‘India has among the highest incidence of AIDS cases,’ observes ESP Films director Amarpal Singh Bal. ’5.1 million at last count. That’s about 13% of the global numbers. The short-term projections are scary: by 2010, the number of HIV-positive cases is projected to grow to 25 million. We’ve gone some distance in trying to create AIDS awareness in the country, but the nature of AIDS intervention is woefully inadequate. Unless we manage to raise the pitch of informed opinion advocating substantive changes, we’ll flounder at ground zero.’
Bal and executive producer Rishi Rana Bharadwaj took that grim message to the MIPDOC Coproduction Challenge – a pitching panel sponsored by RealScreen and Canada’s NFB. The filmmakers made a hard-hitting pitch for their 52-minute film Highway in my Veins, a project examining the lives of India’s truck drivers, one of the highest risk groups for AIDS. Every day, truckers in India transport 67 million tons of cargo – 66% of the country’s need. Without hyperbole, they are the lifeblood of India’s economy. Yet they occupy one of the lowest rungs on the country’s social ladder. They are seen as drug abusers, alcoholics and, now, carriers of AIDS, a situation made even more serious as their dire lifestyle often leads them to the comforts of truck stop prostitutes.
The two filmmakers (co-director Himali Kapil could not attend) were one of five prodco teams that pitched the panel of broadcasters for the Challenge. The channel reps included Christina Willoughby (C4I), Ann Julienne (France 5), Mette Hoffman Meyer (TV2), Toni Egger (Discovery Health) and moderator Jacques Bensimon (NFB).
Reaction to the winning pitch was overwhelmingly favorable. The filmmakers were able to assuage concerns about privacy/access issues (Veins will not show in India), and will follow up with the nets once they have more footage of the three truck drivers chosen as main characters for the film.
Shot on DV and wrapping in time for MIPCOM in October, Veins was on the hunt for US$125,000 of its $150,000 budget. ESP Films, which has offices in Delhi and Mumbai, is also currently hard at work on another doc, Floating Lamp of the Shadow Valley, and has just shot a Nike Play to Win commercial for ESPN India. BC