Programmed by Federico Rossin
“Tobacco Embers” documents, re-enacts, and takes forward one of the largest movements of unorganized labor of its time and context, which sparked unionizing processes across India throughout the 1980s. In the spirit of mobilizing for the leftist labor and the women’s movements the Yugantar collective spent four months with female tobacco factory workers in Nipani, Karnataka in India, listening to their accounts of exploitative working conditions, discussing strategies for unionizing and steps to broaden solidarities for strike actions, and filming previously unseen circumstances inside the factories.
A genuine political representation of these people is created via material and intellectual conditions to enable, on the one hand, others to express themselves and, on the other hand, to be heard. The Indian feminist collective Yugantar neither wished to speak on behalf of others nor to content itself with simply giving the forgotten, the subordinates a chance to speak. For this film, produced by women, female workers reenact scenes that tell the story of their work routine and their strike action. The voice-over was edited from several conversations and recorded debates subsequent to the screening of the first version of the film. The film’s compilation and voice are in no way comparable to standard militant documentary. Yugantar was keen to create a collective voice, rather than a series of individual testimonies. This apparently simple film successfully considers and welcomes the political voice, whilst offering us discourse which talks ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ others. And for once, it is all true, and not just a hypocritical slogan.
Cinema historian, independent programmer