At the Confluence of the Mississippi & the Ganges
‘At the Confluence of the Mississippi & the Ganges’ is a character driven documentary film that visually examines the lives of American and Indian high school students as they embark on a life changing leadership experience focusing on cross-cultural dialogue in the context of climate change. These students confront their fears, hopes and dreams to offer a unique lens onto the challenges coming generations will face as climate change continues to impact our world. The documentary is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Ladakh region of Kashmir.
In early 2017, a select group of young Indians were given the chance of a lifetime – spend the month of July studying the effects of climate change in New Delhi and Ladakh – all expenses paid. At the same time, half a world away, a handful of American students from rural and urban areas of the United States were offered the same opportunity. Many of these Indian and American students have never travelled outside of their state. The only stipulation to accepting the challenge was to arrive with an open mind.
The Indian students hail from areas of the country such as rural Manipur, the tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh and cosmopolitan Jaipur. While the American students come from places such the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, New Orleans, the South Bronx, rural North Carolina and the South Side of Chicago. The student group is further comprised of Northeastern tribal and Native American teenagers, first generation American children of migrants from Sudan, Somalia and Nepal, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, LGBT students, and high schoolers from urban and rural farming communities. This diverse group of incredible young people have had little opportunity to interact with students from the other side of the world. The resulting relationships will spark a dynamic opportunity for cross-cultural conversations about climate change and the global issues important to this diverse group of teenagers.
The film will begin in the cities and villages of the Indian students, as they prepare to leave for New Delhi. At the same time, the film will also examine the neighborhoods and towns of the American students as they prepare to embark on their journey to India. What are the hopes and fears, dreams and desires of kids from the world’s two largest democracies? How do the Indian students imagine their American counterparts to be? What can the American students learn from India? What sort of dialogue will emerge about the dire and distinct dilemmas confronting young people from both countries? Poverty, extreme pollution and conversations about the future of our world are issues that kids from these two disparate demographics share and over the course of their time in India will seek to better understand.
As the American students first meet one another for orientation in the Bay Area, the Indian students will begin their collective journey in New Delhi. Then together, in early July, the Indian and American students will become a cohesive group. Meetings and classroom discussions with climate experts, field trips to ancient stepwells outside of Delhi and a visit to the Taj Mahal through the lens of climate change will offer a visually eclectic journey that will transcend cultures and encourage important cross-cultural communication. Throughout these experiences – Junoon, the Mumbai based arts organization that focuses on participatory performance and applied arts education – will facilitate and interweave participative methods of artistic expression and experiential learning exercises to communicate concepts and spark further creativity. Following the students to Ladakh as they begin to get to know each other while visiting glaciers, windswept stupas, discussing climate change and better understanding the complexities of culture through homestays with Ladakhi families will offer a visual and narrative tapestry of immense proportions. Eventually, the film will return with the group to New Delhi and 2-3 months later, catch up with the students in their hometowns to better understand how the experience impacted them and influenced their perception of our world.
Ben Lenzner (Director/Producer)
Ben is an artist and documentary filmmaker. He has numerous years of experience as an instructor at the International Center of Photography in New York. He has a Masters of Fine Arts in Documentary Media from Ryerson University and a PhD in Screen & Media Studies from the University of Waikato examining the use of digital video technologies in the context of human rights, social activism and protest movements. His documentary films and video installations have screened internationally at such venues as The Barbican in London, TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, and Anthology Film Archives in New York City. The Valley Rebels – a film he produced, edited and shot – was commissioned by The Guardian and will release on April 28. Ben is a member of the 360Plus network and an AIF Clinton Fellow alumni.
