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Ecofilms rewards the short film Eco Dharma

Ecofilms, the International Films & Visual Arts Festival, held for the 6th time on the sunny Greek island of Rhodes, awarded the first prize of its short film section to Malgorzata Skiba’s Eco Dharma for the wealth of spiritual, social, political and environmental issues it addresses.

Eco-Dharma is a documentary (28') about the life and sacrifice of the Bishnois, an Indian community that has been living in Western Rajasthan since 1542 when Guru Jambheshwarji Maharaj decreed the 29 commandments of their religion (Bishnoi means 29 in their dialect). The purpose of their dharma, or sacred duty, is to preserve the desert eco-system by strictly following 7 directions for social life, 10 directions for personal hygiene, 4 directions for worshiping and 8 directions for respecting nature. As the doc recalls it, this dedication has regularly cost their lives to many Bishnoi people, as in 1730 when 363 of them died to protect trees that were about to be cut by the Maharajah’s men.

The film is quite informative and the director recognizes the influence of the factual documentaries she watched in her youth on the Polish state television. In this perspective, she was rightfully more interested in conveying the humanistic concerns of these people than in obscuring the message with aesthetics. This effectively convinces the viewers that the beauty of the Bishnois’ faces radiates from their very own confidence they are doing the right thing rather than from an external filming style.

The documentary is also quite respectful and protective of Bishnoi’s culture when for instance the director prefers to show a man bottle-feeding a young deer than a woman breast-feeding another deer. It would have made for sure excellent and shocking film stuff, but she knows she would have put these people into trouble since law forbids to domesticate wild animals (by the way they don’t since they let them go after a few weeks).

Moreover, the short implicitly reveals a lot about the broader Indian society and its gender gap. In fact, it shows mainly men who meet, talk and act about the preservation of nature. As the director, who now lives in India and is married to an Indian filmmaker, says, it reflects the fact that in India men represent the family to the outside world while women organize life at home.

Olivier Delesse

Full coverage of Ecofilms 2006 on :

Ecofilms kicks off in Rhodes, Greece
Ecofilms features this year some shorts with outstanding aesthetic qualities
Ecofilms opens with Echoes of War
Ecofilms rewards the short film Eco Dharma
Ecofilms pays a tribute to Jonas Mekas
Ecofilms awards its Golden Deers

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