The story behind Shifting Sands

Dubai filmmaker's captivating portrait of Goa's fishing trade


Shifting Sands centres on Goa’s fishing industry. Benita Adesuyan meets the film’s director Sonia Filinto.

‘I was the director, producer, even the catering crew,’ says first-time filmmaker Sonia Filinto as she talks about her debut documentary Shifting Sands. Filinto, a Dubai resident for seven years, is originally from Goa and following a trip back to her coastal home she was inspired to make a film about the impact of fishing on the community. Starting with a crew made up of just a cameraman and a sound engineer, Shifting Sands took a year to produce and was screened for the first time in Dubai in June and is also now available to purchase on DVD.

The 36-year-old former TV producer is drawn to what she calls ‘human dramas’. Her documentary has illuminated the story behind Goa’s tourism industry that many visitors to the region would have otherwise been be unaware of and she feels her film has given the town’s fishing community a voice. ‘In Goa there’s so much focus on fish and fishing – everyone wants to eat it and there’s so much discussion on the issue. Everyone wants fish all year round. There used to be no fishing during the monsoon season to let fish breed and grow, but that’s changing now, and the film is born from curiosity. I wanted to know what the community of fisherman in Goa think.’

As a native speaker of Konkani, Filinto was able to talk freely with the fishermen and discover the impact that the introduction of large trawlers was having on the community, which the 29-minute documentary depicts.

Filinto has shown the film in London and it was also screened last year in Cannes in the non-competitive short film section of the festival, where it was met with praise and intrigue. But it was the screening back in the fishing community of Calangute that was the most profound for the debutante filmmaker. ‘People were very vocal about it,’ says Filinto. ‘It’s something that’s part of their lives so people were more assertive about how to protect their way of life. Some of the issues we touched on in the film, like there’s the lack of pride in being a fisherman – it’s socially and culturally looked down upon in the community, were discussed openly, which is great.’ The filmmaker relished the opportunity to delve deeper into an aspect of her home community. ‘It seems historically even politically they are always fighting for the issues that concern them. They’re speaking in Konkani and it’s not dubbed, so they were happy that someone was giving them an opportunity to speak out. I didn’t go to the representatives or the head of the Goan fishing association, I went straight to the people.’

Filinto even discovered that one of the fishermen featured had gone to primary school with her. He approached her after the screening, a moment that brought the impact of the film even closer to home.

While the film is based in Goa, the post-production work was done in Dubai. Filinto worked with a number of post-production agencies to bring the film together. ‘I think because it was my first film I was able to basically ask people for help. You have to ask for favours to get it done and do a lot of networking. Because it’s my first documentary I could go and ask and people were helpful and receptive, but for the second and third I won’t be able to keep doing that.’

Getting the film finished took several months and she cites securing the technical support and post production as her ‘biggest and only challenge’. Through networking she was able to get Shaista Baig Productions to produce the film, Mango Jam to edit and perfect the sound, and Optix Digital pictures to assist with the grading. Help that proved to be invaluable to the fledgling film director.

‘Once they came on board it was great, but to reach that stage it was definitely the biggest challenge. Personally as an expat filmmaker, there’s not so much resources, not to say that there is no funding for expats but it’s limited, and in your home country you’re not living there anymore so there are limits, however it is encouraging to talk to people who are doing things and sharing ideas and there’s much more support than there was five years ago.’

Filinto is hoping to arrange more screenings for the documentary as interest grows and is also developing an idea based on a crew of female porters. As she starts out on her directorial career she is happy with the reception it has received so far in Dubai but the corporate video producer isn’t quite able to give up the day job yet. ‘That’s the challenge – trying to get your passion projects out there – and merge them into one – or at least bring them closer. I’m fortunate but it’s not quite paying the bills yet.’
Shifting Sands the movie is available to buy. Contact for more information.

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