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Don't Waste People
2013, 42m, documentary
Hundreds of thousands of people in Delhi work informally as waste pickers, pulling recyclables from roadsides, municipal bins, and landfills and re-selling them to make a living. They are socially, politically, and economically marginalized, and now their livelihoods are in danger. Private waste management companies are asking for exclusive rights to recyclable waste. What will these people be left with if their livelihoods are taken away? Don't Waste People is the platform for their voices.
Produced by: Julia Waterhous, Victor Ahluwalia, Therese Waterhous, Marie Long
9 questions with Don't Waste People director, Julia Waterhous at the half-way mark.
Sunday, May 1st, 2016
1Hi Julia! Thanks for being a part of our spring festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make Don't Waste People? I studied abroad for five weeks in Delhi, India during undergrad, and met a community of people working as waste pickers while learning about the informal economy in India. While we were talking to people in the community, police came and started listening to our conversations. We left because we didn't want the community to get in trouble for telling us something that the police didn't want them to tell us. That experience shocked and intrigued me. I was shocked by the degrees of social, political, and economic marginalization that the community faced. I was also intrigued that there were hundreds of thousands of people doing this work, but that they seemed completely overlooked. I was further intrigued by the problems the communities faced as waste management in India was being privatized. I decided I wanted to go back and interview the people in the communities to hear their stories, give them a platform to be heard, talk about their problems, and propose the solutions that they thought would work for them. I've always believed solutions should come from the people who face the problems, so I wanted to find out about possible solutions from the communities themselves.
2How many days did you shoot and what was the biggest challenge of shooting in India? I shot for three months, though I did the majority in about two months. The biggest challenges of shooting in India were: 1. Having enough electricity to make sure everything was charged so I could be out filming all day 2. Transportation: the places I went were on the outskirts of Delhi, and not easily accessible 3. Language barrier: I don't speak Hindi, Urdu, or Bengali, so I had to use a translator for all the interviews. For shooting, I would sometimes go alone and just communicate with hand signals.
3This is your first big film, how did you know you were ready? What prepared you? I don't consider myself a filmmaker, so I didn't feel the need to feel ready to make a film. My background is journalism, and I've always been passionate about human rights. I saw a problem, and wanted to bring it to light, film just seemed to be the most effective medium to do so in this case.
4I think it's a very exciting time to be making documentaries. The cameras are now so cheap and high quality and you can shoot for hours. What are your thoughts on the current state of documentary films? With new technology, documentaries [or other films for that matter] do seem increasingly accessible to anyone willing to tinker with a camera. Plus, youtube and other sites have tutorials, so it's easy to learn how to use cameras even if you have no experience [that's what I did!] The internet makes it easier to share what you create with people all over the world, and documentaries are a fantastic way to spread information, shine a light on unseen issues, and spark [at minimum] conversations, and [ideally] large scale change.
5This truly is an eye opening film. What looks like a tough job that nobody would want, is actually a job people are fighting to keep because their livelihoods depend on it. Did your perception of the trash picking occupation change over the course of this film? By the end of the film I was convinced that waste picking could be a dignified job if properly recognized. I started the film knowing the people who work as waste pickers wanted to keep their jobs, but I initially underestimated how much pride they had for the work they do. The more time I spent with the communities, the more I respected their kindness, perseverance, strength, and dignity.
6What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? I don't consider myself a filmmaker, but films like those by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy [Saving Face, and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness], as well as Difret, Gasland, Food Inc., An Inconvenient Truth, E-Team, etc. are all powerfully motivating.
7Did you get any interesting stories from people that you couldn't fit into the film? I heard about corruption frequently, but I never quite got anything on film about it, and it didn't fit neatly into the storyline. People who work as waste pickers are forced to pay bribes constantly- to government officials, to workers from private waste management companies, to the guards at the landfills- so that they can collect waste and avoid harassment. Some of the communities have also been burned down from fires- multiple times. Some people in the communities think these fires are intentionally started by police or government officials who are trying to get them off the land where they built their slums, so high rises can be built in place of the slums.
8What can people do if they want to get involved in this cause? Various organizations in Delhi work with waste pickers in some capacity. Toxics Link, Hazards Centre, Kabad Se Jugad, Conserve India, WIEGO, and Chintan all work with waste pickers in various ways. I'm happy to answer questions about each organization, and try to put people in touch.
9What's next? I'm actually now in law school studying international human rights law. Hopefully more documentaries on the horizon, but probably in a few years after school is over.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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