Zoe Sherinian, who is also the School of Music’s chair of the Division of Musicology, Ethnomusicology and Music in general studies, said her documentary focuses on the unique model used by the Sakthi Folk Cultural Centre for Dalit women's development. Sherinian said Dalit is an anti-caste word used to describe individuals who the caste system has designated as untouchables.
The film explores how the program utilizes folk art and social analysis to challenge gender, class and caste subjugation by empowering young women through performance and education, Sherinian said. The Dalit women learn folk songs, dances and play traditional instruments such as the Parai drum.
"What I really tried to show in the film is how studying the folk arts and building this community around the folk arts as performers helps them to learn tailoring, helps them learn basket weaving (and) helps them pass their high school exams," Sherinian said.
Sherinian said her goal was to impact audiences with the message that castes exist in India, and the Dalits are using traditional dancing and drumming to transform themselves and fight internalized caste and gender oppression in the process. The film utilizes narration directly from the Dalit women to tell their collective story and confront the audience with the reality of their lives as untouchables in their society.
"These people have agency, and they are using their own folk art and their own cultural expression to fight this system," Sherinian said
"Sakthi Vibrations" competed and won against a record of 180 films at the 21st edition of the annual deadCenter Film Festival, which is one of Oklahoma’s largest and most celebrated film festivals, according to its website.
The documentary was also accepted into multiple other international film festivals, including the ARTS x SDGS Online Festival, Paris Ethnografilm Festival, Toronto International Women's Festival, Bangkok International Documentary Festival and the United Nations NGO CSW65 Forum for a virtual screening.
"It was shocking and overwhelming but just felt so wonderful," Sherinian said. "It's about finally this kind of validation for the loving labor that you're putting into things (and) the recognition of that."
Sherinian said she plans to give all profits from the film back to the Sakthi Folk Cultural Centre. She also said she will be teaching a Music of South Asia honors course in the Fall, which will include various workshops on South Asian music and dance, with one on the Parai drum.