Kalpna’s recent film ‘The Tree‘ based on a poem she wrote during the pandemic, premiered at the Historical Fargo Theater on the eve of Earth Day and was awarded the 2022 Best Experimental Short Film Award at the North Dakota Environmental Rights Film Festival.
Her work the ‘River of Songs‘ poems and film, are going to the Moon on two separate lunar missions of NASA in 2022 and 2023.
Kalpna Singh Chitnis is an award winning poet, author, film-maker, actor, artist, editor, friend, a stellar woman who wears many hats. Over the years, poetry has connected us on-line and face-to-face, given us beautiful memories, tided us over disagreements and celebrated in bursts of joy our shared love for trees, earth, the natural world and beauty.
(Scroll down to read the poem – The Tree, first published in World Literature Today)
Kalpna, tell us a little about the time when this poem was written. What was happening around you?
Kalpna – The Tree poem was written in the summer of 2020 during the COVID lockdown. It seemed like nothing was happening around us, and everything was at a halt during the pandemic, but much was happening in the world inside and outside. I shall always remember those days for the profound sadness and awakenings they brought. The pandemic renewed my commitments to life and deepened my connection with the universe in a more meaningful way, and inspired my creativity. This is when I wrote “The Tree” poem in a vulnerable state of mind and conceptualized “Oxygen: Parables of the Pandemic,” an anthology of the pandemic poems published by River Paw Press (USA).
When you wrote the poem, was it in response to a particular incident? What were you feeling? Did writing it make you feel better?
Kalpna – The poem was inspired by a true incident of losing a tree (an Indian Laurel) that stood by my bedroom window. I was deeply attached to the tree, as it smiled to me every morning and offered its shade on hot summer days. The tree was home to many birds. Its yellow-green leaves glistening in the sun and swaying with the winds brought me enormous joy. ‘The Tree’ was the only friend and family by my side during the pandemic. But one day, I woke up to see that the tree had to go. Despite all my efforts to save my tree, it was chopped down limb by limb before my eyes. I had not experienced such trauma caused by witnessing a tree felling before. Losing the tree was no less traumatic than losing a family member. I couldn’t save the tree but wanted to make it immortal. I meditated on its life and purpose for days and imagined its rebirth to find comfort. And the tree incarnated in my poem to bring me healings.
When did you decide to make the film?
When I saw the tree felling before my eyes, I imagined its suffering; also the silent trauma of other trees around me, witnessing the execution of the tree. Trees communicate with one another through their roots and branches. It’s a scientific fact. Therefore, I wrote the poem and later decided to make a film on it to tell the stories of all trees and endangered forests through the story of one tree.
Tell us about the creative process involved in translating the poem into the film.
Kalpna – I like to call this process a “visual translation” of my poetry. “The Tree” poem was turned into a screenplay, and the characters from across the globe came to play the role of the witnesses who saw the tree dying. I edited the film myself, so I could translate the vision of my poetry into the film.
While working on it, did you feel the emotions rising? What was it like on the sets?
Kalpna – It wasn’t possible to shoot “The Tree” on a set during the lockdown, amidst several COVID restrictions. Major parts of the film were shot during the pandemic in different countries by different cinematographers in forests and remote locations with a cast and crew I didn’t meet. I had never made a film like this before. It was an experiment. The only parts of the film I shot myself were at home, on the day when the tree was cut down, and in Hawaii after the lockdown restrictions ended. Making the film wasn’t emotional, but watching it after its completion was. In one of the scenes, shot in the rainbow Eucalyptus forest, my daughter Vishwa Chitnis made her appearance, which was a joy. Vishwa is a student, model, and aspiring actor, waiting for her big break in Hollywood.
Did you realise the kind of impact it would have?
Kalpna – I had no doubt that “The Tree” poem and film would have a tremendous impact on the readers and viewers. The tree’s spirit was strong and it pulled me into its orbit to witness its silent suffering and compelled me to tell its story to the world. I didn’t write this poem wearing an activist’s hat. This poem was written from the heart. And what comes out of our hearts makes its way to the hearts of others. I’m thankful to World Literature Today for publishing this poem and all translators who have translated “The Tree” poem into their languages. I am also grateful to our industry and the film community for showing The Tree at international festivals.
And now we come to the best part and every creative artist’s dream: The film premiered at Historical Fargo Theater in downtown Fargo on the eve of Earth Day and was awarded the 2022 Best Experimental Short Film Award at the North Dakota Environmental Rights Film Festival. Congratulations! What does this recognition mean to you, and going forward will you make more films centered around nature?
Kalpna – The award at the “North Dakota Environmental Rights Film Festival” is an affirmation of my poet and artist. I’m certainly encouraged by the recognition and want to make more films with a message. To answer your question about making films centered around nature, it will be relevant to mention that yet another short film of mine, “River of Songs,” based on my reflective poems on nature from Bare Soul, included in the “Nova Collection” and the “Polaris Collection” Lunar Codex time capsules is going with NASA’s missions” to the Moon in 2022 and 2023. I also want to announce here that my next environmental film, “The Earth Remembers” (short), is in the pre-production phase.
