A ravaged city of Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes
A ravaged city of Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikesAP

Pranav Pingle Reddy: ‘Palestinians are like you and me, just in a different situation’

Documentary filmmaker Pranav Pingle Reddy talks to Cinema Express about Occupied, his documentary on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the challenges of shooting in a war zone, the joys of re-editing and more

It’s been over 7 months since the Israel-Palestine conflict escalated to unprecedented territories, capturing everyone’s attention on a global level. Now, even as the world struggles to make sense of the happenings and get a clearer perspective on the subject, filmmaker Pranav Pingle Reddy’s documentary film Occupied hits the streaming platform MUBI on May 15. The documentary, shot around 2017, follows a bunch of artists living in the West Bank who continue to resist and protest the regime in their own ways, despite the many barriers, reminding us of the collective humanity of the place that thrived in adverse circumstances. 

Ahead of Occupied’s digital release, Cinema Express spoke to documentarian Pranav Pingle Reddy about the journey of it all, the role of an artist in society, and what he intends to achieve with his documentary.

Q

You have previously dealt with social issues ranging from prostitution to the plight of young orphans in your films. How did you zero in on the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

A

For the first 8-10 years of my career, I wanted to work in the social welfare sector. We did a lot of work on leprosy, prostitution survivors, young orphans, water resources, etc. When India was undergoing a political shift, I felt it was important to challenge oneself to do something far beyond one’s control. I am the kind of person who, when people tell them not to do something, will pick that one subject. That’s how Occupied happened.

Q

How long did it take to finish the project?

A

The film was in the making for six years. We shot for about 35 days in Palestine in 2017 in the West Bank. There were 3 of us in Palestine - Prithvi, Arvind, and I - who filmed, recorded, and did everything on the ground, while two of our team members, Sunny and Almas, handled all the work from Hyderabad. Then the team spent about two and a half years in post-production and securing funds to release the film. The film was constantly tweaked over the last five odd years. Part of it was to ensure the film met the requirements for the festivals we were sending it to. But, there was also that chull (zeal) in me to constantly improve the documentary on the editing table.

Q

Shooting in Palestine must have been challenging…

A

Although nobody bothered us much, we did have a lot of trouble in places like Qalangia and Hebron, where our cameras could have been seized. For a couple of shots, we used a drone, which is basically a jailable offence there. What kept us going was the ‘Jo bhi hoga apan dekhenge, uparwala hamare saath hai’ (We will see what happens; God is with us) sentiment we took to heart. This was an important story to tell, to shed a light on the apartheid-like atrocities in Hebron.

Q

Your documentary focuses on artists who prominently share their views on the role of expression in a conflict-laden society. How do you perceive your own role as a documentary filmmaker in the larger scheme of things?

A

I’ve always been influenced by the idea of the preservation and restoration of art and culture, given that both sides of my family come heavily from the arts. I feel strongly about the importance of creating one’s own voice as well as amplifying the voice of the voiceless. As artists, we should always try to create something without harming anyone else and should be able to stand up for what is right. Most of the time, you might always be standing alone in the room. But eventually, you have to do what is right. Making this documentary, then, has been my double masters degree and PhD in life.

The importance of this film is to present the world with what is happening. We were waiting for the right partner to see this film come to life. We are happy that it's finally coming out. 

Q

How did making Occupied influence you as an artist and a human being?

A

I really thought we wouldn’t be able to do justice to the story in a mere 35 days, but all of them were truly great interviewees. Interacting with them would often feel like meeting a friend after ten years, where you catch up on where you left off. In a documentary, it’s really important to create that connection with someone. 

Making Occupied changed me as a person. If not for this experience, I would probably have been on another track, chasing a commercial money-spinner film. Making this film taught me a lot about being positive. Personally speaking, the people there taught me to always keep a smile on your face, no matter what you are going through. 

Q

Are you in touch with the artists who are the primary subjects in your documentary? Things have changed there drastically since 2017, when you shot the film… 

A

I am in touch with most of them. Someone has moved to Belgium, while another artist has moved to Germany. Some have shifted to the west. Unfortunately, we have also lost a couple of people over the years. Even when you get in touch after a long time, you don’t ask them something when you already know what the answer is. 

Q

What are your filmmaking plans for the future?

A

I want to direct a film that’s very important to me. It’s inspired by a true story, about a young girl murdered in Hyderabad. I am also working on a story for another documentary series, titled ‘Missing Girls of Telengana.’ I want to direct films that are emotional and about a heavy subject. Maybe I will move in something lighter, but right now, this is the zone I am in. 

Q

What do you want the audience to take away from Occupied?

A

I want people to realise that the Palestinians are some of the most educated, liberal, and well-exposed people in the world. They are well-spoken and sensitive. Most importantly, they are not ‘the others,’ irrespective of what the mainstream media is showcasing. Palestinians are like you and me, just in a different situation. 

Related Stories

No stories found.
X
Cinema Express
www.cinemaexpress.com