Under construction, a distribution centre initiated by Magic Lantern Foundation in 2005, was a new initiative with old roots. The roots went back a couple of decades to the late ’80s. At the time, we had completed a film on the rights of the people who live in and around forests and wanted to screen it widely to extend the debate on rights of people to natural resources. The film – Because of Our Rights – was eventually screened and disseminated around the country and many parts of the world through a sustained attempt at distribution and dissemination. It helped to extend and expand the scope of the debate and also to consolidate different positions within it. Subsequently, we produced and distributed many films on a range of issues.
But it would be incorrect to say that Under Construction is rooted solely in our efforts to distribute. Through the decades of the ’70s and ’80s, a number of independent filmmakers were involved in the distribution of their own films. And somewhere these roots have merged and mingled. It is difficult to tell them apart because distribution is the common problem of all independent filmmakers. Today, many more filmmakers are working with distribution, whether individually or in groups. Collectives and organisations are seriously looking into archiving, disseminating and screening films.
Under Construction also shared roots with Alternate Media Times, a journal on media and politics that focussed primarily on independent films and filmmakers. Published quarterly from 1997 to 2001, it acted as a link between films, filmmakers, film-viewers, and a diverse range of organisations: from grassroots NGOs to universities to cultural groups.
Nevertheless, Under Construction was a new activity, conceived as a non-broadcast, non-commercial distribution initiative for educational films. We are stepped into an arena that we were not completely familiar with, that of distributing films made by other filmmakers on a sustained basis.
The logistics of distributions are compelling and complex. There are issues of copyrights and intellectual property; of a series of legal issues; of our discomfort with an activity that has primarily to do with commerce; and finally, of the complexity of the myriad of languages that people use and live with while most films tend to have one or two language versions only. And yet we had taken this step because there was an urgent need to see and show these films – for more people to engage with the stories that these films tell, to facilitate a culture of ‘active’ viewing.
Under Construction ran quite successfully under Magic Lantern Foundation from 2005 through 2010, with a catalogue of over 700 films. It was the only distribution option for documentary and other independent films that not only sold a substantial number of copies, it also made such films accessible to a wide range of audience. It also dutifully paid the filmmakers royalties at regular intervals. However, due to changes in laws governing non-profits, MLF had to move out of this initiative. It handed over the archive to Magic Lantern Movies LLP in 2011. Click on the website of Magic Lantern Movies LLP to view the current catalogue of films.