Do you have a message for young poets and creative persons starting their journey?
Kalpna – Connecting with nature and learning about cultures, languages, and literature enrich us. So, let’s not lock ourselves in the prison of politics and ideological warfare. The politics and our cherished ideologies aren’t the ultimate truth. Being inclusive and free from what limits our possibilities as humans and citizens of the universe is important. This approach offers fresh perspectives and brings authenticity to our work and creativity, and we make more sense to the world.
Thank you Kalpna, for sharing your amazing creative process and inspiring vision with us. It’s an honour to feature you in Yugen Quest Review.
It did not weep
did not plead for mercy
It fell silently,
yellow as its flesh
dripping white blood,
the deafening sound
of the chainsaw.
I’m the tree
and the one
who kills it.
Its blood was white.
We took away its rouge
and the greenery of its leaves.
When a tree is decapitated
before the eyes of other trees
how do they feel?
When I asked this question to the trees
in response, they stood silent
with their heads down.
Have you ever seen
the execution of a tree?
It is said that the tree
weeps all night
before the day it dies.
It knows the meaning of
the red dot on its chest.
took down the tree,
the sun moved to the west
and everyone left.
Only the earth remained
and me, motionless
where the tree stood once,
filled with joy and gratitude.
Before the adieu,
it left me its shade,
leaves and straws for
the birds’ nests
and the last seed,
in the dried palms
of the earth’s hands.
In the seed
the mysteries of
life and death.
The day they had come
to mark red on its forehead,
it knew they would be back
soon, to behead it.
The day it’s born brings joy.
When it grows — gives flowers, fruits, and shade.
And one day, its life.
My desk is the bare chest of a fallen tree.
Laying my head on it, I can hear its heartbeats.
And leaning on the shoulders of
every window and door of my home,
I can listen to all the forests on earth
The grass wasn’t here.
It was seeded.
Once a tree lived on this ground.
The grass is a green stole
on its tomb.
Was it just a coincidence
that the tree died before my eyes?
Or had it been waiting for me
as one awaits for the loved ones
in the final days?
Before breathing its last,
it gave me an inheritance of an epic.
First published in World Literature Today
Film Synopsis: Inspired by a true event, “The Tree” is an experimental short film written and directed by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis. The film is based on a work of poetry which tells the stories of millions of trees and endangered forests through the story of one tree, which inspired the film. The movie meditates on the life and purpose of a tree and draws attention toward environmental concerns such as deforestation, climate change and its affects on wildlife and our ecosystem.
“The Tree” movie trailer at – https://youtu.be/9mXxrsJiBpo
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is a Pushcart Prize nominated, award-winning Indian-American poet, writer, filmmaker, and author of four poetry collections. Her works have appeared in notable journals such as World Literature Today, Columbia Journal, California Quarterly, Indian Literature, Silk Routes Project (IWP) at The University of Iowa, Stanford University’s Life in Quarantine,” etc. Her works have been translated into fourteen languages. Poems from her award-winning book Bare Soul and her poetry film “River of Songs” have been included in the “Nova Collection” and the “Polaris Collection” Lunar Codex time capsules going on the Moon with NASA’s “Nova-C lander missions to Oceanus Procellarum” in 2022 and “NASA VIPER” rover mission to the Lunar South Pole in 2023. Kalpna’s poetry has received praise from eminent writers, such as Nobel Prize in Literature nominee Dr. Wazir Agha, Vaptsarov Award, and Ordre des Arts et des Lettres recipient Amrita Pritam, and poet and Academy Award winning lyricist, and filmmaker Gulzar. A former lecturer of Political Science, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is also the Editor-in-Chief of Life and Legends, the Translation Editor of IHRAF WRITES, and an Advocacy Member of the United Nations Association of the USA. Her next poetry collection Trespassing My Ancestral Lands is in the making. Website: www.kalpnasinghchitnis.com Twitter: @Accesskalpna
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis studied Film Directing at the New York Film Academy. She has won the “Best Experimental Short Film Award” for directing “The Tree” at the North Dakota Environmental Rights Film Festival (USA) and the “Silver Award” for her short film “Girl With An Accent” at the SMTV Mumbai International Film Festival. Girl With An Accent TV Premiered on LA18 in the USA in 2015. Her feature film “Goodbye My Friend” (2011) was officially selected at several International Film Festivals. The highlights include the Silent River Film Festival (World Premiere), Life Fest (US Premiere), Broadway International Film Festival (Los Angeles Premiere), Dhaka International Film Festival, Bangladesh (South Asian Premiere), Lahore LUMS international film festival (Pakistan Premiere) and Guwahati International Film Festival (India Premiere). “Goodbye My Friend” has been screened at several other venues including a special screening at the University of California in Irvine.
More about Kalpna :
Founder and President: Silent River Film and Literary Society
Editor-in-Chief: Life and legends
Director: Silent River
Two of her artworks created in memory of the Tree that was cut down