Autonomous Archives: 04 SFG (Shared Footage Group)
Cinematographer: Nisha Vasudevan
Duration: 00:43:47; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 28.862; Saturation: 0.110; Lightness: 0.325; Volume: 0.190; Cuts per Minute: 0.046; Words per Minute: 106.626
Summary: Properties of the Autonomous Archive
, a 2-day event, hosted by CAMP, was a gathering of key internet platforms, archival initiatives and related infrastructures.
The discussion was intended to focus on the qualities and powers of contemporary archives: including their stable or emergent properties, their performance and beauty, survival and capacity, and autonomy.
"In declaring their autonomy, archives seek to produce norms beyond normativity, and ethical claims beyond the law."
- excerpt from Pad.ma, Ten Theses on the Archive
, no. 9.
Day one was a day of presentations and discussions: "Show me your Properties!"
: Jan Gerber and Sebastian Lutgert - 'people annotate describe make add'
: Kenneth Goldsmith - 'If we had to ask permission, we wouldn't exist: a brief history of UbuWeb and the law'
: Sean Dockray
04 SFG (Shared Footage Group)
: 'Its past and future'
05 Sundar and Gurung
: 'Archiving in the vernacular, experiences from Tamil and Nepali'
06 Rochelle Pinto
: 'The mundane state - historians in a state archive'
07 Peter S. - flattr
: 'Flattr, the need for alternative financial views'
08 Matthew Fuller
: 'Two evil media stratagems: Structured data & Know your sorts'
09 Liang and Lutgert - Leaks
: 'Privacy and Scandal: Radia tapes and Wikileaks'
As a voluntary response to the 2002 Gujarat violence, over the course of many months SFG
created an archive of over 200 hours of studied, detailed and in-depth footage documenting the aftermath, recording testimonies or visual evidence. The 'violence' is argued to be more of a genocide or pogrom.
Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai
LL: From shared footage group, which is a group of film-makers who responded in fact when there wasn't that many discussions around questions of open content, shared footage etc. It really was a very early initiative that sought to kind of, you know.. look at how we could look at collaborative knowledge of corruption.
LL: Today the presentation will be on the Shared Footage Group and its future. So we have Neeraj and Hassath....
N: We reached Gujarat quite late considering what was happening there at the time- so, things started around Feb,
Ashok: Can everybody hear?
- Reduce the noise a little -
N: So things started around Feb or something like that. We were there around April.
N: The group evolved over time - its structure, its content and what it was pursuing, continually evolved. But at some point of time, during the course of this, it did get concretised into what is now the Shared Footage Group.
N: I'll just run through a little bit of the context in which SFG was trying to organise at the time - some of the larger concerns that SFG was addressing, as well as some of the more specific ones that SFG was addressing.
N: The specific ones are actually quite easy. What happened is that some of us were also activists and intervening during the time of a similar kind of thing in Bombay after the Babri Masjid riots in '93. And at that time we have noticed that a few film-makers had intervened with... and made certain films out of it, done some documentation and stuff like that.
N: When we landed in Gujarat, the first few days, when we started talking to people we realised that one of the giveaways of the systematic census of who has to be targetted - which was done in Bombay under the guise of say for example- doing a municipal water connection census, or doing an electricity connection census, or something like that- was actually used for marking out targets.
N: The same thing had happened- I remember from mine and our experience... - So I got alert immediately and I called up film-makers saying that this is very important to document because at least it shows an intention of... it betrays an intention of a certain force which organised this kind of thing which need to prep a large scale programme like this.
N: The film-makers told me- sorry, the tapes got fungus, and we threw them out. I was in Gujarat, and we said- whatever happens, this is not going to happen with whatever kind of effort that we mount and document in Gujarat.
N: This is for example one of the very immediate kind of concern of why SFG, not out of desire but out of secondary intent, came to be the proto-archive or an early version of what one would call an archive.
N: Another consideration was that things were actually so bad at the time, that it had been really difficult for even DR and CL organisations to go in and give you the first independent fact finding reports coming out and stuff like that.
N: Everything there was very immediate and very shaky, in a sense. It was quite dangerous for external agencies at that time to go in and intervene. It was a month or more than that, by the time - you know, some kind of an all India effort would get mounted to make those kind of interventions.
