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Devyani Saltzman writes a book on <i>Water</i>

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Shooting Water is a daughter's tribute to a remarkable mother. Is that a correct assessment? No. It's a tribute to the relationship between a mother and a daughter. I think my mom's work is wonderful and incredibly strong. I respect her for the issues she chooses to focus on, but when I wrote Shooting Water, it was because I wanted to look at our journey of coming together after my parent's divorce. And that's an experience a lot of people can relate to, albeit a painful one.

What prompted you to write it? Were you always interested in writing?
I always wanted to be a writer, and have been especially attracted to literary non-fiction. The book that first got me interested in the medium was Philip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda. He was a New Yorker writer at the time. I was 17 when I read it, and his humanist/journalistic look at the genocide forced me to think beyond my own safe world. And with Shooting Water, I wanted to examine what happened to our film in Benares in 1999. There were sound bytes in the media at the time: BBC, CBC, Hindustan Times...but there was no full account of the five-year odyssey to make Water. I was convinced that the story should be out there for people to understand, especially in India. That need, and the desire to look at the emotional side of my relationship with mom, prompted me to write the book.

The book synthesizes the personal and professional. How did you sift through the material in your mom's life?
Instinct. Shooting Water shifts between very raw emotions and detailed description of the filmmaking process and the politics we faced both in India and Sri Lanka. I moved between them instinctively. When I sat down to write the book I scribbled three things in my notebook: 'personal, political, cinematic.' It was about balancing those three threads.

Was it hard to re-live her personal and professional trauma? Did you have to modulate censor and transcreate the real story?
It was harder to re-live the personal experience. But I didn't censor myself. I focused in to the degree that was appropriate without taking away from the equally important story of the film. But my mom read every chapter as I wrote it - not because I was seeking approval on what I was revealing - but because I trusted her judgment as an artist. In terms of capturing Benares in 1999, I worked from a pile of articles from that time, both in the Indian and international press. I also kept diaries throughout both shoots and referred to them.

What do you hope to achieve with this book?
In a way, it's about achieving peace. Now that Water is complete and has opened successfully, I can see my mom wake up in the morning without carrying the pain of that experience. And expressing our story, as mother and daughter, has also brought peace. It's about putting things to rest and moving forward.

Describe your mother as a person and a filmmaker.
She's an intense and passionate woman, and that translates into her filmmaking.

What do you think of the film Water? Do you think all the trauma was worth it for your mother?
I don't think anyone wants to deal with trauma. On some level we wished that the protests in 1999 never happened and we could just quietly make the film. But Water is a beautiful film. The first time I read the script, when I was 18, I was blown away by the depth of the story, and the lives of the widows. It was worth getting it done because of the strength of the story. People like to ignore the more difficult aspects of their lives. I think societies are similar. I'm glad a film exists which at least touches upon widowhood, and more importantly, women's experiences even when they're not pretty ones.

Do you hope to become a filmmaker like your mom?
No, I never wanted to be a filmmaker. It was always books. I continue to work as a freelance writer, and I'm currently working on my first novel.

Describe your very special relationship with your mom...and with David.
My relationship with my mom is great. We love to see movies together and we've supported each other through the release of both the book and the film in Canada. I love the fact we can talk about everything from the mundane chore of doing laundry to new Korean cinema. David is the rock in our lives. He's a very strong and supportive stepfather, and producer. I think he grounds us all.

Tell us about yourself...your life as a daughter and a woman in your own right.
I studied anthropology and sociology in Oxford, and one of the early texts I read was entitled Other People's Worlds. I guess I've always been attracted to how the arts, specifically film and books, can transport us and inform us. I chose to study those subjects with the intention of transferring them to an artistic medium. When I see a good film or read a good book I feel really alive. And that's the work I've always wanted to do.

Do you think a film based on your book is practical?
Oh, I don't know....it would be really funny to have to see an actor cast as yourself or a member of your family. Maybe a movie of the week....one day.



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