Little Human Tales
reality is a movie we live in
'Little Humans Tales' is a non-fiction film exploring the cinema in everyday life. Made entirely using unscripted, unplanned real life footage, the film was shot on a mobile phone, over a period of four years between 2016 and 2019.
The film centres around the world of a little kid, and evolution of that world through the passage of time, in a village neighbourhood in Kerala, India. The film is an exercise in perceiving the cinema of everyday ordinary reality, and an attempt to revisit the times when life was simply about living.
Below is the story of how it all happened, and what I learned about filmmaking in the process.
Opening scene of Little Human Tales
(music track used is for reference purpose)
How it started
In 2015, I started to travel across India. My idea was to just travel, without much of a planning or deadlines. I was already into filmmaking by then, had done a couple of short films, and was learning like any other self taught filmmaker- watching movies, reading books, roaming around.
But 2015 was the year I bought my first smartphone with a decent video camera (One plus 1 - the first version), just before my trip to Kolkata. As I strolled through the streets shooting the durga pooja festivities, it dawned on me that in my hands was a portable video camera with an output that almost resembled an entry level film camera. I had something in my hands that filmmakers of previous decades could have only dreamt of. There was no excuse for not practising, for not shooting everyday.
So I started doing just that. I wanted to just shoot, not with any purpose or plan, but just for the love of it. I was interested in the people and incidents around me, in those nuggets of unique moments life brought everyday. They were there just this moment, and then they were gone forever. You either capture it now, or lose it forever. So it was imperative to stay alert, stay aware, stay open to the life around.
And this was my first lesson as a filmmaker.
That I have to stay aware, stay alert to the life around me. I have to keep my eyes and ears open, because every day, there were these stories happening, these little moments of joy, these myriads of other emotions, these many shades and hues and sounds and conversations.. It was all there.
Cinema in everything
Documenting reality through the 'cinematic eye'
I didn't start with an intention to make an observational documentary. If I had, perhaps I would have had a plan, and that plan would have narrowed my vision to look for only certain things. But I didn't have a plan. I didn't have any theme, or any particular idea in my mind. I was not shooting for Youtube, I was not shooting to put up a status message. I was simply shooting. I was shooting because there was nothing else I would rather do.
However, there was one thing in my mind. It was to make use of mobile camera as a filmmaker's practice tool. I believe mobile phone cameras are the best tools for any aspiring filmmaker to practise their craft. You could practise your framing, compositions, camera movements, staging, shot division..there is a lot of things that an aspiring director could learn by shooting with a mobile camera.
And this was my core theme- 'to shoot reality in a cinematic way'. To do a shot division in my mind instantly, spontaneously as the event was unfolding in front of my eyes. So I would run from position to position, from wide to medium and medium to close, shooting from multiple angles, anticipating how 'my characters' might move, and what might happen next. This meant I had to be perfectly in sync with the reality as it was unfolding, being aware of the little movements, sounds, dialogues, so that I can get a real good angle, and be ready for what was coming.
Choosing a narrative
The making of Little Human Tales
By the end of 2018, I had gathered a large pile of footage - visuals of my life since 2015. It included a diverse set of happenings, from my travels to different parts of India, moments with friends and family, and many other glimpses of life I cared to collect.
Then I looked at the possibility of making a movie out of it. However, there was a problem. There was a large collection of rushes, each different, each a 'one take shot' of reality. The potential ways it could be stitched together was practically endless. Then, after months of deliberation I finally decided to narrow it to small set of characters and location. I decided to choose the happenings in my neighbourhood, centred around a little kid, his friends, and his growth over three years.
The kid happened to be my neighbour’s kid and he would come everyday to my house. There he was welcomed by ‘Pappa' and ‘Mummy’, my parents, with whom he essentially grew up ever since he was two years old. The bond and interactions between these characters, and other kids in our neighbourhood, is the core happenings in this film.
(Now on a side note- As a filmmaker, I am fascinated by kids. I just love shooting kids, wherever I go, just because of the endless expressions, spontaneities, and overall magic they bring to the frame. And somehow I have enjoyed great rapport with kids, and most of the time I am allowed to be part of their world. This helps me in capturing moments in its originality, without making the camera an intruder, but rather a free flowing silent witness)
Another musical montage from the film
(music track used is for reference purpose)
Reality Vs Movie:
Where does non-fiction end and fiction start?
The film is made completely with real life footage. As a filmmaker, my only job prior to shooting was to just to be prepared, to keep my camera ready. But the real task as a filmmaker began when I started to edit it. Here was the challenge of selecting some moments, and ignoring other moments. I didn't want a simple chronological arrangement, it was not going to be a simple record of events as and how it happened. Instead I wanted to make a movie. I wanted to create a narrative such that it felt like a movie, like a work of fiction, and not a mere chronological documentation.
This meant that I was creating a narrative out of recorded pieces of reality, making fiction out of nonfiction.
And as I continued this process for several months, losing myself in a number of potential narrative sequences, it became more and more evident to me that our lives are indeed the same. I was editing through the events that happened in my life, I was editing through my memories, I was making a movie out of it. And I realized that it is what we do inside our brains as well, how our brains makes sense of our own lives.
We look back and select certain moments from our memories, we highlight a few, ignore a lot. Happenings become memories, memories are selected to create a narrative, and that narrative is what we tell ourselves as 'the story of our life'.
The editing table was not just in front of me, it was inside my brain too. The footage was not just some files in the computer, It was my memories. The narrative I made was not just a documentary film, it was how I chose to sequence my memories and narrate my life. Those were the tales of being a little human.
A movie was being made out of memories.
Reality was being transformed to a movie.
And it was a movie I was living in.
Read more about the theory and practice of 'Lived-Experience Filmmaking'