Emil Kalus was born in 1988 in Wroclaw, Poland just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He grew up during this transitional period in West Germany. Torn between two languages, two cultures and two nations, he always wondered - what is home? Where is home? Since boyhood, he always felt like not belonging to a physical place. He always searched for a place where he would feel the sense of belonging.
After living and travelling in different parts of the world, Poland, Germany, the USA and India, he realised that “home is not a place but a feeling”. Home is not bound or made by borders, places or people, in fact it’s a feeling that comes from within - feeling home in the world.
He mastered the art of cinematography at the prestiges National Film School in Łódź, Poland. For more than 10 years he gathered practical experience while working in the film industry. As the author of several short films, he explored topics like belonging, working class people and existence.
His work speaks through honest and direct images, piercing through the heart of the spectator. Free of distraction the focus lies on what is beyond the obvious and encourages one to stop and look more carefully, more closely. Like a painting, each frame tells a story and captures the unique self. Uniting art forms like cinematography, sound and music, to create new ways and strategies of storytelling to release emotions and invite to an immersive experience. The goal is to pass on the subjective experience of film reality to the audience.
During his time at the Purvankara Suchitra Cinema and Cultural Academy, he would like to work on short experimental film portraits of working class people in Bangalore. Combined with analogue still photography, he pictures a complete document of the life of daily wagers. What interests him are the humans behind the services used daily by hundreds of people. Their workspace often being their living space, constantly exposed and surrounded by humans. What is privacy? What is home? What are their stories and dreams? Where do they come from and where do they want to go. Using all tools that cinema has available to portray them in the chaos surrounding them as well isolate them and stop time for a closer look.
Orientation day and week
We arrived in Bangalore on 16th October in the middle of the night and had a fairly smooth passage through immigration. Once I stepped out of the airport building, I was welcomed by a warm breeze and even warmer by a group of smiling and excited people. There were our buddies Marina, Nele and Fabian as well as Maureen, Nandita and Riya. We were each given a bag with thoughtfully selected goodies that accompanied me throughout my whole stay in India.
The first week was fully packed with a programme that didn’t give any time to feel the jetlag even for a moment. We were introduced to the different local hosts and thanks to that I had the chance to get to know each one of them.
My Host: Suchitra Cinema & Cultural Foundation
Suchitra was founded in 1971 by a group of young engineers who were interested in cinema. It was based on the critical and creative exploration of the arts, imagined and conceived in Kannada language. Its focus is on expanding the engagement with the arts to theatre, music, movement arts, literature and languages.
Suchitra Film Society, had planned a workshop with me in which I shared my experience and approach to cinematography and filmmaking in general. While this workshop lasted for three weekends, its preparation and execution took a lot of time out of the artist residency. I had a wonderful group of students from different age groups who were very eager to participate and learn. I decided to focus on aspects of filmmaking in this workshop, thus bringing out the creative side of the participants. This workshop encouraged participants to think differently, work with the bare minimum and in the end make a movie of their own. The workshop was divided into three parts:
- first weekend comprised of basics, i.e., what it means to be a cinematographer; what are the tasks and responsibilities of a cinematographer; sequence of tasks during and after shooting.
- Second part focussed on explaining to the students how to take artistic decisions and realise them with the help of camera, lens and other technical equipment. How important it is to work with and listen to your team of creatives and technicians. Always keeping in mind that often less is more. With the help and support of local rentals and production companies we were able to explore high-end professional film cameras and lights in a studio setting. This was also an eye-opening experience for me, seeing how things are approached and done in India.
- On the last weekend we shot a short film in which the students were able to try out and apply what they had learned during the course. I was very happy to see that theory was becoming practice in a very natural and smooth way.
Project: Soliga Tribe
I came to hear about the Soliga tribe living in the hills of Karnataka through news and friends. Soligas are an indigenous tribe of Karnataka, inhabiting the peripheral forest areas near Biligiri Rangana (BR) Hills and Male Mahadeshwara in Chamarajnagar district. Traditionally they have been dependent on the forests for their livelihood. Soligas are known for their intimate knowledge of the forests and judicious use of medicinal plants and non-timber forest produce like honey, gooseberry, lichen, tubers, etc. They are extremely good at identifying animals through pug marks and scent as well. But the Soligas were evicted and relocated after the forests near BR Hills were declared a wildlife sanctuary under the Wildlife Sanctuary Act. After being displaced from their natural habitat they were forced to live in small houses on the bordering areas of the forest, provided by the government. Yet they are fighting for their right to return to the forest.
