Friday, January 2, 2015

19th International Film Festival of Kerala



Through 2014, the lack of funding and also able management dealt near-fatal blows to leading film festivals held across India. Mumbai’s annual MAMI held in October almost collapsed because its sole sponsor did not renew its support. Help from the film capital’s younger film fraternity (namely frontline crusaders Anupama Chopra and Kiran Rao) salvaged the event, lending it a flourish under festival director Narayan’s well-attuned baton. It is Narayan’s leadership that has helped MAMI make its mark in recent years, not only internationally but also in its over-driven host city. Speculation is rife on what avatar MAMI will don when it surfaces in 2015. 

The highly respected, somewhat high-brow International Film Festival of Kerala (KIFF) held towards mid-December also floundered when its feisty and knowledgeable Artistic Director, Bina Venugopalan, left after a ten-year association to head the newly formed Kerala branch of Prasad Laboratories However, festival luminary Adoor Gopalakrishnan along with the film personalities heading Chalachitra Academy (the organization that hosts KIFF) led a last-minute rescue operation that surprised one and all. 

Held over December 12 to 19, the 19th edition of KIFF had its usual film-hungry audience that filled its numerous over 1000-seater single screen theatres to dangerous levels. The local movie buffs are so enamoured of festival fare that they bypass any disciplinary measures. The serpentine line-up at festival theatres starts at dawn. The triumphant ticket-holders then hurtle in hundreds into the theatres, speeding past all those in their way. With all seats occupied in to no time, the abandoned rest then squat all along the aisles or stand jam packed at the entrance and exit doors. Huddled is acute discomfort, they seem satiated, waiting in amicable anticipation to watch the film they have fought to see. 

On one such occasion, the august international jury arrived to find no way of even getting into the hall much less hope for seats. An announcement was made to spare five seats for the august jury trying to do their duty. Within seconds, five volunteers gave up their comfort zone to slide into the body of people thronging the aisles. 

In recent years, KIFF organisers have been grappled with the problem of such uncontrollable crowds in their cinema halls which endanger fire and health concerns. This year an attempt was made to introduce on-line registration to balance the ticket-seat ratio and offer only as many tickets as the cinema hall offers. But the technology fell short of demand and an onslaught of enquiries. Chaos followed. Typically, the fiery film aficionados got their way and filled every inch of the halls. People from abroad, used to bland, orderly understatement when it came to the arts, just loved this passionate abandon when it came to the love of their films. 

2014 KIFF offered a feast of international films even if the programming was somewhat unruly. This festival highlights films from Asia. Africa and Latin America. Its eminent guests included the Cannes award winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan from Turkey was a prominent guest with his lauded film Winter Sleep. closing night guest with his film Wintersleep, and from Italy, Marco Bellocchio received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Sumitra Peries from Sri Lanka delivered the Aravindan Memorial Lecture. The Suvarna Chakoram for Best Film went to the Argentina/France film Refugiado directed by Diego Lerman. 

A new initiative, The Film Market for the Promotion of Malayalam Cinema, was introduced this year at KIFF, aiming to increase the awareness and reach of Malayalam cinema starting with Kerala itself, then within India and importantly, out into the world film scene. Over the past decade or more, regional cinema has been noticeably absent from leading international festivals. Malayalam cinema, highly sought after in the 70s and 80s, now barely make it even to smaller festivals. Besides, award winning Malayalam films do not get released even in Kerala. 

KIFF’s Film Market chose the most recent 18 Malayalam festival-worthy films and set up a three member international jury, June Givanni (London), Jacob Wong (Hong Kong) and Paulo Bertolin (Italy), to select the best among them that they felt could appeal to foreign audiences. These eminent persons know that art-house films often are marginalized and need support to be brought into the mainstream. The jury chose four films, Sudevan’s Cr No 89, Sajin Babu’s Unto the Dusk, Sidhartha Siva’s Zahir, and K R Manoj’s Kanakya Talkies. Chalachitra Academy has made it their mandate to promote and publicize these films throughout the year to help their world-wide visibility. 

The response to KIFF’s Film Market to promote independent Malayalam cinema has been rewarding. Two of the selected four films have already been invited to. Within two weeks, two of these films have been selected by the upcoming Hong Kong International Film Festival. Other festival and market enquiries are coming in. There can now be an effort to screen packages of new Malayalam films. Chalachatra Academy can offer support in strategic ways to new and promising Malayalam cinema.. 

All’s well that ends well? Happy New Year!

                                           Courtesy: - India's first independent on-line daily                                                   launched on January 27, 2014.
                                            Reproducing Uma da Cunha's column dated January 1, 2015.