N: We were the tail-end of that. Because we were not really Democratic Rights / Civil Liberties kind of activists. We were the kind of activists that goes (sic) in the wake of this kind of effort.
N: So, one of the initial objectives was to help this and other kind of interventions by whatever way we could help them. So, at that time, there was the Xavier's Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Legal Aid Cell, people who were making representation for claims or criminal cases or civil suits and stuff like that.
N: So we were just tagging along to help, and document, taking testimonials, etc - document things that were broken down.. that was the kind of initial response.
N: As we stuck on, what was happening was that we were getting calls from too many places at the same time. So it was like, in the morning, suddenly the crew is being called to 5 rehab camps at the same time and we didn't have 5 shooting crews, we didn't have 5 cameras, etc.
N: Very early on, we had to sit down and sort of, start figuring out what it is that needs immediate documentation, what is it that needs a more engaged and prolonged documentation,... and it is out of that kind of thinking that the main portions of SFG footage which now exists came to be.
N: One of things that was also implicit in our work was that its not as if we were going to go there and make one film. We did, kind of.. take it, that there would be those kind of efforts which is made by film-makers as authorial things that we need to do or whatever; and we felt that although that was done (and was also done during the time of the Bombay riots), we did feel that it would help to also have documents or documentaries or reportages, or anthing like that, which were not just films with a particular author's intent agenda, etc.
N: For eg,... there was a basti
called Salaat Nagar. Salaat Nagar is not a predominantly muslim basti
. It's not a Muslim slum or something like that. It is also, but Salaat Nagar people are kind of migrant labour more than they are muslims. It was one of the places that faced an attack that was as bad, if not worse than what was unleashed on Naroda Patiya- which is the most beaten up place.
N: And as we were trying to figure out why it was, it emerged that the main reason it got hammered like that, was because it was one of the very few places where the Left is active and organises in a strong and effective manner.
N: We felt it was phenomena like these that were important to get documented, to also help people to understand that this kind of event is not- it also is, but not just- a hindu-muslim thing. There are many layers to it, there are complications to it, there's an organised state machinery which is doing this.
N: So we wanted to flesh out maybe 2 dozen stories, each of which would elaborate one of these kinds of things.
N: When we started looking at the work that lay in front of us at the time, it would easily amount to many man-years of skilled / unskilled / all sorts of contributions coming from all sorts of volunteers. We accordingly had to design a working method which allows for people to come in and contribute 3 days, 1 day, 7 days of labour, etc. - whether person is a director, or sound recordist, a camera-man, an editor, or even if the person has nothing to do with films, students, - everybody can come in and somehow or the other, contribute something to help the whole thing move forward.
N: Which is one of the things very central to the content is there in SFG, is that it has followed and pursued these phenomena and ideas over a course of 2-3 years.
N: It also happened that there were a lot of film-makers at the time, or media activists, or whatever who wanted to somehow participate or contribute, but somehow didn't quite know how and were not sure if they would make a film or not make a film. Working this sort of an infrastructure for contribution was really very useful in allowing a lot of different people to come in and participate.
N: It was unprecedented, but which is okay, it was just that it came to be out of the necessity of the situation. There was of course some amount of design to it.
N: So as it progressed, it emerged that this is a kind of group of media activists / not activists or other people contributing, esentially to this kind of corpus of work which has these kinds of features. It is not institutionally funded, it is voluntary.
N: With efforts like this, you eventually come to say that yeah, it will go as far as it goes. Its not as if you plan a priori and say- I need to shoot 200 hours, and shooting 200 hours requires these many cameras, this much money and stuff like that. You can't go into a situation like that with a predetermined notion like that.
N: It could easily have been 40 hours of footage, it could have been 200 hours of footage, it could have been 2000 hours of footage. The point being that it only gets to go as far as its good to go.
N: Implicit also in the SFG's work is definitely to say, that the record or document that you create/generate at that time, with whatever intent on context you may have, is also an entity which can be used by another author or another intent, or in another context to mean another thing or to string itself along to make another kind of point,- which is the reason why SFG for example, states, has always stated and one of the primary intention of SFG, is to get the footage out there, for whatever use that people want to deploy it for - whether its academic, or research, sensitizing workshops, films and whatever the time and context of its time allows it to be used for.
