Reena Mohan sheds light on documentary editing

Noted documentary filmmaker Reena Mohan was in the city recently for a class on editing

“Documentary editing is not about joining and cutting. It’s looking at the material with a fresh eye and navigating your way through it,” said award-winning independent filmmaker Reena Mohan, who was in the city to deliver a masterclass on Documentary Editing as a part of Chennai International Documentary and Short Film Festival, organised by Goethe-Institute in association with film activist group Marupakkam.

Reena started the session by screening her documentary On An Express Highway, which tracks the journey of a 33-year-old Jignya, who sheds her materialistic life to become a Jain Sadhvi in Allahabad. Reena purposely chose this documentary among her other work since it qualified more as an “observational documentary”. Elaborating further, she said, “The film introduces one to documentary editing. That’s where the entire film takes shape and is re-scripted. Even though you follow a procedure while making the film, it changes dramatically at the editing table.”

When Reena worked on the project back in the 90s, she was denied permission by the Jain Sadhvi group to film them. Despite the deadline, she was persistent about telling Jignya’s story to the world. Shedding some light on the challenges she faced, Reena said that she spent nearly six months with Jignya and her family to understand their world. According to the filmmaker, there’s a reason why it was titled On An Express Highway. In one of her interviews with Jignya, the latter opened up and said, “I’m sacrificing nothing. Instead, I’m gaining something, which makes me feel I’m on an express highway.” During the making, the filmmaker operated in a certain way to compose the shots. For example, she chose to use ambient noises and static images to show the emptiness in the lives of Jignya’s family after her eventual nunhood.

About her editing style, Reena said, “I don’t edit my films. I normally work with other editors for projects that I direct because I feel they bring a different perspective to my story. And by the time you’re done with the shoot, you’re almost exhausted.”

The second film that was screened was Velvet Revolution, produced by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, which documents the lives of women journalists across the world. For this documentary, Reena donned the hat of an editor. How different was the approach when she sat at the edit table? “We asked the filmmakers to send us the subtitled, un-subtitled versions as well as the rushes. We had to shrunk each stories and there were certain things that needed to be added. So, the process was largely back-and-forth.”

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