Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda’s short film “Testimony of Ana” shares a story that many might be believe no longer exists in todays world, an elderly woman who was accused of being a witch. This heart-wrenching short film will be received World Premiere at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, and had its European Premiere this year at Kraków Film Festival. We had a pleasure to speak with director and learn how the film came to life. Have a look!
– What inspired you to create this short film? In particular, choose this topic?
Ten years back, during my undergraduate studies in Gujarat, I first came across the term “Witch-Hunting.” I read that “a mob killed an old woman for feasting on people’s souls” in a local newspaper. I was probably too young at that time to conceive what I read. However, that story etched itself at the back of my mind. Almost seven years later, I again came across an article about “Witch-Hunting.” But this time, I wanted to do something about it. Especially after all the filmmaking resources that I knew I had at my disposal. So I decided to go to Gujarat again to do some fieldwork. There I met with some journalists and social justice lawyers who got me in touch with Ana, one of the only few survivors of “Witch-Hunt” attacks in rural Gujarat. When they briefed me about what the villagers did to Ana, I was shocked and couldn’t stop thinking about it. There were a few news articles that covered her story in 2017. I still was on the fence about whether I should make a film about her or not. Questions like “Who am I to tell her story?” and “Why am I entitled to make this film?” kept bothering me. But once I met her in person, I was struck by how fearless and strong her voice is. I felt those news articles weren’t enough. I felt people needed to hear her voice. Those questions started to fade away, and there was a sense of urgency that crept up on me, and just a single question emerged, “If I don’t tell her story, then who will?”.
– What was important for you when it came to portraying this story?
It’s very important for me to be able to preserve Ana’s memory and trauma through the film as not only to present to people the evidence of what happened to Ana but to revive among generations to come to the memory of her resistance that today is in danger of being erased. Preserving this memory is essential.
– In the film, Ana’s own reflection is horrifying to hear, however, there are no explicit visuals on show. Yet this, as if, emphasizes the story, allowing the viewer to put the visuals together himself. The whole story is driven by Ana’s voice. Was it a conscious decision to let the story flow in that direction?
I had to only work with Ana’s memories because the incident happened in 2017. So I decided to reconstruct them through a lyrical assemblage. The idea of juxtaposing landscapes with her voice emerged when I’ve seen how connected she is to nature in her daily life. I mean, historically, witches were midwives who used to derive their power from nature. Here I wanted to bring in that aspect again because society has branded her as a witch. I wanted to evoke a different layer of expression with stillness and wide-angled cinematography.
– Many wouldn’t even think that something like witch hunters even exist anymore. What was your initial reaction once learning about it?
I was honestly mortified.