N: Some of the work also had to respond to a different kind of concern, which is... a temporal thing - for eg. you know that - we are there two months later and you know that such and such mosque was desecrated, or pulled down, smashed / bull-dozed, whatever it is - we know that within a month's time, the government is going to rase it, clean it up and you will never even have nothing to document, because there is going to be nothing but empty space over here. So it is imperative that you make a quick organisation of whatever resources you have at the time and document something which might slip away with time.
N: And so for eg. one of the main subsets of the footage that SFG has, is a kind of comprehensive documentation of holy places or sacred places which were desecrated. Honest to God, we tried our level best to find temples which were damaged, and we did not find even one.
N: One of the things you will also not find in the SFG is that - at the time there was quite a lot of rabid mainstream media intervention - extremely insensitive, raucous, very much in your face, and pervasive.
N: That sort of thing was also one of the things that propelled us into making sure that we are not interested in documenting that which will already exist- at that time- the public domain which was television networks and stuff like that. So even if people wanted that kind of footage, they could get to a TV channel and follow that protocol and have that footage that they are interested in, etc.
N: So we definitely were working in areas where mainstream media and SFG work was not an overlap. It took us a very long time to earn the faith of people who were giving us testimonials, witness interviews, etc. It took everybody a fair amount of time to understand that we were not infact a TV channel, we were not infact just a film-maker making a film and it was as difficult for us to continuously face the question that, 'Will you guys shoot this? Make money out of a film and disappear?'
N: We also implicitly had the view that documenting this kind of thing does not necessarily involve documenting what might be the primary actors in a thing like that - for eg. police, the media, the ministers, the municipal councillors, etc. We did not think and probably still dont, that having these kinds of records necessarily gives a certain kind of a balance to your view or articulation of what you have recorded. We don't think so.
N: Also, what we dont have is, for eg. we dont have any footage of children. One of the main reasons was that because they are such a vulnerable population, especially in a scenario like this. The mainstream media was very quick to use children for shock value, sensationalism, tear-jerking, stuff like that.
N: It was almost like a cameraman from a news agency would come to the camp, ask a child to lift her frock,- okay here are 2 burn marks - and then it would be all over the news channels.
N: It is for this kind of a reason that in fact SFG, not as footage, but definitely had a portion of its volunteers working with children, but not shooting them or recording them, or not intervening their use as medium.
N: Another thing we learnt from earlier work in non-fiction at the time was that when you work as a media activist or film-maker, or something like that, following very close certain things on the ground, or following issue, or following a movement, or following things like that - you tend to be drawn into the day-to-day responses of that particular thing.
N: So if we, for eg. as SFG, were a tail-end to DR / CL organisations, working there, you probably would find not very many ways to be able to organise our footage, not very many articulations in it, except that it would just be lots of witnesses for whatever particular purpose that witness was being recorded. That is one.
N: The other thing that used to happen was that, when you are 5 years away from that phenomena and you're looking back at the footage, or the records and documents you have made, you find that it does not have much of an intentional structure that can be decoded in it, except the fact that it lends itself to being a diary.
N: And, we kind of recognised very early on, that the immediate way of responding- (I mean the fire-fighting way of responding - dousing a fire with a video camera) would eventually yield itself into some footage like that. Which we all thought at that time would not necessarily be the best deployment of the kind of goodwill, the kind of man-hours, resources and everything that was being contributed that brought all of us over there.
N: We, at the time, and even now, did not and do not think that all of the material that is with SFG can easily lend itself to being publicly open documents. It is a difficult and real debate. It is a real issue which needs to be addressed.
N: For the moment, our position has been, truthfully so, and it has never deterred any user from coming and using our footage for whatever pursuation they are coming,... has been that, if it comes through some manner of a grapevine - an informal type of grapevine- we already know it is coming through some "trusted site" / "certificate" kind of thing.
N: We do think that large portions of the material that SFG has, can and should definitely be out in the public domain for easy and free access for anyone and everyone, but not necessarily all of it.
N: So, over the years, I'd say about a dozen film-makers have used it in various films, 3-4 research scholars, academics have used it for their purposes. Different kind of people doing sensitising workshops or stuff like that have used it. So it does lend itself, and has lent itself to many uses.
N: I'm sure that with the kind of effort that is now getting organised and concrete and available on internet - much more can and should happen.
