Holding international film festivals in regional centres is way to reach out to a larger audience. The proposal to make Delhi the permanent venue is disappointing, says VASANTHI SANKARANARAYANAN.
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, Trivandrum etc. This arrangement gave 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 got 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 fixed at Delhi. This was quite a dampener to the filmlovers, especially from the South. Our attitude may be misinterpreted as the natural bias of the South Indians towards Delhi, which eventhough the capital, is situated in the extreme North of the country, and therefore not easily accessible. Mohammed bin Tughlaq was very right in wanting to change his capital from Delhi to a place in the middle of India. It is very difficult to sit in Delhi and gauge the moods and attitudes of the rest of India and carry on diplomatic or other businesses. Nobody is willing to accept this truth. However, when decisions 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 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 are they coming because they have free passes and would like to be seen watching the festival films. Such people become bored and hardly stay for an hour.
This attitude clearly emerge during this year's festival, when Andrej Wajda's films were screened. While the film lovers thought it 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, according to reports were not available; it 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. So even the so-called advantages did not prove to be helpful this year.
This is the background against which the possibility of having alternate 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 & 1998 Trivandrum). Bombay 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 who delegates 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 par
ticipation in watching the films, discussions and accessibility.
Mr. 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. Mr. 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 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 Mr. Govinda Pillai's claim. I also agree with Mr. P. K. Nair when he calls 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 comes through very clearly 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 Ms. 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, enthusiasm and efforts in getting the film packages went a long way into making this festival a success.
What were the packages that were shown in this 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 belongs to the category of 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 Pressburger. 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 be 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. In order to underscore the importance of children's films, there was a section of such 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 per day. So, for people like me who went basically to see good films, this was a very satisfactory festival.
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 packed into silences or occasional weeping touched most of the viewers. They went to see 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 view-points can be raised; but they should not be reduced to demagogic levels. The seminar on Eisenstein 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 both factors, the disadvantages in holding the festival year after year in the capital city and the advantages of having it in regional centres. Decentrailisation is good in any context 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 film 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 search and 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 texture altogether if the the Festival Committee and the Central Government took a supportive and not a competitive attitude to these regional festivals. Regional festivals are not just celebratory events. They are studying experiences and there 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 even friendship and comradeship with other regions can be developed. The film loving crowd thereby becomes a fraternity in itself and link in fostering fellowship feelings between different regions. If such an effort is made in literary and other fields such as music and dance why can't it be done in the field of film also?
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