“Rescuing the Stolen River,” an 82-minute documentary film written and directed by ISKCON devotee Krishna-lila Dasi (Krisztina Danka, Ph.D.) about pollution in the sacred river Yamuna, premiered at the CMS Vatavaran Film Festival in New Delhi, India on October 10th.
The festival, which ran from October 9th to 13th at Delhi’s NDMC Convention Centre, is ranked in the top two environmental film festivals in the world. It deals with a vast range of issues including climate change, natural heritage conservation, biodiversity, and renewable energy.
The festival’s poster
This year, the festival received a total of 178 entries from India and around the world. “Rescuing the Stolen River” was nominated for its “Water for Life” Award.
The film tells the story of Indian-born American girl Shataksi, who returns to her native land to study traditional dance and is shocked at the state of the Yamuna river. She joins five Brajabhasi youths from Vrindavan and Varshana to investigate further and finds that the Yamuna’s crystal clear waters are diverted for agriculture at the Hathini Kund Barrage in Haryana, and replaced with a mixture of domestic sewage and industrial waste which makes millions ill and kills thousands of the most vulnerable: infants, young children, and farm animals.
The program of the festival outside the venue.
Shataksi’s and the young Brajabhasis’ discoveries lead them to becoming activists in the Save the Yamuna movement that inspired tens of thousands to campaign and push the Indian government to act.
“We started making the film in 2012 when ISKCON’s GBC made a resolution to help raise awareness of the Yamuna’s condition,” says director Krishna-lila. “ISKCON devotees not only in Vrindavan, but all over the world are also affected by the Yamuna’s condition. Following Lord Chaitanya’s and Prabhupada’s footsteps, it is our responsibility to maintain the holy dhamas; and of course, devotees are compassionate towards those affected by the pollution.”
“Stolen River” cinematographer Denes Doboveczki filming one of the Save Yamuna Protest marchers
Krishna-lila has produced over thirty documentaries and videos on environmental and humanitarian issues, interfaith dialogue and Indian spirituality that have been broadcast on TV channels and in theaters around the world. So she had a team of seasoned professionals to work with.
The team took two shooting trips, following the Yamuna upstream from Vrindavan all the way to the Himalayas.
“Stolen River” DP Gaura Govinda (Filip Cargonja) has never stopped until he found the position for the Perfect Shot
“It was hard to maintain the objectivity of a documentarian,” says Krishna-lila. “In between interviews, our team spent a lot of time in the bushes, crying.”
The premier of “Rescuing the Stolen River” at the Vatavaran film festival packed out the small screening hall, and had an enthusiastic reception.
“People were shocked to see the full picture of what’s going on with the river Yamuna,” Krishna-lila says. “They had many questions afterward, including ‘Why do Western people feel that the river Yamuna is important?’ ‘How can we be involved in achieving a quick and permanent solution to the problem?’ and ‘What is the government of India doing about it?’”
A family takes ritual bath in the filthy Yamuna. It was one of the hardest scenes to encounter and film.
Regarding the latter question, the government promised Save the Yamuna campaigners on March 22 that they would release the minimum ecological flow of fresh Yamuna water from the Hathini Jund Barrage, and build a parallel canal alongside the Yamuna to collect and divert the sewage.
“Our film is meant to encourage the decision makers to follow up on this promise,” says Krishna-lila.
After answering audience questions, the director met several environmental policy makers at the premier, as well as other environmentally conscious filmmakers.
The crew gets “holi-ed on” while filming in Varshana
She also gave several brief interviews to local radio stations, and participated in an hour-long round-table conversation recorded and broadcast by the national TV station Raja Sabha.
“They were also interested in broadcasting the film, as were some other TV channels,” Krishna-lila says. “The film festival director Ms. Vasanti is negotiating with the broadcasters on our behalf.”
In 2016, the CMS Vatavaran festival will screen all nominated films, including “Rescuing the Stolen River,” in five Indian cities headed by Chennai, Mumbai and Goa.
The director is being offered a “chair” to conduct an interview on top of the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan
Krishna-lila then plans to release the film all over the world.
“We hope this film will encourage decision makers and ordinary people alike to be be conscious of the needs of the Yamuna river and that of the millions dependent on her water,” she says. “We hope it will make people environmentally conscious, and aware that we are one global community. And of course, it is also meant to glorify the holy dhama and the pure-hearted Brijabasis.”
For more information, please visit http://www.stolenriverfilm.com
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