It’s not for nothing that television is called the idiot box. Unlike films made for the large screen, those aimed to be beamed into living rooms need predictability. Despite the reassuring presence of the remote, saas, bahu and maid could all be glued to the tube at the same time. So TV documentaries need to tread a formulaic path. This weekend, the India International Centre will screen nine historical documentaries that are milestones on that path.
Curator Christopher Mitchell, a filmmaker who has worked on documentaries for more than half of his 50-year life, says, “There is a tremendous pressure in TV towards formatting, towards minimisation of risk.” But there have been some exceptional works that have challenged the self-conscious formats.
Take Joseph Bullman’s hilarious award-winning film, The Seven Sins of England (Saturday, 6.30 pm). Bullman retro-fitted the biblical codes to the English working class in a way that would have tickled Messrs Marx and Engels pink. Then there is Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City (Sunday, 2.30 pm), a 2008 film that used reels of public archival footage to tell a deeply personal story of faith and sexuality.
If the first day’s line-up takes grand, detached views of history, the second day’s list zooms closer. But Mitchell, a graduate of history from Oxford, warns, “On TV, you cannot be encyclopaedic. It’s more about conveying an impression and perhaps inciting a debate.” Ah, such prime fodder for the chatterati. The rest of the 2-day menu of Reading History a festival of documentaries at the IIC auditorium
Saturday, January 16
Iran’s Rebel Voices: 10:30 a.m
A History of Britain: 2 p.m
The Story of India: 3.15 p.m
Sunday, January 17:
The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara: 10 a.m
The Last Days of the Raj: 11.45 am
The Thirties in Colour: 6.30 pm