In this blog, pioneering Irish filmmaker Pat Murphy  (Anne Devlin, Maeve, Nora) writes about the genesis of her new documentary Tana Bana which is exclusively released at the IFI from 9th October. Click herefor more information and booking.

I had been to Varanasi and knew it as this ancient city on the Ganges in Northern India, older than Babylon, older than Nineveh. I knew it was the seat of Hinduism and that people came from all over the world to pray and do pilgrimage and be cremated beside this sacred river.

But I didn’t know about the hidden city of Moslem silk weavers whose work keeps the city alive until textile researcher and lecturer, Annie Dibble told me how hundreds of years ago, their ancestors traveled from Persia along the Silk Road and how they settled in Varanasi.

Varanasi Bride from Tana Bana

Varanasi Bride from Tana Bana

Although the title Tana Bana means the warp and the weft, it doesn’t only refer to the silk weaving. It also means the warp and weft of Hindus and Moslems whose lives are literally interwoven through the production of the silk. Because Varanasi is also renowned for its multiple traditions which gave rise to great music and poetry as well as the weaving.

We began by wanting to make a film that would celebrate the work of the weavers and highlight the challenges they face from globalization and the changing world of women and children.

As a film maker, I was alert to the dangers of “Orientalism” and representing “the exotic and thought I had a working grasp of the issues at stake. But then we did an in-depth research trip and this challenged everything I thought I knew.

Varanasi Dyer from Tana Bana

Varanasi Dyer from Tana Bana

What I found was an amazing and vibrant city that was literally ‘woven into being’ each day. I saw how every one in Varanasi, from designers, to card makers to the weavers themselves- a whole city full of people- are involved in the production of something beautiful, something larger than their individual concerns- and how this gives a kind of inner coherence to a city renowned for chaos.

I realised that in trying to grasp and somehow “solve” the problems of the weavers on film, that I was still imbued with the old “self and other” dualism and that really I needed to be as transparent as possible, to look at what the people of Varanasi were doing and listen to what they had to say.

The result is a uniquely collaborative film which subtly challenges prevailing Western attitudes to the Moslem world.

A few years ago at the IFI, I hosted a masterclass on screenwriting with Jean-Claude Carrière. I remember him saying that every character in a story has to be important because each one of them holds the fate of the film in their hands.

Weaver from Tana Bana

Varanasi Weaver from Tana Bana

In a sense, Tana Bana is kind of like that. Loosely structured as a day in the life of Varanasi, our journey around the city and our encounters with various people are all led by different aspects of the weaving.

Tana Bana offers intimate access to an unknown world. Filled with activity, it’s not an “action” film in the usual sense. Although the pace is contemplative, it’s not an elegy for a dying way of life as much as a dynamic series of questions on issues that affect all of us right this very minute. Questions around the future of cities, the nature of work and the nature of childhood and education and the ways in which men and women relate to each other.

Pat Murphy.

October 5 2015.

The IFI is supported
by The Arts Council

Arts Council of Ireland