A 12-minute meditation on Progressive painter Francis Newton Souza’s journey from Goa to the auction house has won the BFI London Film Festival Short Film Award. An Old Dog’s Diary, directed by Shai Heredia and Shumona Goel, earned high praise from the jury that recognised its achievements. Jury president Daisy Jacobs said “An Old Dog’s Diary is as poetic and soulful as its subject. It offers a fresh and original way of documenting the life of an artist. It looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, but, more than that, it tells us about the beauty of the human spirit.”

An Old Dog’s Diary evokes Souza through quotations from his writings, drawings from his mid-1950s portrait series Six Gentlemen of Our Times and footage of places and events in Saligao, where he was born in 1924. “We were interested in Souza’s inner world and got a glimpse of that through his writings, letters, and drawings,” the filmmakers said in a joint reply. “We tried to craft the film in an associative and painterly way and were quite consciously experimenting with creating a new language for making a biopic.”

The spectral quality of the imagery, shot beautifully by Avijit Mukul Kishore, suggests a film that was made several years ago. “We shot the film on black & white 16mm and Super 8 film predominantly in Goa, Souza’s birthplace,” said the filmmakers, who have previously collaborated on I Am Micro, a short film about the history of experimental cinema in India. “We chose to shoot the passion of Christ procession and performance on Super 8 film with a raw, loose and observational, almost ethnographic style. The texture and cinematic quality of the Super 8 footage makes it sad and dark, offering an interesting reflection on Souza’s conflict with Christianity.”

Among the haunting sequences in the experimental short is a Good Friday reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. “The community comes together on this day to mourn the death of Christ,” the directors said. “It was a moving and doleful experience.”

Why black and white?

“Black and white is much more forgiving,” the directors said. “It has greater latitude.”