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Capturing culture in the lens

Dec 15, 2008

For 36-year-old Indian film-maker Moji Riba, preserving the cultural richness of his native state Arunachal Pradesh is an emotional enterprise. Winner of this year's Rolex Award, Moji now intends to train local youth in filming to capture the oral histories and practices of diverse tribes.

Indian film-maker Moji Riba has been selected as an Associate Laureate of Rolex Awards for Enterprise. He is among the 10 winners of the Awards which for more than 30 years have supported pioneering work in science and medicine, technology and innovation, exploration and discovery, the environment and cultural heritage.

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Moji is being honoured for 'helping to preserve and document the rich cultural heritage of India’s Arunachal Pradesh tribes'.

Riba holds a masters degree in mass communication from Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi and is presently the Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation (CCRD) in Naharlagun, in his native state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The non-profit centre, established in 1997, focuses on audio-visual documentation of the folklore, ritual practices and oral histories of the diverse tribes that inhabit the north-eastern states of India and how the indigenous people are adapting to the processes of rapid change.

Over the past decade, the centre has made 35 documentaries for television stations and for government and non-governmental agencies. But the centre is more than just an archive or library: it is also a platform offering the tribal people an opportunity to voice their concerns and share experiences.

In 2004, Moji was instrumental in creating the diploma in mass communications at Itanagar’s Rajiv Gandhi University, to augment understanding of cultural values and local customs. He currently divides his time as head of the university’s communications department and running CCRD.

Indigenous knowledge fading out

"CCRD has been using documentary films as a tool to document and understand the transitional tribal society and to share that experience through the medium of television," says Moji. "In these 10 years, we have primarily produced television documentaries on linkages between issues of culture, environment and development and how one cannot be seen in isolation from the other".

CCRD films have been showcased on Doordarshan, India's national broadcaster, and various other national and international forums.
With support from the Rolex Award, Moji and CCRD plan to implement in 2009 the Mountain Eye Project, an unconventional and ambitious initiative that aims to create a cinematic time capsule documenting a year in the life of 15 different ethnic groups.

Moji Riba 1

They will select and train young people from each community to do the filming. This gives him access to enough film-makers as well as access to people with an intimate understanding of village life.

These novice film-makers will capture a broad range of the tribes’ oral histories, as well as the rituals, ceremonies and festivals that take place over a year in their villages.

Moji expects to collect about 300 hours of film per village, all of which will be recorded and archived in the native languages. He believes that the resulting 4,000-plus hours of video will provide an invaluable record of life as it has been lived in his state for centuries.

Moji Riba has worked with TVE Asia Pacific since 2003 as a freelance film director and producer. In 2005, he directed Deep Divide, a half-hour, three-country documentary on the state of environmental justice in South Asia. In 2006, he filmed stories for TVEAP series Digita4Change (in Bhutan) and The Greenbelt Reports (in three locations in India).

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