The Doon School, locat­ed in Dehra Dun in Uttar Pradesh, is India’s most famous board­ing school for boys and has some­times been called »the Eton of India«. It was estab­lished by a group of Indian nation­al­ists in the 1930s to pro­duce a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers who would help guide the nation after Inde­pen­dence. It has been influ­en­tial in the cre­ation of the new Indian elites and has come to epit­o­mize cer­tain aspects of Indian post-coloniality. 

DOON SCHOOL CRONICLES is the first film in a five film study of the school. Filmed over a two year period, it looks at the life of mid­dle­class Indian boys coming under the influ­ence of insti­tu­tion­al and global pres­sures during their ado­les­cent years. The film explores the »social aes­thet­ics« and ide­ol­o­gy of Doon School through its rit­u­als, the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment it has cre­at­ed, and its effects upon sev­er­al boys of dif­fer­ent ages and tem­pera­ments. The film is divid­ed into ten »chap­ters«, each headed by a text taken from school documents. 


A por­trait of Lorang, the patri­arch of a large home­stead among the semi­no­madic Turkana of north-west­ern Kenya. At the time the film was made, most Turkana (includ­ing Lorang’s own son) saw their way of life con­tin­u­ing unchanged into the future. Lorang, how­ev­er, thought oth­er­wise, for he had been con­script­ed into the King’s African Rifles and seen some­thing of the out­side world. Upon return­ing to Turkana, he had had to strug­gle to catch up to men of his own age in wealth and senior­i­ty. This is a study of a man who has come to see his soci­ety as vul­ner­a­ble und whose tra­di­tion­al role in it has been shaped by that realization. 


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).

Photo Wallahs

Renowned ethno­graph­ic film­mak­ers David and Judith Mac­Dougall explore the many mean­ings of pho­tog­ra­phy in this pro­found and pen­e­trat­ing doc­u­men­tary. The film focus­es on the pho­tog­ra­phers of Mus­soorie, a hill sta­tion in the Himalayan foothills of north­ern India whose fame has attract­ed tourists since the 19th cen­tu­ry. Through a rich mix­ture of scenes that includes the pho­tog­ra­phers at work, their clients, and both old and new pho­tographs, the film exam­ines pho­tog­ra­phy as art and as social arti­fact -- a medium of real­i­ty, fan­ta­sy, memory, and desire.

There is now an inter­est in making films that do not simply deliv­er a state­ment about a topic but open it up in richer and more pro­duc­tive ways. These are films that devel­op com­plex net­works of con­nec­tions and rela­tion­ships. In a sense they are meant as struc­tures for gen­er­at­ing mean­ing. That is cer­tain­ly our inten­tion in PHOTO WALLAHS. We want it to be a resource for a range of obser­va­tions, ideas, and pos­si­bil­i­ties.” (David Mac­Dougall, Visual Anthro­pol­o­gy Review)

Under the palace wall

From the 16th cen­tu­ry the Indian vil­lage of Del­wara in south­ern Rajasthan was ruled as a prin­ci­pal­i­ty of the king­dom of Mewar. Its palace, which over­looks the vil­lage, is now a luxury hotel - a world remote from the daily life of the vil­lagers. Fol­low­ing on from his film SCHOOL SCAPES, which was inspired by the early cinema of Lumière, David Mac­Dougall here employs a series of pre­cise­ly observed scenes to explore Del­wara’s local pri­ma­ry school as a part of con­tem­po­rary vil­lage life—a life that con­tin­ues “under the palace wall”. This beau­ti­ful­ly com­posed film is an elo­quent impres­sion­is­tic por­trait of the life of the vil­lage, with­out a link­ing nar­ra­tive and with­out link­ing char­ac­ters. Rather it shies away from con­ven­tion­al lit­er­al mean­ings to convey instead some­thing more del­i­cate and elu­sive - the feel­ing of the place, the sense of the his­tor­i­cal past that towers over the vil­lage, the vital­i­ty and chaos of the daily life of the vil­lagers. (RAI)