Filmmaker Anna Maguire imbibes Goan culture – and liquor – at Unbox
10th April 2018
The director 'threw herself into the unknown' to attend the collaborative event where everything from cuisine to conservation inspired her filmmaking.
I began 2018 feeling heavy and uninspired. Not a great way to start a new year. Luckily, in January 2017, I won an award for my short film Your Mother and I and the prize was a trip to Goa to spend a week at a festival/workshop/event called Unbox. That’s pretty much all I knew before arriving. I didn’t know who would be attending, what we’d be working on, where I’d be staying or what I’d be doing – I just had to throw myself into the unknown.
Unbox is a collaboration between Quicksand Design Studio, Tandem Research and Busride Design Studio. "It is a platform for experimental learning – multidisciplinary and creative collaborations rooted in people-centric approaches". That's the official line, but the reality goes beyond this to encompass a rich diversity of exploration and experimentation that derives from a deep-rooted belief that empathy for each other is the way forward in design, architecture, art and the research that will take us into the future.
A sprawling, blue, old Goan-style single-floor building welcomed us: me and participants from studios in Bangalore and New Delhi. There was also a two-day conference about the future of work hosted during the same period, bringing participants from all over the world. It was a week of many voices, languages and faces. People from different backgrounds and experiences eating, drinking, working and exchanging ideas in palatial rooms with tiled floors.
Not being from a design background, I wondered how I would bring my skills to the mix. I needn’t have worried. Far from being a week focused on design, it was spent delving into all and any interests we had. The idea was to focus on Goa and the area of Aldona, the place where the Goa branch of Quicksand has relocated to, so as to get to know the neighbours and really take part in the village, rather than existing outside of the local environment.
There were workshops that explored Carrom – a traditional Goan game – sessions on learning to cook the local cuisine, VR projects around traditional household items, pottery, a look at Goan tiles, dress-making, Indian historic architectural ideas that could inspire us and help us today, conservation in the area specifically looking at dolphins and sustainable fishing – the list goes on. I was encouraged to jump on as many projects as I wanted to – and I did! I was unsure at first how this would turn into something tangible by the end of the week, but again, there was nothing to worry about.
As the week progressed I naturally fell to working with Yash Chandak, Eve Wolfs and Kabir David. Together we started to explore the history and distillation process (and effect!) of Feni, a traditional Goan drink made out of the fruits of cashews. We explored tiny bars and restaurants off the beaten track, talking to punters and owners, and we travelled into rural Goa to visit a small distillery, filming and photographing everything.
The idea was to make a kind of documentary, but we wanted its form to reflect its subject. Without ever really deciding what it would be, we created a live-mixed documentary, encompassing visual effects, specially composed music and VJing. As we got more intent on our own project and the week began to draw to a close, our excitement to share our work and see what everyone else’s ideas had morphed into became palpable.
We wanted to include everyone from the neighbourhood who was interested, so a big afternoon party was thrown where local dishes were researched and prepared by Rikta Krishnaswamy and others. We all shared our work: there were presentations, screenings, games events and booklets for the audience to take home. I learnt so much about specific parts of Goa that were engaging and inspiring and that, without everybody’s shared passion and thirst for adventure, I would never have known about.
More than anything, the week was the perfect reminder of how to let go of knowing the outcome before the process begins. Before I arrived I had no idea I’d be working on an experimental live-mixed documentary about Feni. I’d never heard of it let alone tasted it. I didn’t know I’d work with people from all over India and the world to explore Aldona, getting to know the area, the people and the customs and quirks that make the village what it is.
When I returned home I finally felt ready to start 2018 properly, with energy, inspiration and the reminder that the outcome is much less important than the process – and by enjoying the process, the outcome is usually rather interesting.