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Don't cut my head off (2010)

Somnath Batabyal is postdoctoral researcher of research project C13 "Environmental Activism". In December 2009, Somnath Batabyal visited the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Kopenhagen (COP15). The film focuses on this event and addresses issues concerning the politics of Climate Change. This short documentary was realised by Somnath Batabyal, Matti Pohjonen, and Pradip Saha. (11:54 min)  

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The COP15 climate change summit in Copenhagen was billed as perhaps the most important political event in human history. The planet’s existence depended on it, the people were told.  The outcome of these negotiations and its effects, many argued, would go far beyond the immediate aims of reducing carbon emissions.

Given the billing, it could not be left to chance and more than 30,000 people descended onto the city in December 2009. Amongst them were radical activists, environmental organizations, consulting companies, political lobbyists; they all wanted their voices to be heard by the negotiators who were deciding our future. In the din that ensued, most voices were marginalised. The powerful got their say, the disempowered watched from the sidelines.

This documentary attempts to capture the disconnect between the reality of climate change and its articulation in hyper mediated spectacles like COP 15.
It is inevitably the world’s poorest that deal with the disastrous effect of a warming plant while politicians negotiate who should be allowed to drown and what might yet be salvaged.  Tuvalu and its doomed inhabitants became an abstract notion in the bargaining that ensued between the political elites of nation states.

Somnath Batabyal traces the story of Seno Tsuhah, an indigenous activist from the remote village of Chigami in Nagaland, poised in the hilly corner of Northeastern India. She too had come to COP15 to tell about the sustainable alternatives her community had for contemporary environmental problems. During the hundreds of years the Nagas had lived in the area, they had developed a system of crop rotations and irrigation for rice paddies that did not deplete the resources but worked in relative harmony with the environment. These methods could even be used as alternatives to the diminishing rain that different parts of the world was experiencing because of climate change.  She wanted to share her experiences.  She wanted to talk of alternatives.

Nobody listened.

The Naga people in Northeast India are historically known for being ferocious headhunters. In Naga folklore there is a haunting song about a woman who travels to the next village to get married. Along the way, however, she meets a fearsome headhunter who wants to cut her head off. The woman pleads for her life. Even if you kill me, she pleads, just don't cut my head off.

Using the haunting lyrics of this song as a metaphor of negotiating with killers, "Don't Cut My Head Off" is a documentary that explores the story of one indigenous activist and the ways her community is implicated in the complex web of global environmental politics today. The forces of globalization has indeed taken Seno from her remote village to the political centre stage of Copenhagen. And it is the very same forces of globalization that prioritises the elite who silence her, forcing her to remain a spectator in her own doom. As people write paeans to this interconnected, hyper mediated world, the documentary seeks to ask the basic question: what, if indeed anything, has changed due to globalization and its “democratizing” forces?

Technically, the film uses a visual narrative instead of a voice over. This was done for two reasons; one, it makes the film accessible to people beyond the English speaking world (the interviews can easily be transcribed), and second, the filmmaker did not want to close down the possibilities of interpretation.