‘My Stories Are Complex’: Nishtha Jain Discusses Documentaries ‘The Golden Thread,’ ‘Farming the Revolution’ at IDFA

While working on “The Golden Thread,” director Nishtha Jain didn’t want to tell a story that focused solely on economic identity and oppressed workers. She also wanted to capture the complexities of the individuals she was following.

About India’s aging jute mills, “The Golden Thread” shows the last vestiges of the industry via mill workers who are fighting for minimum wage.

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“My stories are complex,” Jain said during an IDFA Filmmaker Talk on Tuesday. “They are not black and white. They lie in the gray. (‘The Golden Thread’) is not just a one-line story. It’s about jute. It’s about this factory. It’s about the ecosystem. It’s about factories being made obsolete. It’s about how these factories work and the people (who work in them).”

The docu made its world premiere at IDFA in the Masters section. Jain (“Gulabi Gang,” “Lakshmi and Me”) is also at the fest with her latest film “Farming the Revolution,” which is part of this year’s IDFA Bertha Fund. “The Golden Thread” was one of 11 IDFA Bertha Fund-supported films that made it into the festival’s official selection.

During the one-hour conversation moderated by writer Pamela Cohn, Jain discussed her body of work, which looks at cultural constructs such as privilege, caste, class and gender, revealing their ubiquity in contemporary Indian society. The director also discussed casting subjects and trusting her longtime colleagues, including cinematographer Rakesh Haridas and sound designer Niraj Gera.

“Rakesh’s work is his expression,” Jain said. “I know that he’s going to change the film almost 50%, sometimes even 100%. And with Niraj, I don’t have something called a picture lock because sometimes (I) say, ‘Niraj, I want to do that with the sound. So can we change the picture a bit?’ I’m not advising this to anyone, but I would change the picture because she wanted some extra frames or one extra second. I do that because the sound is really important to me.”

When it comes to casting her films, Jain says she relies on instinct.

“I see a face, and I say: ‘I’m able to see that this person will be able to play themselves well, because (the subjects) are also playing (themselves),” she said. “So, you know the potential when you meet people.”

When it came to casting her “Farming the Revolution,” about the massive year-long protests against the Indian government’s unjust farm laws, Jain said she relied on multiple subjects.

“I thought, how am I going to tell the story of this farmer protest over a year with hundreds of thousands of workers?” the director said. “No one farmer would be enough to tell the story of that collective. So, it had to be a symphony of characters. Through various characters – women, men, old, young, landless, rich – it’s a symphony that the farmers created over one year. So the film could not be about one character.”

In her tenure, Jain has taken seven docus to IDFA, including “The Golden Thread” and “Farming the Revolution.”

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