The power of women’s storytelling ​in a changing world

Directed by Carlos G. Gómez  •  Produced by Coralynn V. Davis  •  In collaboration with M.S. Suman

Upcoming screening

“Visually stimulating, and emotionally compelling”

Michele Gamburd, Professor of Anthropology, Portland State University

“Presenting a changing society challenging entrenched societal norms with wonderful commentators, it is beautiful, compelling and truly ingenious.”

Susan S. Wadley, Professor of Anthropology Emerita, Syracuse University

“Almost flawless with the metaphors, parallels of the story and present-day life, and emphasis on the importance of storytelling”

Jessica V. Birkenholtz, Associate Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Asian Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Tripart Project

This tripart project explores the interfaces among women’s evolving expressive arts, shifting gender and other social norms, and cultural preservation in the Mithila region of South Asia. The project, situated at the cross-section of social scientific method, humanistic subject focus on story narrative in multiple media – some traditional and some modern – entails the creation of three distinct but integrated digital resources:

Nisha painting Ranjan blue

A hybrid, participatory documentary film

A public digital archive of Maithil women’s orally transmitted tales

Coralynn recording stories in Singhwara near Darbhanga
Students at the Mithila Art Institute

A public digital archive of Maithil women’s orally transmitted tales

Students at the Mithila Art Institute

An educational resource designed for engagement with the film and archive

Trailer

About the Film

Sama in the Forest (2023 / Maithili, English / 75 mins). This hybrid documentary is set in contemporary Mithila, where a rich cultural identity extends from the mythical past into a globalized present in which pressures on tradition are accelerating. Maithil identity is passed on in part through its renowned painting tradition, as well as through its lesser known wealth of orally transmitted folktales. Women play a central role in both of these expressions. In a creative collaboration with local community members, we highlight the tale of Sama, a young princess who wanders into the forest and befriends a young man, only to be slandered by a muckraking confidante of the king, and subsequently cursed and banished by her father. The film combines footage of women telling different versions of the tale, the making of elaborate narrative paintings, a dramatization of the story, a yearly festival that celebrates Sama, and in-depth conversations about the morals and meanings of this and other traditional tales. The girls and women at the heart of our film are students and teachers at the Mithila Art Institute, a small school for young aspiring artists. Additional participants — community members of different genders, castes, and generations — help paint a complex picture of the social tensions evident in Mithila today.

Maithil Women’s

story archive

This archive of Maithil women’s tales is intended to preserve this art for generations to come – for members of the Maithil and broader South Asian community, for scholars and educators of oral traditions in South Asia and around the world, and for the general public.

Coralynn recording stories in Singhwara near Darbhanga

Teaching Toolkit

The Teaching Tool is an interactive pedagogical resource that is organized thematically into modules accessible to teachers and students of gender studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, South Asian studies, film studies, narratology, socio- and ethno-linguistics and community studies. It incorporates materials from both the film and the story archive.

Contact

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