SNAKE BOAT GAMES (Vallam Kali in malayalam) is a lyrical and dynamic feature documentary film that introduces a global audience to the most famous tradition of the remote backwaters of Kuttanad, Kerala, in southern India. The story celebrates a harmonious, culturally and ethnically diverse region through its most quintessentially defining sport of Kerala culture. Snake boats are canoe-like traditional war boats used in a series of famous annual boat races and measuring 100 to 120 feet long, holding up to 100 rowers. Each of the villages in the Kuttanad region has its own snake boat, in which they take great pride. The labor of months of hard training, villagers race these boats along the lakes and rivers and each village sponsors a team and a captain. One of these boats’ captains, Sunil Kumar, narrates the lore, craft and wider meaning of his task and sport, culminating in the exciting race itself. In this way audiences are plunged into the center of an immersive world of boat race training, with Sunil as an authentic and enthusiastic guide.

Proud, celebratory representation of authentic South Asian culture has never been more important. Featuring an original Classical Indian score and indigenous shadow puppetry, the film interweaves history with present-day racing, complete with smartphones and television news coverage. Here water and boats are the lifeblood of local people. VALLAM KALI is a hymn to a sustainable world menaced with disappearance, in which man and water still largely coexist in harmony, a coexistence kept alive by the tradition of snake boat racing. Today Kuttanad’s rivers, once a pristine source of drinking water 25 years ago, are increasingly polluted. What will happen to this region as pollution and climate change become even greater problems? This film has the potential to help protect, support and preserve low-lying Kerala from both pollution and threats to its ecosystem and from devastating floods. In short, VALLAM KALI serves to bridge this beautiful, deeply traditional region with the rest of the world at a time of great urgency for people and landscapes alike.

About the Filmmakers


Phillip Abraham is an independent filmmaker and human centered designer based in Austin Texas, working in documentary and narratives. A Texas native, and multilingual child of immigrants, he has a unique and diverse perspective. His current project is SNAKE BOAT GAMES), 1 of 3 films selected to participate in the Austin Film Society documentary lab. His educational background in psychology and sociology has informed his discovery of people and culture.He also works with at the intersection of government technology and design to create digital experiences for millions of users.  


Andrew Garrison is an independent filmmaker based in Austin, Texas, who works in both documentary and fiction. His current project is BECAUSE I’M HERE. His most recent film is the documentary feature, TRASH DANCE , the unprecedented double-winner of the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at AFI DOCS (Silverdocs) and the Full Frame Film Festival and of SXSW’s Special Jury Recognition at its premiere. “The Washington Post” called it, “sublime,” and said, “… a vibrant, moving document of such an evanescent state of grace is a small miracle in itself.” 

Previous films include the documentary THIRD WARD TX (2007), and the narrative THE WILGUS STORIES (2000), both of which premiered at SXSW and aired on PBS;and the award-winning shorts, FAT MONROE (1990) and NIGHT RIDE (1994). Garrison’s work has earned Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEA and AFI Fellowships. His films have screened at Sundance, SXSW, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Locarno International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Sydney Film Festival, and BFI London Film Festival. A special thanks displayed in the credits.


Angela K. Pires is a film editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been screened at festivals around the globe: Berlin Film Festival, SXSW, Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films, Slamdance, AFI Docs, Full Frame, Rotterdam, Havana, and That’s All True among many others.

“The Prison and The Street” (“Elegantly shot and extremely well-structured documentary… impressive.” – Variety), “Trash Dance” (“Magical” – The New York Times), “61 Bullets” (“A unique and intimate perspective that will prove irresistible to history buffs.” – The Times-Picayune), and Seadrift (“Before this electrifying, long-overdue film ends, one man is dead, hundreds are scared for their lives and heavily armed Klansmen patrol the bay, burning boats and urging white townspeople to “take back our country.””- Texas Observer) are some of the films she has edited.


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