Hammer and Flame
UK, INDIA / 2005 / No dialogue / Color / Video / 10 min
Director: Vaughan Pilikian
Photography: S. Nallamuthu
Editing: Vaughan Pilikian, Justin Meiland
Sound: B. Vaidhyanathan, Vaughan Pilikian
Producer: Justin Meiland
Line Producer: Smita Bharti
World Sales: Unruowe
A tanker is split in two at a demolition site for ships, sprawling along the coast of northern India Alang. As if to make us forget that it’s lump of iron, the final moments are gone all too soon gently drifting off the screen. Iron and sweat—with one small tool the iron is shattered into pieces and begins to melt as the sparks fly. Toiling men and women fulfill their solitary, endless labor solemnly. This picture scroll of demolition, born from the harsh beauty of human activity, questions the viewer about the place in which we live and to which we go.
[Director’s Statement] Notes on the death of a ship—On the coast of Northern India lies a place where ships come to die. Driven into the sand at high tide, these great and mournful behemoths stand revealed, like the collapsed monuments of a lost civilization, as the waves recede. Their ghostly towers are demolished by a workforce of men and women, largely from the poorer parts of the subcontinent, using only the simplest of tools. Although the prime harvest is steel, everything from propellers and engines to ship manuals and the crew’s crockery is salvaged. Controversy surrounds Alang, expressed both in India and abroad in rumor, myth, accusation and counter-accusation. Ships are dense shells of toxic material, and while the Western owners and brokers largely evade responsibility for a ship’s disposal once a sale is made, worker welfare and environmental concerns are not of signal importance for buyers in India. Only after long negotiation did we become the first British crew to be allowed access to the yards. We had read and seen the reports, but nothing could prepare us for what we found. A mysterious, shattered city rose and fell, its citizens carrying out tasks seemingly without purpose or end yet doing so with a focus and diligence that belied the almost inconceivable difficulty of pulling apart the gargantuan structures lying on the shore. We tried to tune ourselves to the pulse of Alang, to bear witness, to summon up its enigma on screen. Our film is not so much a documentary as it is a fragment from elsewhere, a brief illumination of a world at the border of what we know and what we might care to imagine.
Vaughan Pilikian is a writer, artist and filmmaker. His book of poetry At Eclipse was published in 2002 in London. His films have screened at various film festivals around Europe. Mummers was nominated for Der Leo at the 2004 Braunschweig International Film Festival and won the award for Best Sound at the Filmstock International Film Festival in England. In April of this year Hammer and Flame had its international première at Budapest’s Titanic International Film Festival. Since then it has screened at several other festivals and in July won the Golden Apricot for Best Documentary at the Yerevan International Film Festival in Armenia. In addition to his activities as artistic director of Unruowe, he is currently at work on a translation of a book of the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic, for New York University Press.