IN India, the International Film Festivals are usually held once a year, one year in New Delhi and the next year in one of the other centres such as Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Trivandrum. This arrangement has given the various states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, which have a reputation for committed filmmaking, an opportunity to host these festivals and give a chance to the cineastes and film loving public of these states an exposure to international films. Even people who are not in a position to travel all the way to Delhi either because of financial constraints or because of their professional commitments now have a chance to see international films and meet directors, critics and actors from other countries.
This year, when we went for the IFFI 1998 at Delhi we understood that the Film Festival committee as well the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting were seriously considering to have the venue of the annual film festival at Delhi. This was quite a dampenen to the filmlovers, especially from the South. It is very difficult to sit in Delhi and gauge the moods and attitudes of the rest of India. However, when issues such as a permanent venue to hold film festivals are discussed, this imbalance in having the capital city at one end of the country becomes a moot point. Distance apart, Delhi has several disadvantages for a serious film lover. Being the capital city it has hierarchical dispensations and a penchant for formality in all activities. This does not in any way promote an atmosphere for a film festival which is characterised by informality. Moreover, when the festivals are usually held in June it is too cold and the screening starts too early, adding to the difficulty.
Let us now look into the kind of audience (apart from those who come from other parts of India) who come for the film festivals held in Delhi in the alternate years. Most of them are Government employees who manage to wangle a delegate pass somehow or the other not only for themselves but also for their family and friends. Are these people really interested in watching serious international films? Or do they come because they have free passes. Usually such people become bored and hardly stay for an hour.
This attitude clearly emerged during this year’s festival, when Andrej Wajda’s films were screened. While the film lovers thought it was a great opportunity to see 21 films of this master and thronged the small Siri Fort III auditorium, there were others who came and went, opening and closing doors, talking to each other, generally creating a great deal of disturbance in spite of gentle and not too gentle warnings. Does Delhi really have a film culture and a genuinely film loving public?
Against all these disadvantages, there is only one advantage that the festival committee does not have to move around like they do now, when festivals are held in other cities. This gives them some stability; organisation becomes easier; planning is simpler. Yet, the question remains, with all these advertised advantages, did this year’s committee have an easy time arranging the festival? Funds were not available or they came too late to clinch good film packages. There were problems even with publishers of the festival book and the schedules. The Festival Director faced severe difficulties on account of all this. As a result even the so-called advantages did not prove to be helpful this year.
This is the background against which the possibility of having alternative festivals in the form of regional film festivals is considered. Even before the proposal of making Delhi the permanent venue of the IFFI came up, the idea of regional film festivals had taken shape. Kerala has now held three international film festivals, (1996 Calicut; 1997 and 1998 Thiruvananthapuram). Mumbai and Calcutta held international film festivals in 1997. They were fairly successful though they did not have the same magnitude as the IFFI in terms of financial outlay, number of foreign films shown or the number of foreign delegates who attended.
The International Film Festival of Kerala, 1998, however, was an exception not only to the regional film festivals held previously, but even to IFFI, 1998. It actually proved that a regional film festival can be more satisfying to a real film lover and can match the IFFI in quality of films screened, quality of screening, the hospitality and warmth accorded to delegates, the quality of audience participation in watching the films, discussions and accessibility.
P. K. Nair, ex-director of National Film Archives and consultant to this festival hailed it as “a festival with a difference.” Was it, and if so what was the difference. P. Govinda Pillai, Chairman of Kerala State Film Development Corporation, who was the chief organiser of this festival commented that this festival with a financial outlay of approximately 50 lakhs was in every way superior to the International Film Festival of India conducted in New Delhi with a Rs. 2.5 crore financial outlay. Is there any truth in his claim? As one who participated in both the festivals as a press delegate, I tend to agree with Govinda Filial’s claim. I also agree with P. K. Nair when he called this a festival with a difference.
As a person who has been attending Indian film festivals for the last ten years I find this festival of Kerala one of the most satisfying. My first comment on the organisation of the festival is that for the first time I felt that it was organised by a person who knew something about films and filmmaking. It was reflected in the selection of the films, in the scheduling of films, in the supervision of the projection of films, the discussions and seminars organised. The credit to a very great extent, goes to Bina Paul Venugopal, Director of this festival. A graduate from the Pune Film Institute with specialisation in editing, she is working for CEEDIT, a unit of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, Her untiring energy and enthusiasm in getting the film packages went a long way into making this festival a success.
What were the packages selected for the festival? A short retrospective of the widely acknowledged master Luis Bunuel’s films was one of the chief attractions. Instead of choosing his earlier films, the organisers chose to show his later films of the Sixties and the Seventies which showed Bunuel at his best, the ultimate anarchist in filmmaking. Another major attraction was the films based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s stories. The package had the title, “Amores Difficiles” (Dangerous Loves) and were directed by five Latin American directors and one Spanish director. Not all films in this package were great films which captured the enigmatic and lyrical magic of Garcia’s stories. However, there were some such as "Miracle in Rome”, “The Summer of Miss Forbes”, and “I’m the one you are looking for” which managed to capture the magic and strangeness of the themes. The festival focused on films from developing countries which in itself was a novel feature. So there were films from Vietnam, Mongolia, S. Korea, Sri Lanka, Iran and Turkey.
