Indian filmmaker Rahul Jain followed up his debut doc, “Machines,” with “Invisible Demons,” about the pollution in New Delhi. The film, which will play in Cannes’ inaugural Cinema for the Climate, will be represented for international sales by Participant and MK2 Films. Jain was in the German countryside trying to find “inspiration in nature” when he spoke to Variety.
• What inspired you to make a movie about Delhi’s pollution?
After “Machines,” I had a downward slump, I didn’t know what to say. For six, seven months there’s this intermediary period when you almost feel worthless as an artist. I feel drained, sure. You see in some of the filmmakers I look up to, I see in their trajectory they have one idea lined up next to the other one. But I didn’t plan anything like that. I went to Bhutan for a month and I was very happy and I guess my immune system was very happy too. I landed back in Delhi and my lungs immediately gave away. Because the air in Bhutan is very clean, within one hour the switch, or the flip must have been too much of a jump for my body to handle. It made me very, very sick. So I realized, at that point I was 25, 26 and if my body is giving away so fast, then Delhi being this ultra-megalopolis, with a very unevenly distributed age bracket, there must be so many casualties. I was already fascinated by climate change as a source of aesthetic study. I was really wanting to understand how have humans depicted their relationship and the loss of the natural world in the last hundred years. This was something that really intrigued me and provoked deep curiosity in my mind.
• We thought the grownups had climate change in charge and you find out they don’t.
I remember there was this one Fridays for Future strike, organized around the world in late September 2019. There was one in Delhi. And there were like 3,000 kids, it was just a minuscule number compared to the 300,000 in Hamburg, but still there were like these 3,000 kids — they all were protesting outside the environment minister’s office, who was also handling the portfolio of the health minister, oddly enough in a country of 1.5 billion people. I don’t know how that happens. And the gentleman came out, the minister, he basically said the same thing that developing countries’ leadership usually answers when they don’t really want to get into the nitty gritty of accepting the reality of people falling like dominos. He said, “The West had their chance, now it’s our turn to develop.” This guy had a smile when he was saying this, it was like an inside joke, it was like a wink, wink. I kind of realized, this is like a broken record. He was just saying it to say it, to get rid of these poor middle-class kids.
• Did you get any pushback from the authorities when you were filming in Delhi?
Most of the time I got away by saying I’m a student, I’m just making a small school project. I look rather young and I used to try to look even younger. I tried really, really hard to have a lean and mean crew, and tried to do everything by ourselves. There were many, many times I got kicked out of my shoot.
• Were you excited when you found out that Cannes has selected this film and is going to show it in the first sidebar dedicated to environmental causes?
I’m very happy that the Cannes Film Festival has introduced a program that is considering art that is focused on depicting the aesthetics of human disconnection with the natural world.