Throughout our work Conciliation Resources seeks to create opportunities for dialogue between divided communities. Our experience in several conflict areas has shown that film can be a creative and accessible way to break down boundaries and get people talking, both within communities and across divides.
Film is a powerful medium, one that lends a particular advantage when it is not possible for communities to meet in person. Such is the case in Jammu and Kashmir.
Essentially the divide has created graveyards on both sides.
Quote from A journey through River Vitasta
With our support, the first documentary film shot on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) has been produced. Making the film was a significant success in itself as the two journalists who produced it – one from each side of the LoC – were not able to meet in their home region.
Mohammad Urfi from the Pakistani side of Kashmir and Pawan Bali from the Indian side of Kashmir did not meet at all during the filming but instead relied on frequent communication via email and skype.
It was not until jointly editing the film in a third location that they were finally able to meet in person.
'Journeys have been left incomplete, ties broken'
The aim of the journalists was to bring a human dimension to the conflict, which at the time of division in 1947 and through subsequent wars and troubles, displaced more than 1.5 million people. The film gives a glimpse into the social strain on local communities as a result of the political division of this region.
A journey through River Vitasta features the stories of people caught in the conflict and of families separated by the LoC between India and Pakistan. It also depicts how recent openings for cross-LoC trade and travel are helping them reconnect after decades.
As with all good documentary making, the impression the production makes on the audience lies in the words and emotions of the protagonists themselves. One of the single most striking images features family members on either side of the divide throwing messages attached to stones across the river to loved ones.
As Pawan Bali points out, people participating in the documentary did not want to talk about the reasons for the actual divide but they were keen to focus on its human impact.
A valuable form of communication across the Line of Control
The impact of A journey through River Vitasta is already being felt. The process of making the film had a significant impact on the two journalists who guided its development. “Given the long history of separation and deep-rooted perceptions, the process of working with someone from the ‘other side’ seemed unthinkable originally. But upon reflection this collaboration seems to be the most natural and required thing,” says Arif Urfi. “In short, this film has been a process of a joint inquiry and a shared space for both Pawan and me.”
The purpose of the film was conciliation, not aggression. We were not merely journalists, but two people trying to build bridges.
One knock-on benefit of this initiative has been the development of ongoing links between journalists from both sides of Jammu and Kashmir. The film’s directors have plans to screen it at various festivals in India and Pakistan, the UK and US, through which the documentary could have a significant and far reaching impact.
With the film now completed, plans are in the pipeline for outreach activities and perhaps even a series of follow-on short films. A journey through River Vitasta deliberately focuses on the first, older generation directly affected by the division of families and friendships, but there is also scope to examine the contemporary situation faced by young people in the region. Conciliation Resources is committed to supporting them along the next phase in their journey.
- Watch the film: A journey through River Vitasta
- Read Pawan Bali's reflections on Film-making beyond borders: The process is the message