N: So I would just quickly outline that at the end of the day, because of these kind of concerns, what is the kind of stuff that is there with the SFG - so, the main corpus of the footage is esentially a dozen or more stories - some finished, some not so finished - like Salaat Nagar. Each of these stories will tell you about one or some set of aspects of the whole sordid affair. That's the main corpus of the work which will have a lot of interviews, testimonials, slice of life, following characters over years, following them to courts...., claims, etc.
N: Another big chunk is the documentation of all the holy places-or sacred places- which were desecrated, which, because it had to be done with immediate speed, ended up being on whatever camera we could get our hands on, including stills - so that's the kind of corpus of work which has stills, VHS, Video8, Hi8, miniiDV, etc all kind of formats documenting those kind of things.
N: It was difficult at that time because you could not stop in a place like that for more than 10 minutes before attracting attention or attracting resistance. So, it would be like we would start at about at 4 in the morning, so we could finish a whole round of documentation and shooting before 9am, when we'd take a break, and then shoot ...
N: You'd find, for eg. the Mini DV camera is the one which has all the long-shots. You would find that somebody who was handling the VHS camera that particular tape contains all the close-ups.. of breaks, broken things, cylinders, blown up fans,etc.
N: The reason this happened, of course, is because we had to be 6-8 people with different kinds of cameras, it was pre-determined - you are doing the longshots, you're going to do the midshot, you're going to do the close-ups, you're going to do the studies, etc.
N: Another big chunk of work, after some time when we could sort of breathe, we were realising that a lot was getting to be very Ahmedabad centric. And a lot of stuff was happening in the villages, etc. which also needed some documentation. The best we could give it was we eventually managed to put together a team which spent a month travelling a lot of the rural areas, and documenting similar stories in those places, which forms another subset called Rural Footage.
N: Another chunk we have, which is not exactly video footage, but because we were doing this kind of effort, and people faith and trust in us, and had invested goodwill, is that people put together for us 3 months of newspapers of that time....
N: This is roughly a map of the kind of stuff that SFG has.
N: We have another chunk - some of the people there who have been local shaadi
-video kind of people, who jumped in at the moment to use their equipment to document stuff - some of them eventually put together their footage and gave it to us saying that this is what they had documented at the time... and your entity will take this and put it into a larger use. They gave that footage to us. That is footage that has been acquired by us, but not generated by us, but given to us out of faith, goodwill.
N: Finally, when all this was hapening at that time, there was a lot of focus on what would happen to the Rath Yatra.. The Rath Yatra is a specific kind of Lord Jagannath's... goes through a lot of hindu areas and muslim areas. Its flagged off by muslim... its always been a bone of contention in certain areas which always flares up.
N: So there was a lot of pressure at that time and because of that pressure a lot of people wanted to know what would happen to this thing. And we had 10 or 12 crews at that time - that would be another section of the kind of material that SFG has.
N: So this is roughly how it came to be, what kind of persuasions gave it its structure, and shaped its content as well. This is what it is. Its always been free, and accessible.
Q(AS): How do people know what's in it? How have people approached specific sections?
A(N): As of now, how it is organized is that we have logs for each and every tape - the logs are fairly descriptive. So if you have some kind of an idea of what you're looking for - for eg. someone who was trying to make something around the Ehsaan Jaffrey episode, would search for the words in the log-sheets. A list of tapes will come up. We had at that time managed to convert everything to VCDs, so we could give them copies, They would shortlist and say which tape numbers they needed. We give them the VCDs. They go through the VCD and shortlist off that- what exactly they want- and then we just dub the original tape for them and give it to them for their film or whatever.... So the logs are circulated.
Q(SB): Its been ten years now. If you have an idea of what your response and how things might become similar, different.. if there was a crisis like this today, what would you do differently today ..?
Q(SD): I didn't quite understand what happens after the footage is shot and collected? You mentioned 11 film-makers who had made stuff with it, and few academics .. but is there a project of the group itself.. ? Maybe not a film, but ...something that mobilises the footage into something other than an archive?
A(N): The intention of the footage was for it to actually finish these 10-12 documents and close them and make some manner of a whole unit which is presentable in some manner which centres around some concerns. for eg. Salaat Nagar, Ehsaan Jaffrey, etc.
