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A still from <i>Writing With Fire</i> by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Gosh, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Black Ticket Films.

Movie Reviews

[Sundance ’21] ‘Writing With Fire’ review: Intimate look at an all female news outlet from India

An all female new outlet makes a big change.

Writing With Fire is about the only all female news outlet in India, Khabar Lahariya (the title translates to “waves of news”). Making its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the documentary follows the almost twenty year old newspaper as it tries to transition to a digital format to stay relevant. Issues of gender, class, and change are discussed over the course of the film.

The filmmakers give a feeling of intimacy to the documentary. The opening moments find a married couple candidly discussing sexual assault with one of the reporters since they feel she is the only one they can trust. The camera is not so much chronicling what is happening as it is a bystander. This is true throughout Writing With Fire.

The film wisely decides to follow three of the women. This gives the audience a broad scope of Khabar Lahariya without making Writing With Fire difficult to follow. It also gives three distinct stories to follow. The documentary manages to be inspirational and emotional naturally. There is no push to make a statement or attempt to add heartfelt moments. The film simply shows what the women do. It is in these moments – watching women from a caste formerly known as “the untouchables” – the true importance of what they are doing comes through.

[Sundance '21] 'Writing With Fire' review: Intimate look at an all female news outlet from India

To this end, there is no narration and the interviews are not the standard talking heads. Footage captured while the women are working on a story are used instead. What interviews are found in Writing With Fire are intimate ones done at home or out in the “field.” This adds to the personal feeling the film is able to get across so well.

Writing With Fire could have used more backstory. There is no mention of how the paper was first started or how women find out about it. Despite the importance of what they are doing, there is never a mention of how it was event started to begin with. It is a surprising oversight that could have been easily corrected. The final act could also have used more explanation.

The best documentaries do more than just shed light on an interesting subject. They give it life and show the relevance. Writing With Fire follows an all female news outlet in India. It shows what they are doing to survive and why it matters even in this part of the world.

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