Many photographers, filmmakers and visual artists have captured the beauty of the green paddy fields of Goa. Few, however, have ventured down these fields to understand the life of the farmers who are to thank for the lush landscape.
Musician Vince Costa decided to walk this path, camera in hand, to make his filmmaking debut with a documentary on his home village of Curtorim in South Goa. Saxtticho Koddo: The Granary of Salcete examines Curtorim through its agrarian roots and the challenges to its agriculture-driven economy, weaving in references to local history and culture. The film won in the short documentary category at the Asia Independent film festival in 2018 year, was shown in Pune and the Royal Anthropological Institute’s film festival in the United Kingdom’s Bristol and will be screened at Ethnografilm in Paris (April 16-20).
Curtorim was nicknamed “The Granary of Salcete” for its pre-eminence in agriculture in the region, especially rice cultivation. The Zuari River flows along the village and is fused with its cultural identity. However, climate change, shifting land use patterns and out-migration from the village are threatening its biodiversity and agrarian output. For Costa, this was the trigger that led him to documenting his village.
The project started out as a visual memoir of the place he grew up in. “I was recording it for my children to show them this is how the village was, how people dressed up and is how life was basically,” Costa told Scroll.in. “I realised much later that I unknowingly ventured into an important topic.”
The end result is a 37-minute documentary made over four years, from 80 hours of footage. The film examines how global factors, such as climate change and the introduction of genetically modified crops, combined with local events, such as the shift from community-driven governance before Independence to state and individual ownership, have hurt the village’s agricultural backbone.
“Farming was community-driven thing,” Costa said. “Families, neighbours worked together. There was no overhead cost. So, the concept of a daily-wage labourer actually didn’t exist. But when family members got educated and started moving out of Goa, for better economic opportunities, you needed to bring in labour. That’s where the viability [of agriculture] started to change.”
The decline can be seen in the changing local customs. “We had religious festivals that served as a marker for farming, like the Feast of St Alex, held on July 17,” Costa said. “No matter what, a day after that feast, the farming activity would start in the village. But lately, the feast would come and go but you couldn’t start farming as it has not rained by then.”
While keeping its focus on Curtorim, the documentary also examines the challenges facing farmers across Goa. Among these is the decline of the Khazan ecosystems – a locally developed mechanism where low-lying marshy and fertile areas reclaimed from the river to use for rice growing or fish farming.
The lack of emphasis of school education on traditional occupations such as farming is another reason for the decline, the documentary proposes. Costa said that the pride taken in farming is diminishing, as is the dignity of labour. Younger generations, especially those in cities, are disconnected from the state’s agrarian roots and he hopes to change that by taking his film to scools and colleges.
The documentary also finds a ray of hope in the work of plant biotechnologist Shilpa Bhosle, who is working to revive indigenous rice varieties of Goa. “During my research, I was quite happy that someone like Dr Shilpa Bhosle is actually working with native seeds. She has documented around 28 indigenous rice varieties from Goa,” Costa said.
The experience of making Saxtticho Koddo has left Costa with deep gratitude for the state’s farmers. “Now I have a much greater, deeper respect for the farming community in Goa.” he added. “It’s easy for me to spend four years and make a film but to make [farming] your life it takes far greater commitment. They hold the cultural fabric of Goa together. I believe much more respect should be paid to them.”
Costa is now collecting farming stories from other villages of Goa. “After watching the documentary, many viewers thought of their own farming stories,” he said. “This gave me the opportunity to go and document that. We need more people to make more films, because there are so many stories in Goa that need to be told which we may lose. They are connected to our identity and culture.”
Citing his experience – he said he shot with one camera, one lens and a stand – Costa argued that making a documentary need not be an expensive project and even a mobile phone could do the trick. “Today, visual presentation is so powerful,” he said. “Thanks to social media, one image can change the world today.”