It is not always rosy, but it brings changes

Interview with Ms P N Vasanti, Director General of CMS VATARAN film festival, New Delhi, India. 

CMS VATAVARAN takes place in India once every two years. Next – 9th – edition will be held in November, 2017, in New Delhi (and yes, call for entries is open now!) and will be dedicated once again to an important topic of water conservation.

CMS VATAVARAN is a travelling festival. So far it went to 30 cities in 24 Indian states. The big festival’s aim is a policy change. We talked to the Director General of CMS Ms P N Vasanti and asked her about her work, challenges and ambitions.

We continue exploring festivals of the network with our monthly interviews. Welcome to CMS VATARAN!

How did it all start? How CMS was born?

CMS was founded in 1991 with an objective to make a difference in policy and practice that contributes to our vision of Equitable Growth and Responsive Governance.

The rich experience of CMS in environmental issues and the urge to go “Beyond Research” sowed the seeds of CMS VATAVARAN – a pioneering international festival of environment and wildlife films. This festival (competitive and travelling) was initiated for encouraging environment films and forums that result in perception, practice and policy change.

This initiative was in answer to several poignant questions we felt challenged with. Like: Why couldn’t environment issues be highlighted in a way understood by all? Why couldn’t the practitioners behind the lens get their due? Why couldn’t the craft itself be stimulated?

Also, we wanted everybody involved: individuals, creative professionals like film makers, government departments, corporate, scientific institutions, colleges and universities – whoever dealt, in their various capacities, with questions of sustainability, technology and on our nature.

By the way, the word VATAVARAN is a Hindi word generally used to mean our climate or environment.

2002 Main copy

Do you remember your very first festival?

Of course, I remember our first film festival in 2002. Response from various ‘friends’ was not encouraging. However, as we strongly felt the need (based on our own research) we took the initiative. Everyone was surprised that in year 1 we got nearly 100 film entries. The transparent and inclusive process that we followed right from the beginning of this festival gave us instant credibility and popularity.


What are other ways that work the best in your experience? 

The practice itself has evolved over time. Yes, we did begin with films. The format then turned dynamic. To films, other interactive formats were added: panel discussions, seminars, hands-on training.

We have engaged with various audiences in various strategic manner. For example for media professionals, we have created a platform that aims to work with the media in a sustained way to ensure that the fourth pillar of democracy becomes a  powerful  tool  to  create awareness on environmental issues and facilitates advocacy.

International journalists’  congress,  field  visits,  media  round tables,  special  workshops, master  classes  and  awards  has  inspired  nearly  1007  environmental journalists to network further and build on their capacities.

Similarly, Youth  has  been  important  stakeholders  for  CMS  VATAVARAN.  Thousands of schools, colleges and universities have been actively participating in eco-tours to fragile ecosystems, filmmaking,  eco-games,  symposiums,  quizzes,  creative  expressions, competitions etc.

What do you like the most about your work? 

Personally, I have played a strategic role in guiding this festival since its inception. I have seen how discussions led to ideas that led to a festival and now a movement. The instant connection that films and festivals have is inspiring.

I can also add that though we have had support and grants, we have always had to invest our own resources and time to build this. SO it has not always been rosy or even “profitable”. But the love and beauty of the medium keeps us going.

Then the ability to move people with our films has been my most favorite part. I have seen tears, awe, disgust, laughter, instant action and even major policy changes in reaction!


What is the most difficult in your work now?

The challenge is mostly related to the capital required for the scale and stature of the festival. We are still compelled to look for funding from diverse organizations in the country.


What can you advice to other film festival organisers? Some word of wisdom.

My advise would be not to be demotivated by lack of support or sometime dwindling audiences. New technologies and various experimentation in festival formats have shown more ways for all of us to try out. Drastic environment developments in our world need us to continue motivating all to conserve and protect our world.


Do you believe that you are partially “saving the world” with your work? 

CMS VATAVARAN is envisioned as a movement – an attempt to change minds, attitudes and policies using films. We take our advocacy role very seriously and therefore our selected and awarded films travel across in our travelling editions of our festival, in various seminars, channels, forums, festivals, across the country and abroad. We use every opportunity to showcase films and start a dialogue on the issue – be it a school function or an important government function or for training teachers or for orienting media, we are glad to share our films for a cause for different audiences. So YES, we sincerely believe we are changing mindsets, and that is impacting our world positively!


What are your ideas about the future? How do you think is gonna look like? 

Measuring the true impact of climate change initiatives is a process, not a one-time affair. It can only be assessed over a much longer period. In the meanwhile, surrogate indicators help us know the direction that the festival is heading. For example, against hardly one percent of space/time devoted for environment more than a decade ago, today it has increased to three percent. Environment was one of the top ten concerns of people of the country a decade ago, but today it is within the top five concerns. Against hardly fifty who were producing films on environment and wildlife a decade ago, today there are more than 500, many of them new ones promoted by CMS VATAVARAN awards. The attendance who visit and the scale of the festival is many times more now.  I am happy what we could accomplish so far with limited external support. But we have a long way to go particularly in terms of behavioral change.


By Anastasia Laukkanen