Shraddha Borawake (Creative Consultant)
Shraddha is a lens-based artist and community builder. She was a recipient of the India Habitat Center Photosphere Award 2016. Her works span a wide gamut of engagement with various artists, institutions, disciplines and outcomes as a multifaceted cultural producer. She founded the Good Artists of Pune (GAP), a socially engaged open-networking innovative platform in her hometown of Pune, Maharashtra. Her effort to spark new ecologies of interaction in small urban centres was supported by the New Delhi based Khoj International Artists’ Association. She has exhibited her interactive photographic works in the public spheres of New York City, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Colorado, New Orleans and throughout the world. With an undergraduate degree from the Gallatin School of Indvidualised Study at New York University, Shraddha is currently completing her Masters of Fine Art at the Piet Zwart Institute under the Holland Scholarship in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Christina MacGillivray (Producer)
Christina is a consultant to the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights focusing on using film and animation to share positive stories about migrants and refugees. She is the founding director of Mummy Daddy Media and has produced films in more than a dozen countries. Christina was lead producer and researcher for the UN documentary film I Am Not Here, which followed three undocumented women on journeys from Bolivia to Switzerland, from Trinidad to New York City and from Bangladesh to Kuala Lumpur to show the many facets of global migration. The film premiered at the United Nations in Geneva and was screened at the UN global summit on migration in Bangkok along with Mumbai and New Delhi. Christina brings more than ten years of international production experience to At the Confluence of the Mississippi & the Ganges. She produces films for Google, the British Council, USAID and others and has been based in India for more than seven years. Christina is a member of the 360Plus network an AIF Clinton Fellow alumni.
The Story So Far
As the 360Plus Leadership Collective aims to begin another journey to India in just under two months in July 2019, we have begun to release video profiles of last year’s group of students and scholars who travelled to Ladakh from their respective cities, towns and villages in both The United States and India. The stories of these young world travelers are remarkable and the impact that the 360Plus Leadership Collective has made on each student accepted into the program has been extraordinary. Having the ability to explore new cultures, landscapes, languages and better understanding the impacts of climate change on the fragile Himalayas of the Ladakh region of India has provided a critical perspective for each student to bring back to their own communities in the United States and India. As we roll out these video profiles in the upcoming weeks, you will be able to better understand the journey of these students and the impact that this experiential way of traveling and learning has had on them. Whether you are thinking of applying for the program, interested in cultural exchange or just curious about the program, please explore the stories of these students and the ways in which this experience impacted them in unique and inspiring ways.
July 4th, 2017-Oakland, California
It is the eve of the start of the 360+ Leadership Collective 2017 and today is Independence Day here in the United States as I ponder the journey that the group will commence tomorrow. This past month, as a filmmaker, I’ve had the special opportunity to visit many communities, students, families and nations for the first time. And, I have been joined by Shraddha in New York and Christina in Chicago. This start of this project has spanned from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and soon will arrive on the banks of both the Yamuna and the Indus. Rivers, and the fresh water they contain, are life. They often start in high mountains – springs and glaciers and rainfall – all moving with a common goal, to hopefully reach the sea and for the human and animal communities in between, this fresh water is critical for survival.
Over the past month, I’ve found myself on the banks of the Mississippi River and beside the Hudson. I’ve been high in the Appalachian Mountains and on the dry, parched hills of Northern California. With the help of the families and students I’ve spent time with, we’ve visually explored outside the White House in D.C. discussed migration due to natural disasters, hiked forest trails, explored rolling hills and conversed about invasive species on the outskirts of a large metropolis.
It is evident to me – as an observer and storyteller, an educator and adventurer – that the natural world and our relationship with it is important to all the communities I’ve encountered and that as a species, we are only touching the surface in our relationship to the natural world. This year’s Leadership Collective trip to India focuses, critically, on climate change within an Indian and Global context. Undoubtedly, this year’s 20 young American students from diverse backgrounds and the 5 young Indian students from equally diverse backgrounds are on the cusp of an experience that will challenge us all – as students, educators and filmmakers – to understand and visualize the impact that humanity is making on our planet, Mother Earth.
It is important to note that the film team in India, Epti and Meghana, have had an equally diverse experience documenting the Indian students from both rural and urban India. And soon, these groups of students will meet one another to venture into an experience of learning about one another and converse about climate change, discussions will arise and conversations will be sparked on riverbeds, in mosques, in conference halls and while breaking flatbread.
Over the month of July, please check in here, for updates on the film project. Soon, we’ll be sharing stills (and perhaps little snippets) of the places we’ve been and conversations we’ve encountered… And later in the year, a film about the journey these young, inquisitive high schoolers from all walks of life have taken in the hopes of better understanding our world.