Interview: India has a lot to offer in terms of Twitter stories – Twittamentary director
Two Indian social media consultants, Avinash Kalla and Bhaskar Pant, plan to release “Twittamentary India”, a film made in collaboration with Singapore-based documentary filmmaker Tan Siok Siok. Like Siok’s 2012 original “Twittamentary”, the new film will take a look at the Twitter community with the help of people on the social media website. “Twittamentary India” will explore the interactions that politicians, journalists and ordinary people have on Twitter in the country.
(Also read: Twitter in India to come alive in new documentary)
Arnika Thakur spoke to Siok about social media, “Twittamentary” and how India became the first country chapter. Edited excerpts from the interview.
Q: How did “Twittamentary” happen?
A: The motivation for making the film came about from my own experience on Twitter. I was kind of an early adopter and I came on Twitter in 2007, before it became mainstream … When I first started using it I thought it was quite inane. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be doing this … But when I started using it, I was amazed by the connections I was able to make, and by the amount of relationships and friendships I was able to form. At the same time I found that those who are really into Twitter had a really hard time trying to convey their experience to people who don’t get it. So I thought that it would actually be a very good topic for a film as film or video can be more visceral and you can convey emotion and experience that will be in logical terms.
Q: Why did you decide to do it by crowd-sourcing?
A: I thought the best way to make a film about Twitter is with the help of everyone on Twitter … When I first started the project I would say that if we can ever get the film made, we would really prove that Twitter works because everything that the film requires comes through Twitter. The story, the idea, the production teams and all the screenings that we organized throughout the world, it all comes through connections from Twitter.
Q: Why have an India chapter?
A: You see very interesting stories in India because of the democratic structure. People are very outspoken and therefore they are also outspoken on Twitter. I think the culture is such that you can see a lot is out in the open in social media, and there are lot of dynamic complex societies where you can really see the sociological impact of Twitter and it’s been laid out in a very public way and it leads to a good film.
Q: Are people from other countries interested?
A: I come from Singapore, so there is definitely interest in Singapore, of doing something that focuses on Singapore. While I was tweeting about Twittamentary India, I got a response saying, what about Poland? So you never know who will put up their hand and say they want to do it or it will be very good to have a film about my country or my people so I think that immediately Singapore (and) the UK will be a big possibility. I think that there is some interest in Pakistan. I think once the Indian chapter comes out, quite naturally there will be other enquiries about making other chapters.
Q: What difference do you think Twitter makes in our lives?
A: I think a lot of what you see reported on Twitter tends to focus more on the obvious and superficial like the celebrity and celebrity tweets, certain people tweeting about their food or posting pictures of their lunch, but I find that overall, the most impact that I see Twitter having is actually on someone’s identity. I think what happens is that we will start connections and the people that we are connected to in our real time connections, they actually kind of become our virtual peer group, they become the people that we identify with. For some people the change after they come on Twitter is not dramatic, but for a number of other people it actually reshapes their identity and how they see themselves and their community. Their community become the people that they share an interest with and it could be anyone from across the world.
Q: Why Twitter? Why not another social media platform?
A: On Facebook I tend to stay within a certain circle, I extend it somewhat, but it is not wide open. I stay pretty much close and restrict it to the people I have met before. I find that the open nature of Twitter is (conducive) to more unexpected stories, to more unexpected connections, so from a story telling point of view I can have a richer range of stories to tap on. And second of all, I think that on Twitter, what is possible is that you can actually tap on the way of filmmaking that is essentially genuinely participatory. I don’t think it is quite possible to crowd-source a Facebook documentary, the way I have done Twittamentary. I was always asking for help for the film on Twitter. On Twitter the subculture is such that it is perfectly normal to meet people that you haven’t met before, it is perfectly normal to make connections that are unexpected and I think therefore I wanted to tap on how social media has transformed the way that we tell stories, a Twitter documentary allows me more scope for adventure. I think if I would have done a documentary on Facebook I would have to fall back on the conventional way of making the film, and the way that I made Twittamentary was that essentially what happened was that all these strangers around the world helped me make the film, some of them became my friends, but others were kind of people who came and gave me help in a small way without asking for anything in return.
(Follow Arnika Thakur on Twitter @arnikathakur)