Context and Method:
My idea was to explore the meaning of home for marginalised people with the help of wonderful people whom I met in the course of the residency, I got in touch with a Soliga artist who taught the traditional songs and dances of the tribe to the younger generations and kept them alive. His name is Basvaraj. My plan was to shoot documentary portraits by capturing their stories, songs, dances, and traditions. I decided to shoot the documentary on 16mm, which is not common these days. The reason I chose 16mm, firstly, because I love the analog work process and the limitations that come with working on rewind cameras. Secondly, analog film is unlike digital files, it is a way to preserve and archive what is recorded. Similar to what Basvaraj is trying to do in preserving his culture. I was enamoured of the idea of creating something that will last if handled and stored properly.
Nevertheless, shooting 16mm in India turned out to be more difficult than I thought. In a country that is developing and growing in the digital world so fast, shooting analog film is not as common. While in Europe and the U.S., the film stock was able to celebrate a comeback, in India it didn’t find its way back to the “mainstream”. I got in touch with Harkat Studios in Mumbai, which is a collective of filmmakers that still work on 16mm film with Bolex and Krasnogorsk cameras. They were willing to help me by lending me an analog camera. I contacted Kodak in Mumbai, the film developing lab and managed to work everything out. I had to travel to Mumbai to meet everybody and pick up the camera as well as the film stock. Parallel to this I was organising the shooting.
Finally, the day came that I had gathered all the equipment needed to make a short guerrilla style film. I packed the camera, sound equipment, tripods, film stock and much more together and travelled to B.R. Hills. Even though I tried to prepare as good as possible for this shooting, one never knows what awaits once you reach your destination. I had planned to stay for 10 days in B.R. Hills out of which seven days were supposed to be getting comfortable, getting to know each other, location scouting and recording stories as well as conducting interviews. The hill station and the forest are a magical place, life started with the first sunrays and as soon as it got dark, everybody rushed home. Living on such close terms with wild animals, humans must adjust to nature. It was impossible to walk in the forest since it was simply too dangerous. The safest way to explore and reach villages was by car. Which meant getting up early and finishing the day early. Basvaraj turned out to be a wonderful spokesperson for his people, traditions and arts. He was very invested and interested in working together on this project. Thanks to a translator we were able to exchange our beliefs and views. And thanks to human energy and sympathy we connected beyond language. Every day we stayed with his family, cooking and eating, and while doing so building a strong connection.
Hurdles in the Project:
The project faced hurdles from the very first day, although people were very welcoming, they hesitated to talk to me. Things went difficult on the production side day by day, and I was worried about the outcome of the film. The situation for the tribal people was very difficult and as well as political, so was my work with them. There were a lot of topics we would have liked to address but that would have put them in a difficult situation. One of these topics was their displacement by the Forest Department, which is an ongoing conflict between both sides and a sensitive topic. As much as it deserved to be spoken about, It was unthinkable to include it in the film since it would have put Basvaraj, his family and everyone involved in a very difficult situation. Which at no point I was willing to do.
Since it was difficult to talk about their stories and connection to the forest, the place they call home, I decided to focus on their songs, music, and dances. The Soliga tell stories through songs. They have countless songs for the forest, different animals, and their traditions. With the focus on music, It was easy to conduct interviews but again very difficult to find a place to shoot. The Soliga live in so called buffer zones in the forest and shooting was not allowed by the government. As my time there was coming to an end, it became more and more unrealistic to shoot. In the end I had to call it off and leave with this wonderful experience and the relationships we were able to build.
While I came back empty handed in the sense of material to work with, I came with a full heart and once again with a widened horizon. I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to get to know so many different people and learn so much more about the art scene and culture in Bangalore and outside of it. I would like to thank one more time my host and everyone at the Goethe Institute for their help and great support.