Sanjay Rawal is an Indian-American documentary film director whose upcoming film Gather is an intimate portrayal of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide. Gather will be available for virtual community screenings in Fall 2020, for more information about the film and how to watch it, see the website.
His first film, Food Chains, chronicled the rise of a group of tomato pickers in Florida who were displaced Oaxacan, Chiapan and Guatemalan indigenous folx, and followed their struggle protesting against poor wages and working conditions that characterize the agriculture sector. His last film, 3100: Run and Become, delved deeply into Navajo and Kalahari San Bushmen running traditions with rare access granted by elders themselves, exploring the act of running as transformative and allowing one to shatter their limitations and discover a deeper sense of self.
Sanjay feels as though he is in a very privileged position as a non-indigenous director to make a film on Native American food sovereignty under the guidance of one of the most vaunted NGOs in Indian Country – First Nations Development Institute (FNDI). He states that this access to their relationships in Indian Country allowed him to be able to make a film on these vital issues with depth and nuance that he never could have reached otherwise.
Sanjay has a track-record working with and for various indigenous groups around the world which informed his ability on Gather to simply listen and be present in an observational manner – allowing the Native American characters to drive their own narratives. He worked in human rights for 20 years, some of which was spent running a foundation that funneled millions of dollars of support to water infrastructure projects of the Dogon (Mali) and the Samburu (Kenya).
Sanjay describes his perspective filming Gather below:
“At the same time, I come from a family and tradition from India that vehemently and sometimes violently opposed the British colonization. While my experience of historical trauma is not analogous to Native Americans, I feel alignment in my approach to de-colonization of economics and my belief in human and civil rights.
It is with this perspective that I approached my role in Gather. My job was to listen and serve. I understood that my abilities are limited as a non-Native but, like in all my films, I relied on the subjects to drive the narrative. I took their lead, guidance and just trained the cameras on them in a way that would expose and honor their traditions.”