The Bioscopewallah

Color, 12 min, 2006



                                       Available on DVD - Video


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Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2006 10:06:50 -0600 
Reply-To: Visual Communications Discussion  
Sender: Visual Communications Discussion  
From: Liz Cartwright 
Subject: negotiating gifts and payments to film subjects

I have a question concerning how anthropologists interact financially (or not) with the subjects of their films. For instance, if one was to make a short film focused on one individual doing an activity that is part of their daily life (healing, making pottery, cooking, etc), how are anthro/filmmakers thinking through the process of dividing up proceeds both in the short and long term? With quickly emerging independent routes of distribution (like Link tv and web-based short film distribution) and a commercial market that is hungry for "new" video material, it seems that the possibility of making money is increasing. The issues that come up for me are-- Often we work with individuals who really need the money. We as academics often fund a lot of our filmmaking out of our own pockets and we need to be reimbursed. Individuals share their stories with us on film and filmmakers spend lots of time editing and creating another story that they will "share" with the academic or commercial market. How are anthropologist/filmmakers handling this subject? Gifts, per Mr. Mauss ever so long ago, don't seem to be the answer...and really this is the same issue that anthropologists have always faced with the the subjects of their work. However, films are more readily apprehendable than are our academic texts. Given the ease of posting a short film to the internet and the wide distrubution that this makes possible, it is much more likely that people, even in remote areas, will see themselves being broadcast than would ever read about themselves in a traditional written ethnography. Thanks for your thoughts on this. liz


Liz Cartwright PhD 
Medical Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Director, Hispanic Health Projects Idaho State University Pocatello Idaho 83209
Date: Mon, 21 Aug 2006 16:24:12 -0400
Reply-To: Visual Communications Discussion  
Sender: Visual Communications Discussion
From: Prashant Kadam
Subject: Re: negotiating gifts and payments to film subjects

Interesting issue. I would like to share my personal experience with my debut independent short film that I just completed.

I had come across Rau Waghmare (my subject) in a newspaper article in India in August 2005. Some nostalgic memories of the bioscope triggered my instincts and I thought that the bioscope had to be filmed and documented before their memories fade out. 

I traced Rau. On meeting him I was taken aback by his zest for life, his struggle for survival and the pride in his work. He lives in a small 8' x 10' hut and went hungry if he did not go to perform his daily children's entertainment bioscope show. Thus what resulted is the short. 

While I visited him a number of times, never did he expect any financial or other commitment nor any request for even a cent for the time he spent during interviews or while I shot his performance. 

However, every time I met him, I gave him some money, whatever little I could afford, being an independent filmmaker myself, I could not even afford any crew. Seeing his economic condition, all he and his wife needed was some money, to be able to afford a daily meal, and my small amounts could do the least. 

It was a very saddening experience to see such a talented and hardworking artist not even given a status of an "artist" and they all (all the bisocopewallas in India) went (almost) unrecognized in the history (except for a few citations in novels and a few movies). 

The result of my filming was a 12 minute short "The Bioscopewallah".

Because of the independent nature of the project, I am was not able to give my subject any upfront financial support nor commitment, but have decided that I shall pay him a percentage of every DVD I sell, and if I strike a distribution deal with a distributor, shall part with as much as I can with Rau, my subject.

From my experience I have understood that, a study/research/film is incomplete without the existence and whole-hearted cooperation of the subject him/herself. 

One thing would be for sure then is that we (researchers / filmmakers/ producers) can survive without the success of that research/film, but for the subjects who spend their precious time and knowledge, sometimes only financial help can be crucial for their survival, as much as due acknowledgment in the projects which all give, that costs nothing.

I plan to make a feature length version of the same and thus plan to send this documentary to various relevant film-festivals, that will resonate with the nostalgic memories of the audience and hopefully get a distributor/producer interested to fund for the longer version. 

If not, I shall save personal finances, just like this time, and eventually make a longer version. The production budget this time includes a handsome fee to my subject as "artists fees". 

If we can include an airline ticket to our destination in our budget, why can we not include some "fees" for our subjects. 

You may find more information about "The Bioscopewallah" at and find some reviews under the pre-release reviews column. 

Hope this helps. 

Warm Regards, 


Toronto - Canada

If we can include a budget for an airline ticket to our destinations, why can we not include some "fees" for our subjects.

Items marked in red are slight corrections made from my original post on