A(N): But, by the time we finished all of this we were exhausted and I think everyone was fairly exhausted. Eventually we never managed to do this particular waht we might call the last-mile, which was built into the design of the SFG. Apart from recognising the fact that other people can use it for other purposes. But yes, you're right, there was definitely a purpose hard-wired into the footage, and that particular purpose has not yet come to fruition - hopefully it will some time.
A(N): Well honest to God, I hope there is no SFG version2. But in the event that there is, I think Version1 stands as a fairly decent reference as to how things can be organised. ...The one thing that I would like version2 to have would be some way of harnessing contributory, voluntary, small quantum of labour, to be able to have that sense of the last mile author's need - to fulfill that need- to bring large chunks of footage to a cohesive, coherent piece. I don't know how that would happen..you really need to break your head about it.
Q(SA): This gets me thinking of pre-pad.ma. SFG was often the basis for a lot of the discussion of why pad.ma would essentially be a footage archive, or collection of footage and not finished films. And one of the key things was that closure perhaps often is not possible- and I think for many film-makers, you try to do your first independant film, shot 100 hours of footage, with some grand idea which... woh nahin hota hai
(That doesn't happen).
Q(SA): ...I'd say firstly this is what happened with me, I felt that the documentation that I had of the city never made it into a finished film, as CAMP or other. If I think it has some value to re-encounter, to re-appear - this is not SFG. I'm talking about documenting various other movements in the city where it should have...
Q(SA): But since the opus didn't happen, that the material itself is valid, and perhaps these things do not need closure, but can be completely open-ended. With SFG I would always ask that question- Did you really fulfil the idea of being the alternative media to the mainstream media? Because the viral dissemination has not really been realised. And perhaps it doesn't need closure. Or, say 10 years later, if those 12 films are made, could there be another way of seeing it? Which is looking very closely at the diary, understand it through a slower reading, through a more detailed contextualisation, a more comprehensive viewing of the footage - it may take 10 hours, and not be a 90 min. film..and kind of leading then to the kind of possibilities that writing over images and stuff like that.
A(N): Sure,... though this was not one of the propellants for something like SFG. Undeniably the main propellant of SFG was that everyone who contributing to it did and does feel that those things did need to come to some manner of closure. I don't know about what today's thing is and stuff like that.
SA: I'm saying - given the fact that it didn't happen. ...And often I'm saying in the case of ... ironically it takes some possessed Rakesh Sharma to go make a 3 hour opus, do it in a certain style and then ... I'm saying ironically, no! That whatever it is, somethign as wonderful as this could not meet closure. But something like that...
A(N): ...Rakesh Sharma and film-makers like that do get facilitated by the fact that there are people like SFG who've been on the ground, around for a very long time...
N: ..take our activists and know where to go and record who and how. So... yes.
SA: No...I'm saying things like that happen with an idea like this...
N: But SFG already knew that these things will happen, and will happen, and happen on their own steam. Like during Bombay... some 3-4 films were made at the time...
Q(NM): Has the video material ever been used in a legal sense?
NM: For a case, or..?
N: Some of us are witnesses in civil suits and other suits. Some of the subjects we shot are witnesses in several suits.
NM: The video itself, the video material itself?...
N: I don't know what the current legal position in India is, but I think that over here, video is by itself not admissable as evidence. But I think the video maker or shooter can stand in and say 'yes, this is the truth of what I shot.' I think that that's the legal position here.... Some of the witnesses are for a civil suit in UK.
LL: This is something we've been thinking about in terms of the working of the 'sting operations'. The first thing that's questioned is the veracity of the tape. So there is a new kind of quasi-film / quasi-legal kind of standard that's emerging -where the interpretation of the veractiy of the tape in terms of its physicality v/s its content is actually merging in a way, where judges are playing forensic scientists ..and film study scholars combined.
LL: I have one question which is a follow-up to Sanj's question -- not how would one would imagine doing it differently - but, that the intervening 10 years that we've seen could really be- if one calls the 'digital moment' or 'media moment' with mobile phone cameras, citizen journalism, etc. - this is a debate we've had with many film-makers including Anand Patwardhan etc - where the anxiety about the footage going into the wrong hands - do you think that potentially a certain amount of anxiety arose in a pre-media context which maybe in the present is different?
A: For large parts of SFG footage, I would agree - that thing shouldn't lend itself to having a more abstract idea that everything should be ........But yes I do think that you're right... I think times are different and I think the way to respond to these kinds of things- the anxieties are newer.