States Of The Art

The Kerala and Bengal governments attempt a revival of serious cinema by launching annual international film festivals
THE acronym has become a sad reality. IFFI (International Film Festival of India) has turned just that: iffy. Mainstream potboilers have wormed their way into the once-sacrosanct Indian Panorama and the overall artistic quality of the Cinema of the World entries has nosedived. Vacuous glitz and superficial glamour have virtually drowned out serious discourse. It’s the sidebar events, especially the retrospectives of the masters, that have kept India’s film festival culture alive. But just about.

Fortunately, aid is on its way from new quarters. The governments of two of India’s most cinema-literate states—Kerala and West Bengal—have decided to hold annual international film festivals of their own. Leaner, cheaper and more rewarding events will bring filmmakers from all over the world and Indian cinear-tistes together in a celebration of the cinematic art every November.

The seven-day International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) ’95, which began on November 1, has just concluded in Thiruvananth-apuram. And beginning on November 9 is the Calcutta Film Festival, an international event funded by the West Bengal government’s Cultural Affairs Ministry, headed by the high-profile Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

"Our festival is not in competition with IFFI. It will seek to supplement its efforts," clarifies Prabodh Maitra, a member of the Calcutta Film Festival steering committee. The seeds of the Calcutta event were sown in 1982 when Satyajit Ray, inaugurating IFFI in Calcutta, lamented that the wait for an event of this nature—often six to eight years—was far too long. "We should have a yearly non-competitive festival in the city," he had said. Thirteen years on, his dream has come true.

P.K. Nair, director of IFFK ’95, feels it is high time that private funding of film festivals became a norm. "It is not desirable to depend on the government for cultural events. If private initiative can promote dance, theatre and art, why not cinema?" For IFFK ’95, the Kerala government sanctioned RS 25 lakh,while the organisers raised an equal amount from private sources. Isn,t there a hint for IFFI there?

The Culcutta Film Festival has an even smaller budget - about Rs 30 lakh, which is one-fifth of what Delhi spends on IFFI.While the government is footing almost the entire bill, private sponsorship has been sought for the arches and refreshment stalls that will be put up during the festival. "Ours is a small festival. So there will be no undue ostentation," says Maitra. To cut down on expenditure, the Calcutta organisers have tied up with the Kerala government. The result: most of the films screened in Thiruvananthapuram’s Kala Bhavan, Tagore Bhavan, Kairali and Sree halls (all four owned by the Kerala government) will now travel to Calcutta as well. In addition, the Calcutta Film Festival will pay homage to Salil Chowdhury and present a retrospective of some Uttam Kumar hits.

"Our accent is on quality, not quantity," says Nair, formerly director of the National Film Archives of India, Pune. On show in Kerala’s capital were over 100 films from nearly 35 countries. There was a retrospective of Mrinal Sen’s films and another on the work of Sri Lankan actress Anoja Weerasinghe. Other riches included a package of nearly 25 Indian films depicting women down the years, 10 Malayalam films made during the last two years and over 20 films in the Contemporary World Cinema section.

In a smart move, the Kerala State Film Development Corporation (KSFDC) has roped in the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) to turn IFFK into a tourism event. The stay of the delegates and all international travel during IFFK ’95  was handled by the KTDC.The Kerala festival, first held in Kozhikode last year to commemorate the centenary of cinema, was originally supposed to be a one-off event. Emboldened by the overwhelming popular response, the KSFDC has turned it into an annual affair.

"Our motive is not profit, so the gate collection will be nominal. Here, people don’t have the paying capacity of viewers in Bombay or Delhi," says Nair. The idea, he says, is to provide film-lovers an opportunity to interface with their favourite filmmakers, which is not possible in the bigger venues.

So when the Calcutta Film Festival opens on November 9 with English August, Dev Benegal’s interpretation of the Upamanyu Chatterjee novel, the Nandan Complex will spring to life once again. November holds much promise for film buffs in Ray’s city.

Next Story : Tiger By The Tail
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