Last week, at the Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal, I had a chance to see the latest film by one of the world’s best documentarians, Kim Longinotto. In Pink Saris, she tells the story of the ‘Pink Gang’ of women in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states. Led by a tough lady named Sampat Dal Devi, these “untouchables” (lowest caste) women take on violent or abusive husbands and corrupt officials.
The film has all the characteristics of a Longinotto documentary: it has amazing access to intimate situations, it deals with the rights of women, it’s tough and uncompromising, and doesn’t stay away from contradictions and difficulties. In this case, the main character is admirable, but Longinotto doesn’t idealize her, and at one point the film clearly shows her making a selfish and morally questionable choice which has serious consequences for a young woman who she has taken under her wing. The film is beautifully shot by the director herself.
I went to hear Longinotto speak at a workshop at Hot Docs last spring. I was very impressed by her modest and unassuming presentation. What struck me the most was her combination of caring for her subjects but her incredible tough-mindedness. She is so close to the characters that they will, it seems, let her film just about anything, no matter how hard it is.
And she does – even when the scenes are almost unbearable to watch, as in a famous scene from a female genital mutilation in Africa. Life is often unbelievably hard for women in ‘Third world’ countries, and Longinotto is determined to show it – but always from the perspective of people who are working to change the situation. It’s an attitude which seems to be rooted in her own harsh childhood experience as a homeless orphan, and her feeling that filmmaking “saved her life.”
Here is a list of some of Longinotto’s films:
Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.