Tell us about yourself

A documentary made by filmmaker Syed Fayaz and WTI, ‘A Brush with Death’, helped create awareness on the cruelty meted out to the animal. The documentary, released in 2002, was based on studies and research and contained footage of undercover operations revealing the scale and brutality of the trade. Many art schools across the country went ahead and banned the use of paint brushes made with mongoose fur.

30-year-old Syed Fayaz, has documented the use of mongoose hair in paint brushes, the illegal shahtoosh trade, and more recently a moving account of victims of silicosis in Gujarat in “The Way to Dusty Death”, a Rs 3.5 lakh budget film funded by Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT).

A broadcast journalism student from the University of Wales, he feels strongly about the need for “more forums like PSBT to encourage young documentary filmmakers”.

Tell us about your work

DETERIORATING environment and the threat to flora and fauna worries the Delhi-based filmmaker, Syed Fayaz, who has four investigative wildlife documentaries to his credit.

“Documentaries are an effective medium to sensitise the common man about the deteriorating biodiversity,” believes Fayaz. One of his investigative documentaries is on the endangered otter in India.

…And Then There Were None, the 15-minute documentary on the rampant poaching of the otter, shot in Jammu and Kashmir, focuses on the shocking illegal trade of the animal. The film, which made it to the final of the International Wildlife Film Festival, 2004, in Montana, USA, showed how nomadic riverine communities hunt the otter with the help of trained hounds. It also highlights the widespread illegal trade of tiger and leopard skins and their body parts.

“These playful animals are being hunted for their highly prized pelts, which are smuggled out of India for making fur coats and trimmings,” says the filmmaker, who won the Golden Tree Award at Vatavaran 2003 (National Wildlife Film Festival) for his film on conservation, A Brush with Death.

This film is about the poaching of the mongoose to make drawing and paint brushes. “Let art not wipe out the species” is the theme of the 22-minute documentary.

The persecution of mongoose for production of paint brushes was made common knowledge by the award-winning documentary ‘A Brush with Death’ by filmmaker Syed Fayaz and WTI, produced as part of a study that began in April 2002. The documentary contained footage of undercover operations revealing the scale and brutality of the trade; it was screened before policy makers, media and wildlife conservationists to generate awareness.

What inspired you to become a a wildlife filmmaker?

“Making wildlife documentaries is not a matter of livelihood but a passion with me. I treat it more as a social responsibility.”

“To be an investigative wildlife filmmaker, one needs to be aware of many things such as the law and, of course, the threat involved.”

“Before making a documentary, one should be mentally prepared to work round the clock and even go without food for days,” says Fayaz.

“What has always shocked me is that we all tend to focus on big animals and ignore the small animals. Every animal and insect has a role to play. If we lose even one of the species, there are definitely going to be repercussions. We may not be able to see them immediately but we will have to face them in future.”

In 1998, he made a documentary on shahtoosh trade in Jammu and Kashmir.

His recent production is A Walk on the Wild Side. Funded by the British High Commission, the documentary is yet to be released. “The documentary takes you through the natural heritage of our country,” says Fayaz.

He has also received the UK-Centre for Media Studies Environment Fellowship for his proposed documentary The Hot Planet and the Hole in the Sky. It will look into the effects of global warming in India.