Today we had the great pleasure of talking with Gunnarsson about his film.
tV: Monsoons, typhoons, and hurricanes happen all over the world. What is it about the Indian monsoon that sets it apart from the other phenomenon?
SG: People in India will tell you that there is only one monsoon: the Indian monsoon. What appealed to me about it is that it's life itself. It provides India with all of its water. It brings water, it brings life, it governs the conditions of existence for the people living there. It affects every aspect of living. It affects the artists, the religious, scientists, fishermen, farmers. It affects filmmakers. Indian culture is built around the monsoon. Some people say that it's the soul of the country. I love India and I've been there many, many times and I've always thought of the monsoon as being such a big spectacle and such a romantic thing that I wanted to experience it. That's why I made the film.
tV: You say that life comes from the monsoon. Have you noticed the effects of climate change on this over the years?
SG: The monsoon is a chaotic system and it's constantly changing anyway so the biggest impact of climate change on the monsoon is that it makes it that much harder to predict: it makes a chaotic system more chaotic. In a country where prediction is the key to survival that's where there is the most profound impact. In the long range the scientists that are studying it believe that it will result in hotter, drier monsoons: so less water and more heat and all that implies.
tV: There are some areas in India that get an overwhelmingly large amount of water during the monsoon, and other areas that get none at all. Did you discover any systems the government might be working to implement in an attempt to disperse the water more evenly: pipelines, reservoirs etc.
SG: Yes. They have water management systems in places. 20 to 25% of the agriculture works off of irrigation and aquifers but probably 70 to 80% of the agriculture relies directly on the rains. Even the farming that functions under a water management system still requires the rains and then it becomes a question of capturing the rain and diverting it, but that isn't possible without the water actually coming.
tV: You showed quite a wide range of people who were affected by the monsoon. The monsoon has been called the soul of India and to many is a spiritual thing. Did you find a similar perspective among the richer classes?
SG: No. Richer people never suffer. The wealthy are always insulated from the visitant life and the poor are always more affected. That's just a fundamental rule of life.
tV: Sure, but there was a lot of ceremony during the monsoon: a lot of people felt almost a religious connection to it. Was that something that resonated with wealthier people? Were they also believers in the monsoon as being a spiritual thing?
SG: There are so many dimensions of the monsoon. In the movies it's about romance and everybody goes to the movies. And the people who make the films are sophisticated people. The idea of romance, and love, and monsoon, cuts across everything. The gambler (Bishnu Shastri), his experience with monsoon is that of destiny: for him it's like a race horse. Everybody's experience of it is different. For the farmer it's something different again, for the fisherman it's a question of having the opportunity to do well at sea but the ocean is so stormy that you're taking your life in your hands. All of the religious festivals are built around the monsoon and around planting and harvest. I think people relate to those religious festivals in much the same way as they do in Canada, where are some people who are true believers and there are other people for whom it's more of a cultural event.
tV: There were a lot of very devastating things that happened, such as people losing there homes. For you as a filmmaker witnessing all of that, how did that affect you and how did you manage to film through that? It must have been such a moving experience?
SG: It was. These are people who we're close to. There's a conflicting emotion. On the one hand, as a documentary filmmaker, these are the events you are hoping for because it's dramatic and it's cinematic, and you know that you have a story. But on the other hand you have this incredible sense of loss and a terrible feeling of empathy for people who you care about losing their homes and losing their livelihoods. It's very conflicted.
tV: It's unfathomable to understand what it must have been like to be in the middle of all of that. As a filmmaker, what did you take away from this journey that you never expected?
SG: I think that anytime you engage with chaos, which the monsoon is, it's exhausting, it tries your patience, and tries your confidence, and it also tries your faith. I think probably what emerged for me from the film more than anything else, was a realization that I actually do have faith: not a religious faith, I'm not a believer in God, but I have faith that things are possible. I have faith that things will work out and I think that feeling of faith that emerges in the midst of this chaos was what I found surprising.
tV: You were obviously very prepared to shoot in extreme weather conditions with very high-tech but stripped down cameras (Red Epic cameras shooting in 4K and utilizing from 14mm to 800mm lenses). Were there any substantial hiccups during the shoot?
SG: We lost two cameras to water.
tV: Oh, my go...
SG: Two Red Epics got destroyed. One was eaten by a wave and the other got rain water damage. The big challenge was trying to dance with the monsoon because you're trying to cover a place that's over three million square kilometres and you're one little spec on a map trying to capture a story. So you may be in one place and it's not raining and you're studying satellite imagery and the weather forecast and trying to decide weather to get on a plane and go to where it's raining. There's this constant process of being the subject of the rain gods. Those were the real challenges: chasing the storm over three million square kilometres in a chaotic environment.
As far as the mechanics of it we came with all kinds of rain gear but at the end of the day we didn't use it. You just end up being like everybody else: you wear your quick-dry shirt and quick-dry pants and sandals and you wade into the water and just don't think too much about what's in it (laughs). Shower real quick when you get back to the hotel.
tV: What were you hoping to show the world with this film? What was the message you were hoping to give?
SG: I wanted the audience to experience the mystery, the awe, and the spectacle of the monsoon, and to meditate on that.
Gunnarsson's film delivers on all accounts in its stunning look at the phenomenon of the Indian monsoon.
Watch for your opportunity this October to see it on the big screen during the Vancouver International Film Festival.