Irfan Dar is a filmmaker from the Kashmir Valley in Indian-administered Kashmir. Alongside his other projects, he is working on joint films with filmmakers on the other side of Kashmir. This is challenging, as throughout the course of making the films, the filmmakers are unable to meet or communicate directly. Irfan undertook a fellowship in January 2014 on filmmaking and peacebuilding.
I saw a lot of similarities between the Kashmir conflict and the Northern Ireland conflict. It made me realise that conflict has a similar language albeit in a different form in different places.
How has undertaking this fellowship impacted you personally?
At the time, I found the fellowship emotionally and mentally uncomfortable. However, I am pleased that it was like this otherwise I wouldn't have learnt the things I have. I was constantly challenged. Prior to this, I thought I had a decent knowledge of what I was doing. However, when you open yourself up to a different context, it makes you question what you think you know.
My team says I have become a better listener since the fellowship. I had to stop and listen due to the people I was meeting. Every single person I met on this trip has inspired me in a different way. On a personal level, the fellowship has given me a family of people within Conciliation Resources who are working towards a common goal, where I know I can speak up freely.
What specifically did you gain from this fellowship?
My work is confined to one region. Training with and getting exposure to different filmmakers, particularly those working on conflicts that are very visible internationally, was useful. I learnt how to connect this to my work. I found the sessions in Northern Ireland – considered a post-conflict situation – the best part of fellowship. Meeting individuals who have spent years working as artists and civil society, building and then sustaining peace, was inspiring. In The Playhouse Theatre of Witness, for example they bring two non-actors together, people who are otherwise enemies in conflict. Over time they break down the boundaries caused by lack of communication, miscommunication and entrenched views, and show how you can tell a joint human narrative. I witnessed a former policeman sitting down with a former lRA member. Hearing their stories from the past and seeing how they recreated these stories was amazing, I couldn't believe it.
We met BBC filmmakers who had filmed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and looked at what it takes to document a story in a conflict. One journalist, who had worked in Iraq told us how through the narrative of one family, he told the story of the conflict – he filmed an old man who was not in favour of Saddam Hussein but his daughter was. What was happening to this family was reflective of what was happening outside, everyone was making peace with what they had.
How have you applied what you learnt to your work?
One thing that has definitely improved, is my ability to look at any incoming story which might be emotionally overwhelming and take a considered approach. It is important to take a step back and then analyse what is happening – rather than react impulsively, which can do more harm in a conflict context.
I spent some time reflecting on the fellowship when I returned. My team and I share a motivation, we don't want to just raise awareness of the issues but we want to contribute to solving them. I sat down with the team after the fellowship and we discussed what I had learnt and explored if we could adopt some of the practices, and mould our work in a way that is more relevant. It made us look at our work as part of a larger body of work that is being done on peacebuilding in Kashmir, instead of viewing ourselves in isolation.
Now, I am not only documenting a story, but engaging in discourse through making films. I am telling a story but also contributing creatively to bringing different people together as part of a project. This experience helped me link my work to that of other Conciliation Resources’ partners and has enabled me to reach larger audiences.