India's 'Writing with Fire' loses to 'Summer of Soul' in docu feature Oscar category

Los Angeles: “Writing With Fire”, the Indian documentary that chronicled the rise of a newspaper run by Dalit women, lost to “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” in the best documentary feature category at the 94th edition of the Oscars, Hollywood’s biggest awards ceremony.

“Summer Of Soul” is directed by the Roots frontman Ahmir Thompson, best known by his stage name Questlove.

For the film, Thompson arranged the never-seen-before archival footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity, attended by 300,000 people in the summer of 1969.

The “stunning” win of the movie was about “the marginalised people in Harlem that needed to heal from pain”, he said.

“It’s not lost on me that the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival should have been something that my beautiful mother and my dad should have taken me to when I was five years old,” Thompson added.

Overcome by emotion, the musician said Black cultural institutions and expressions are still ignored in contemporary pop culture.

“Just know in 2022, this is not just a 1969 story about marginalised people in Harlem. This is a story of… I’m sorry, I’m just overwhelmed right now,” added Thompson.

Like the feature “CODA”, the acclaimed documentary feature was a festival favourite winning both the grand jury and audience awards in the US Documentary Competition category at the Sundance Film Festival 2021.

Other Oscar nominees in the best documentary feature category were “Ascension”, “Attica” and “Flee”.

“Writing with Fire”, directed by debutants Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, was considered a dark horse in the Oscars race with its feel-good story of Khabar Lahariya, India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women.

But just weeks before the award ceremony, the film was mired in controversy when the newspaper organisation issued a lengthy statement saying the documentary did not accurately present their story.

It is not immediately clear whether the controversy affected the documentary’s chances at the Oscars.

Last week, Khabar Lahariya editor Kavita Bundelkhandi said the film portrayed the newspaper “inaccurately” by insinuating that it only focuses on reporting on issues surrounding “one political party”.

“The documentary portrays our work inaccurately because it shows only a part of what we do, and shows that ours is only about one political party,” Bundelkhandi told PTI without naming the political party.

She said they were proud that a documentary was made on their achievements but wished it was a more rounded portrayal.

Win or loss, the nomination in the final five at the Oscars is a huge achievement for the documentary community in India, which has been steadily making a mark for itself in the international festival circles.

And Ghosh had said as much when the nominations were announced in February.

“This is a massive moment for us and for Indian cinema… This film is about fearless Dalit women journalists who are redefining what being powerful means, quintessentially the story of the modern Indian woman,” Ghosh had told PTI.

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