Drowned Out

Three choices. Move to the slums in the city, accept a place at a resettlement site or stay at home and drown.

The people of Jalsindhi in central India must make a decision fast. In the next few weeks, their village will disappear underwater as the giant Narmada Dam fills.

Bestselling author Arundhati Roy joins the fight against the dam and asks the difficult questions. Will the water go to poor farmers or to rich industrialists? What happened to the 16 million people displaced by fifty years of dam building? Why should I care?

DROWNED OUT follows the Jalsindhi villagers through hunger strikes, rallies, police brutality and a six-year Supreme Court case. It stays with them as the dam fills and the river starts to rise...

'The rising waters are the dramatic text and context through which Armstrong's beautifully made documentary on the villagers' loss of home, the costs exacted by development, and the diminution of democracy, unfolds. Loss provides the narrative arc, and Armstrong successfully manages to prevent it from swirling into some romanticized notion of primitive other, steering us towards a richly-hued sense of what Jalsindhi, as place, as home, as community means...and what it might mean to lose it.' Shelley Feldman, Cornell University and Gayatri Menon, Cornell University, Visual Anthropology

'Tradition and technology clash in a heart-breaking crisis that symbolizes the heart of modern Indian politics...Armstrong gracefully captures the soul of her subjects, along with the rich palette of their colorful lives. Viewers almost feel the river running through their toes.' Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars- as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival

'A film of enormous heart, grit and insight that is both taut political essay and enormously moving plea.' San Francisco International Film Festival Jury

'Of three recently produced documentary films on the ever-controversial Narmada dam, Armstrong's intimate portrayal of the people of Jalsindhi village comes closest to the genre of ethnographic film. Drowned Out serves as an ideal learning tool for applied anthropology courses that explore the dilemmas of development. The film moves between local and national-global issues, while emphasizing the importance of small, people-centered development over large megaprojects. It is a brilliant balance of investigative journalism and human pathos and will be useful for courses in applied anthropology, South Asia studies, and global- international development studies.' Nandini Gunewardena, University of California, Reviewed for American Anthropologist

'The DVD is, frankly, the most complete I have ever seen for a documentary feature, loaded with extras, all of which are of a high quality and all of which contribute to the story, the characters and the message of the film - there's not a superfluous special feature in the whole, succulent bunch.' DVD Outsider

'Documentaries rarely, if ever, come better than this. It is impossible to overstate that this is absolutely required viewing.' Royal Gazette (Bermuda)

'An inspiring record of a quite extraordinary campaign of mass resistance, at once angry, compassionate, disturbing and yet empowering, it makes for urgent and necessary viewing...Critics Choice' Time Out (London)

'A powerful and masterfully crafted study of a stand-off between the powerless and the powerful.' OneWorld Media Awards Jury

'If you see one doc at the SF International Film Festival, this should be it.' Kathleen Wilkinson, San Francisco Chronicle

'Combining compelling interview footage with creative visuals... This powerful documentary is highly recommended.' Video Librarian

'This intimate, urgent documentary unravels the question, 'Progress for whom?' ...Clear-eyed villagers inspire as they reach out and fight for their lives.' Kathleen Denny, San Francisco International Film Festival Program

'One real eye-opener was Drowned Out, a powerfully intimate report on a national catastrophe still evolving in India. Feisty young British filmmaker Franny Armstrong...makes a forceful case that the dam project, intended to bring water to arid parts of the country, is doing more harm than good with its inept, essentially heartless provisions for a primitive farming people whose traditions go back centuries.' Film Journal International

' is one of the best documentaries made about a dam or indeed any big development project. With accuracy, fairness and empathy, Drowned Out teases apart the strands of a long and complex story. It doesn't preach, it lets both sides of this epic struggle tell their story, but leaves the viewer with a stinging sense of injustice and venality. And it looks great.' Patrick McCully, International Rivers Network

'Quiet, fierce, beautiful.' New Internationalist

'A fascinating film that looks at the human cost of economic development in the name of poverty relief.' Edinburgh Filmhouse - Scotland

'The film highlights not just the Indian political power structure that makes it possible to displace millions, but also the human face of villagers asked to uproot their lives without assurance of reward.' India-West

'A thoughtfully presented account of how a tribal farming family decide to stay and drown in their home rather than relocate to a world where their skills would be useless. It's a troubling, thought-provoking story.' The Metro (Edinburgh) - Scotland

'Provides an insight as to how political decisions made without the knowledge or the consent of those who will be affected, have far reaching effects on people as well as the environment...A very thought provoking film that provides interesting topics for discussion as it poses questions such as 'development for whom, and at what cost?' ...Highly recommended for Asian studies' collections in high school, college and academic libraries.' Geetha Yapa, Educational Media Reviews Online

'Is it really 'progress' if millions must be forcefully dispossessed and lose their livelihood? Is it really democracy when desperate people are ignored despite a large body of evidence that their demands are reasonable? Questions about economic development and environmental ethics are raised in a powerful way. College students in several disciplines are likely to be engaged and challenged by this film.' Paul Conway, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, SUNY Oneonta

'Handsomely produced.' Phil Hall, Film Threat

'There are some films you want to recommend. But this is a film I'd beg people to go and see. It is that important, and it is that moving and inspiring.' Kevin Williamson, Rebel Inc Coffee Shop - UK

'Superb...The film is heart-wrenching as the wheels of privilege turn and crush those without money, education, or access to power. But it's also hugely inspiring to see the quiet, determined courage of common folk rise again and again to the challenge of self-determination and self-protection.' Ernest Hardy, Flaunt Magazine


Main credits

Armstrong, Franny (film director)
Armstrong, Franny (film producer)
Wadia, Nina (narrator)

Other credits

Camera, Franny Armstrong, Ntennis Davi; editors, Gregers Sall, St. John O'Rourke; music, Chris Brierley, Alfie Thomas.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Developing World
Environmental Justice
Human Rights
Indigenous Peoples
Science, Technology, Society
Social Justice


Narmada dam,; Jalsindhi, Arundhati Roy, dam removal; "Drowned Out"; Bullfrog Films

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