Jijo Sebastian and Neuron
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme
Under the ‘Artist in the community scheme’ (2015) filmmaker Jijo Sebastian and the Indo-Irish progressive thinking community Neuron collaborated to make a short film entitled ‘Box’ which was premiered at New Theatre, Dublin on 11th August 2016.
With a vision to practise socially engaged arts as an opportunity for a community to express itself, the process of collaboration in film was extensively studied and experienced by the filmmaker and the community in this project. Vinu K Narayanan, Aswathy Plackal, Varghese Joy and Geevan Varghese were the core group representatives from the community. About 5 different nationalities worked in the making of Box. ‘The short film is a critique of segregation and its drivers…’ (Lois Kapila, Dublin Inquirer.) It ‘asks what happens when we put migrant “communities” in boxes based on their identity through exploring the rebellious act of an Indian Pentecostal teenage girl on her 18th birthday.…’(Charlotte McIvor, Do migrants have a voice in Irish arts? ) Apart from the production being an intercultural event in itself, the short film investigates cultural diversity in action in public spaces focusing on events in a suburban pub.
The function of film as a medium that creates and maintains shared values, generating modes of belonging,played out well in the project. Neuron’s strong commitments to its ideologies shaped the concept of the film, thus pitting the film against the mainstream religious and insular culture of the Indian diaspora in Ireland. To be speaking to the ethnic majority which Neuron is part of but in conflict with, and to the larger mainstream where Indians as a whole share the status of ethnic minority, was a conundrum which helped define the position of Neuron in the immediate local and the general Irish societal structure.
Owing to the developments in 2015/16 involving refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, Cologne’s New Year’s Eve sexual attacks and the resulting sudden shift in the European mindset towards brown skinned people, story building took longer than expected, as the team could not agree on the right way to approach the subject matter – religion and ethnicity. Having to produce a good enough short film from an amateur engagement, with a process driven approach, was a challenge which required many training workshops and artistic infiltration processes throughout the collaboration process.
Neuron as a group with its left-wing ideology of grass root participation, found the anti-methodological and ‘do-it-together’ approaches of community filmmaking (making it the cult of the amateur) very appealing. Arguably a new method of artistic collaboration was devised and implemented in the making of ‘Box’. The method essentially, in a way focuses on the filmmaker curating his own response to the experiences with the people he interacts with in the collaboration process. Typically, the filmmaker identifies interesting personalities first and then investigates their life and environment. These contextualized personalities become the content creators of the project. It is an information system – consisting of the people involved in the project and their lives- the filmmaker imbibes fully and allows herself/himself to be influenced by when devising the form.
Jijo Sebastian is a science graduate turned filmmaker. He has made six short films and one telefilm focusing on the lives of the Indian community in Ireland. Having lived as a migrant in different places, Jijo is interested in themes of identity and belonging in a globalized world. His work is often experimental in form and darkly comic. Jijo’s method of practice focuses on the filmmaker curating his own response to the experiences with the people he interacts with in the collaboration process.
Jijo’s films have been screened at international film festivals including the International Short Film Festival of Uruguay (2013), Vibgyor International Film Festival, Thrissur, Kerala, India (2013) and Fokana Film Festival, Illinois, USA (2014).