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The making of Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion

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At BIAFF 2010 René Van Vaerenbergh won a 5-stars Award with Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion.

Indian people don't mind being filmed. They like to show what they are doing.
They are often very proud to be on film.
In temples I always try to keep some distance and not to be intrusive.

Good research is essential

Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.

Before setting out on a journey it is very important to read lots of information about your destination.

If you want to make a travelogue, good research is essential. I thought about it before going to South India. Months before leaving my wife and I searched for information in the library and on the internet.

I set myself more than one target: knowing what to expect and where we should focus our attention.

While preparing a documentary or reportage my scenario is developing. We want to make a film, but we want to find a definite issue around which a story or a documentary can be created.

Finding a theme for the film about South India was very easy. The province of Tamil Nadu has numerous historic temples around which communities came into existence. Because of the system of castes the way of life is very complex.

It didn't take long to choose a subject for this film. It became man and his religion.

Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.
Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'. Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.

What pictures did we need?

The next task was making a list of suitable locations. What pictures did we need to make a film about this theme?

Of course we needed enough time to explore the region on our own. Therefore we tried to find a tour operator who offered us enough freedom of movement. In the Netherlands we found "Baobab". Transport is well organised by this agency and you know where you will sleep. The rest you can decide yourself. This is very important for a filmmaker because time is critical.

We visited some cultural sites in a group, but we also made individual trips. Such outings give you the opportunity to get in touch with the local population. In the city of Madurai for instance we hired a bicycle rickshaw (a three-wheeled taxi cart which seats one or two people) for a day. The driver pedalled his vehicle to various places where most tourists never go. There it was possible to shoot pictures that are important and very useful for a good travelogue.

Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'. Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'. Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.

Indian hospitality

Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.Of course it is important to take advantage of the hospitality of the Indians. So you must learn a little about their customs.

We were very pleased to be invited to a wedding. For an Indian it is important that a westerner attends the ceremony because it is the omen of a rich of happy life.

Our attendance was also appreciated at other festivities. One evening we were invited to a lecture organised by a local service club (Lions). Though we didn't understand anything - only Hindu was spoken - we listened (and filmed!) carefully.

Indian people don't mind being filmed. They like to show what they are doing. They are often very proud to be on film.

In temples I always try to keep some distance and not to be intrusive.

Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.In the big temple of Madurai it was different. I had to pay a considerable fee to get permission to film the evening ceremony. For this amount of money a local family could have dinner in a restaurant for a week or so.

Of course this time I was a bit pushy. I wanted to stand in the front in order to take the best pictures. I almost got under the feet of some Brahman priests a few times.

In my first years as a filmmaker I used my tripod everywhere when going on holiday. I wanted to have very steady shots. The last few years - and on this trip to South India - I left it at home. I am able to film with a steady hand. Few viewers can spot that I don't use a tripod. It has the advantage that you can anticipate very quickly when something happens unexpectedly.

People feel more relaxed when being filmed with a minimum of technical tools.

Technical issues

Still from 'Tamil Nadu, Man and Religion'.One word about the technical aspect. I took the pictures with a Sony 3CCD camera, model TRV900E. With this camera the results have always been excellent.

I use a Casablanca editing system. With this kind of computer you can only edit films. You cannot do anything else with it. It avoids crashes of editing software caused by other programs. For these I use a different computer. Of course my films need to be subtitled or completed with English commentary. My friend Willy Van der Linden, who is an anglophile and who goes to Britain very often, translates my texts and I am very grateful to him.

In Belgium this film received silver (more than 70 %) at the national competition. It was also my entry at the Guernsey Lily International Film Festival last year. It won the award for "Best travelogue".  In the AMPS Festival (American Motion Picture Society), the oldest festival for amateurs in the world, Tamil Nadu received a "Certificate of Merit".

- René Van Vaerenbergh


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Page updated on 04 October 2011
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