Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The Story of Man, Tiger and Spirit is unfolding scene by scene in the virtual world.  The short animation film, that will be part of the “Tales of the Tribes” collection, is based on an Angami folktale of three brothers, Man, Tiger and Spirit; it tells how they once lived together, and how they separated.

Storytelling was an oral tradition and folktales are embellished by the storyteller  who remembers certain details and elaborates on others.  This short film is an adaptation.  As Deborah Cartmell writes, “every cultural artifact is an adaptation”[1].
To make this film, the story has to be adapted for the audio visual medium to include movement and sound.  Films are a complex arrangements of shots that have been chosen and edited together to convey the story in a clear, interesting way, and as animation is  labour intensive, a lot of pre-production planning is done.  “Fidelity is tiresome as a critical strategy not least because it is an inexact science…”[2] writes Deborah Cartmell. 

Some folktales are oral epics with many characters and relationships.  “Adaptation is a process of identifying the story and focusing the story line…but this is no easy matter, since the story line is often hidden among character details, thematic statements, information and descriptions”[3]  writes Linda Seger.  Details and nuances may not translate across cultures and it is the animation script writer and director ‘s responsibility  to have sensitivity and a thorough background in research to decide how to adapt the story for the film;  with the theme of tribal folktales it is important to work in collaboration with members of the local community and avoid misrepresentation.   Experience shows that a group workshop is a good way of starting the adaptation process, providing  a “think tank” to  discuss the film at the script stage  where ideas are bounced about by the group and consensus is reached.   It is also recommended to circulate the drafted script amongst selected cultured people from the community, writers, storytellers and film makers.  

The perceived audience for the film has the largest influence on it.   Adaptation is “… repurposing for a new audience in a different time or cultural context”[4], writes Deborah Cartmell.  Understanding and interpretation of the story changes with both time and  exposure but as most tribal folktales have some common lesson of wisdom, the message that the story intended for the listener needs to be identified and communicated in the animation film.    Additional meanings and nuances will be read in the details and juxtapositions of the film, and while some are intended others become apparent.  The main story line demands to be received by everyone that watches the film but subtle details will only resonate with individuals.  “Film can give us the story information, character information, ideas and images and style all in the same moment”[5], writes  Linda Seger.  Through multiple layers the film gains an enhanced feeling of authenticity and members of the community recognize cultural details and their intrinsic meanings.

Filmic conventions include postmodern intertextuality.  Based on one central story of a competition between Man Tiger and Spirit, adaptation for the film script attaches references to several other tales from the Naga Hills.   Two prominent symbols of Nagaland are the Hornbill bird and the wild bison (Mithun);  I wanted to include both in the film.  That myth that man first emerged either from a hole in the ground or a cave is shared by several Naga tribes, and there is another folktale that tells of a deal made by the Mithun with the first Man,  so that he would be able to roam freely.  
The main story, about the three brothers, is clear about how Man and Tiger became separated, but Spirit’s alienation needed to be understood,.  In the animation film Man’s arrogant self importance on winning the race (through devious means), was repulsive to Spirit who felt that he could no longer relate to his human brother; This leads on to the eerie climax of the film, when  Spirit swaps Man’s eyes with  Dog – and  he has not been able to see Spirit since;  This detail  and a scene of head-hunting ants that motivates  Man to achieve his identity as a warrior,  have been incorporated from other Naga tales. 
A detail that was omitted from the story in the film was when Mother was  buried under the hearth after her demise, as I felt that this would not be understood by youth today.  On the subject of unintended meanings – I wondered if anyone would associate pregnancy caused by a passing cloud with the virgin birth of Christian ideology. 

Naga  woven shawls have been used to create the environment for the story.   Mapping photographs of hand woven shawls  from various tribes onto 3D computer generated geometry is an experiment that gives an  unusual and undeniable “Naga” look to the film.  That it is an Angami tale is reflected in the selection of textiles used in the home environment of the characters (around and inside the cave);   Textiles of other tribes are used to suggest the tribal diversity of the Naga Hills.  Jewelry, accessories and props in the film are mostly faithful to the Angami tribe, with exception of the spectacular Konyak beaded belt worn by the “Mother”  character and the head pendant acquired by Man at the end of the film;  though from the Konyak tribe, it is the most recognizable symbol of the headhunter warrior. 

The Narrator of the story is now the Hornbill bird.  This seemed to be suitable as the exotic hornbill is the kind of bird that one might expect to talk.   Now that the first rough cut of the short film almost done,  I will be going to Kohima next week to liaise with musicians.  The musical soundtrack of the film will be a fusion mix.  A catchy tune with a distinctively Naga flavour is required, while avoiding the musical influences of the church yet giving space for contribution by young Nagas.

[1] Deborah Cartmell,”Screen Adaptation, Impure Cinema”, Chapter3, Literature on Film: Writers on Adaptations in the Early Twentieth Century, p55

[2] Deborah Cartmell,”Screen Adaptation, Impure Cinema”, Chapter 1, Adaptation: Theories, Interpretations and New Dilemmas, p20

[3]  Linda Seger, “The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film”, Chapter 5, Finding the Story, p 77

[4] Deborah Cartmell,”Screen Adaptation, Impure Cinema”, Chapter 1, Adaptation: Theories, Interpretations and New Dilemmas, p21

[5] Linda Seger, “The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film”, Chapter1, Why Literature Resists Film”, p 16

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