An 86-year-old American-born architect, Didi Contractor, was the protagonist of her first Indian-origin documentary “Didi Contractor: Marrying the Earth to the Building”. Now Switzerland-based documentary director Steffi Giaracuni wishes to make a documentary on an Indian sage whose lifestyle has fascinated her.
Giaracuni, who has previously directed documentaries like “NelkenfurReisch” and “ZwischenKommen und Gehen”, first came to India 12 years ago for trekking.
“I came to India by chance 12 years ago. I ended up at a clinic in Dharamsala. That was the first house that she (Didi) was building. I was living there for a month. This was the first time that I was living in a mud house. It was really impressive to me.
“Didi was living in the same village. I started to make a film about the clinic – how the daily life was going on there,” Giaracuni told IANS on the sidelines of the fifth edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival, where her documentary was screened on Friday.
“I was impressed by the architecture of the houses and Didi as a person. These two inspired me to make this documentary. It was a personal trip. I just came here for a trekking tour for two months. It was a lucky thing for me to meet Didi,” she added.
Not only Didi, a saint also impressed Giaracuni, who next hopes to make a film on him.
“To make a documentary, you need to build a connection with its protagonist. The production of ‘Didi Contractor’ has just finished. I want my protagonist to find me.
“Actually I had an idea about one person here, who is a sadhu (sage) whom I met here in Dharamsala, but he was from South. I have met him twice over a certain period of time,” Giaracuni said.
“There is the fascination where I have been thinking – well it could be a great project to look upon. I want to understand it from my perspective, like what’s leading him to live like that. What are his interests’ What’s moving him’ I want to know it. That can really be my next project in India,” she added.
While she didn’t know much about India before her maiden visit, Giaracuni developed a growing fondness for Indian culture and cinema as she started visiting the country on a regular basis.
“Honestly when I came here 12 years ago, I didn’t know much about India. After that, I started watching Bollywood films and I came to India every year. I spent a lot of time here after my first visit. I was not really aware of India or Indian films before,” she said.
“I come from a European film background. In Europe, there is a very diverse culture of filmmaking. It has a huge complexity. I am sure Indian films do have this as well. This wasn’t obvious for me. I was truly impressed by the way they (Indian filmmakers) make films and how they present it.
“It still impresses me how films are made in India with length of three hours. I still feel like a child in the circus. Even though I don’t understand most of Indian films, but I still watch them,” she added.
Giaracuni gets to watch Indian films at “film festivals or special screenings there”.
Talking about shooting for the first time in India, Giaracuni said: “For ‘Didi Contractor’, I had a team from both India and Europe. It was a good experience for me and I also learnt from it. I would definitely recommend filmmakers in Switzerland to come and shoot in India.
“I would share my experiences that I faced – and those were good experiences, especially with the people here in Himachal Pradesh. Everybody is really supportive and co-operative.”
Working with Indian actors and stars is not on Giaracuni’s mind.
“I am a documentary filmmaker. I decided to be that when I was very young. I don’t want to do feature films. I tried that, but it really didn’t work out. I don’t really want to work with actors. That’s very different. I know filmmakers here, but I don’t know Indian actors,” she said.
“But I would love to work in India. I have always had good experience here,” Giaracuni concluded.
(The writer’s trip to Dharamsala is at the invitation of the Dharamshala International Film Festival organisers. Sandeep Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Sandeep Sharma