received with audiences back from where the story emerged.  The film has been dubbed into Arunachalee Hindi for the screening, and versions in several of the Tani languages will follow so that the film can be screened in local schools too.  The Premiere event will be attended by local partners and members of the Adivasi Arts Trust. 

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