As India itself is a developing countries, the logic of choosing films from other developing countries was justified. There were two films from China, one from Japan and six from African countries. There was also a package from Great Britain — Michael Powell and Emeric Presshurger. Apart from this there was an assortment of films from France, Germany, Portugal, Israel, Czeck Republic and “Our God’s Brother”, the latest film of Kristoff Zanussi, the celebrated Polish filmmaker who was the chief guest for the inaugural of the festival. In order to mark the centenary celebrations of Eisenstein, who is considered to he the father of films, the festival included a retrospective of his films and held a seminar on Eisenstein. The Indian film section was also good. There was a Freedom films package, a retrospective of films by P. N. Menon, a celebrated director in the pantheon of Malayalam films and films in memory of the well known sound recordist, late Devadas. There was a section of children’s films too, Altogether there were 117 films, but what
interested me most was that on any day of the festival, one could see five films, none of which were bad, some outstanding, some good and others satisfactory. Such a mixture is not an easy task to achieve for the organisers. Invariably the fare would be one good film a day. So, for people like me who went basically to see good films, this was a very satisfactory experience.
One of the important facets of a film festival is the ambience it produces. It is not only a time for seeing good, or latest films from other countries, but it is a time for meeting other film lovers, directors from India and abroad and exchanging views, In a city like Delhi obsessed with its bureaucracy and hierarchies, ordinary people felt like outsiders; unwanted guests. but, in Trivandrum the atmosphere was very informal and cordial, and those who were there that day had genuine love for films and commitment to the cause of film.
In Kerala, film is a love, a cause, a commitment. Everyone who comes to see films knows somethings about the film, the director, the technique and antecedents of films. It is an earnest and serious crowd. They may look very ordinary, but their knowledge on films is amazing. Visitors from Delhi commented, "How do they know which is a good film. They seem to smell it”. Invariably the theatres where good films were screened were crowded. I can understand film lovers crowding Bunuel and Marquez shows. But, how did they know that Omar Khavur, the Turkish filmmaker is a great master?
Again, how did they know Alexander Shukarov’s "Mother and Son” was a masterpiece? “Mother and Son” is an unusual film. It is a slow moving, minimalistic, sparse film. The dialougues are limited. The action is minimum. There is no storyline. But the poetic and lyrical quality of the visuals and the intensity of emotions touched most of the viewers. They saw it a second time and voted it as the best film of the festival.
The quality of the discussions held at the “Open Forum” or “Face to Face” with the directors were definitely satisfying. The only jarring note was the discussion between Krystoff Zanussi and Govinda Pillai on Religion, Ideology and Films. Differing views can be raised; but they should not be reduced to demagogic levels. The seminar on Bisenstein was also a great success. Two Eisenstein scholars, Samik Bandopadhyaya and Rashmi Doraiswami read good papers. Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, P. K. Nair, and Zanussi also spoke on what made Eisenstein relevant even now in the world of films.
So, to sum up this discussion on the relevance of regional film festivals, one has to take into account the two factors, the disadvantages in holding the festival, year after year in the capital and the advantages of having it in regional centres. Decentrailisation is good in any field and film festivals are no exception. If the aim of film festivals is to reach out to a large number of film lovers, it would be better to hold these festivals at different centres It gives the states, hosting such festivals, a chance to show their initiative and innovation in this aspect. There are certain states which have always shown a great awareness about films, such as Kerala and West Bengal, and if regional festivals are held in these centres the quality of film screening, and viewing would be of a higher scale than Delhi or even other centres.
Over the years, it has become clear that Film Festivals cannot be organised well by bureaucrats who do not have even a vague idea of what a good film is. Festivals therefore, should be organised by film experts, those who know where good films are produced and how to get them. Bureaucrats can take care of the day to day nitty gritty details, but the planning the conceptual visualising of holding film festivals should be left to the expert, one who has the theoretical and practical knowledge of films. This is possible only if the emphasis is shifted from the centre to the states and a serious attempt is made to find people skilled in this aspect.
The present disadvantage in holding film festivals on an international level in regional centres is lack of facilities, good theatres, good hotels and probably good airports. Instead of blaming it on these disadvantages and obstructing the path of organisers of regional festivals, the Central Government and the Festival committee should lend support and encouragement. These infrastructural difficulties can easily be rectified with support and financial aid by the Centre and especially by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting strictly on the basis of merit — past performances, initiative and potential for such events.
Right now, regional film festivals are being held in order to escape the monopoly and stranglehold of the centralised IFFI’s. But, it will have a different tone altogether If the Festival Committee and the Central Government took a supportive rather than adopting a competitive attitude towards these regional festivals. Regional festivals are not just celebratory events They are studying experiences and are offshoots from such ventures, such as the proposal for a film academy in Trivandrum.
If regional film festivals are taken as learning and awareness disseminating experiences, and their focus is shifted from competition to complementing of the central IFFI’s, their relevance becomes very clear. Through films friendship and comradeship with other regions ca be developed.
The film loving crowd thereby becomes a fraternity in itself and a link in fostering fellowship between different regions. If such an effort is made in literary and other fields such as music and dance why not in the field of film also?