GANDHI’S CHILDREN

David MacDougall
India 2008 | 185 Min. | DigiBeta, OmeU
Q&A with: David MacDougall

The Prayas Children’s Home for Boys: a mono­lith­ic build­ing, out­ward­ly not unlike a prison, locat­ed in one of New Delhi’s poorer neigh­bor­hoods. The insti­tu­tion pro­vides shel­ter to 350 boys. Some are run­aways, some were sent by their par­ents to find work in the city, others are orphans living on and from the streets of New Delhi. Half of the boys are sub­ject to police super­vi­sion, having run into trou­ble with the law.

Over the course of many months, David Mac­Dougall chron­i­cles the lives of these youths with his camera, let­ting them por­tray their day-to-day exis­tence and invit­ing us into their world. What emerges is a moving col­lec­tion of por­traits – por­traits of boys who, despite their young age, have already expe­ri­enced a great deal. Then one day 181 more boys arrive at the home, all of them from a fac­to­ry that was shut down for employ­ing ille­gal child labor.

MacDougall’s film avoids pass­ing judg­ment. Its var­i­ous pro­tag­o­nists com­bine to paint a pic­ture of a par­tic­u­lar every­day real­i­ty. Mac­Dougall gives the boys time and space, allow­ing the rea­sons for their sit­u­a­tion and the role of the state insti­tu­tion to grad­u­al­ly come to the fore, in addi­tion to the institution’s lim­i­ta­tions. His camera remains in the con­fines of the home, explor­ing its broad cor­ri­dors, sleep­ing quar­ters, wash­rooms, and work­rooms.

David Mac­Dougall: “The doc­u­men­tary films we get to see on TV nowa­days mainly con­sist of inter­views and a hand­ful of other shots. It’s very easy to make films with­out actu­al­ly exam­in­ing how people live. But just asking them how they live simply isn’t enough. I think this type of narrow per­spec­tive has become a sort of for­mu­la in doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing. In order to over­come it, I began to seek out other aspects of social expe­ri­ence. I try to avoid express­ing every­thing using words. I’m inter­est­ed in how people inter­act with their envi­ron­ment, both ver­bal­ly and non­ver­bal­ly. View­ing the com­mu­ni­ties in which we live as envi­ron­ments gives rise to what may be called “social aes­thet­ics”. This con­tains many diverse aspects: How people move about, how they build build­ings, what sort of clothes they wear, and the rit­u­als they prac­tice. I view com­mu­ni­ties as con­struct­ed com­pos­ite works, which bear col­lec­tive ‘author­ship’ and have fol­lowed a par­tic­u­lar design his­tor­i­cal­ly.“ – Excerpt from an inter­view with David Mac­Dougall led by Volker Kull (Der Kam­era­mann 08/01).