Utpal Borpujari

July 20, 2009

Ahmedabad heralds its own international film fest

By Utpal Borpujari in Ahmedabad

In a country full of film crazy people, film festivals are a major – even if limited – window to world and regional cinema. Till recently, before DVDs of world cinema and regional cinema with English subtitles started becoming available in stores, film festivals were the only platform to watch cinema that was beyond the mainstream and that treated the whole thing as an art form. While film societies have played their part in promoting and taking world cinema to many parts of the country, film festivals by their sheer size and scope tend to create an impression of a festival, which is why probably they are called film festivals in the first place.

India’s film festival journey has traversed a long distance since the official International Film Festival of India (IFFI) started a few years after Independence with the nomenclature of Filmotsav. Now, the country boasts of quite a few regular international film festivals of various shapes and sizes and, of course, success levels. Apart from IFFI, which has now moved to its permanent home in Goa, we have four other government-organised festivals – the yearly Kolkata International Film Festival and International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram, and the biennial, Films Division-hosted Mumbai International Film Festival for Short, Documentary and Animation Films and the Children’s Film Society of India-organised International Children’s Film Festival in Hyderabad. Then there are regular film festivals in Mumbai (MAMI, 3rd Eye), Delhi (Osian’s Cinefan), Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. Even smaller cities like Lucknow, Jamshedpur and Thrissur have started their own international film festivals. The latest to join the list is Ahmedabad, which hosted its first-ever international film festival during June 25-28, becoming the first film festival in the whole geographic region between Delhi and Mumbai.

The genesis of the Ahmedabad International Film Festival (AIFF) lay in a competitive international short films festival organised last year by a local film production company called Fulmarxx. With that experience at hand, the organisers this year decided to upgrade the festival to a full-fledged film festival with competitive sections on international short films and Indian feature films. That the city, known for Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, the Space Application Centre and more recently for the infamous 2002 riots, quite wanted something like this was apparent from the level of enthusiasm it generated among cine lovers who thronged the venue to watch a range of short and feature films that not only entertained them but also left them with some food for thought.

The festival, in its very first edition, was able to generate enough curiosity in the film world, and a host of leading film personalities landed up in Ahmedabad to encourage the organisers, among them being veteran director Govind Nihalani, who headed the short film jury, director Sudhir Mishra, producer Vipul Shah, Manisha Koirala, Berlin Film Festival curator Dorothy Wenner, noted film editor A Sreekar Prasad (who headed the feature jury in lieu of Makhmalbaf) and Russian producer-actor Alina Rizvanova.

The highlight of the festival was the short film competition, and the quality and the variety left everyone asking for more. There were more short films as part of interesting packages, such as the Best of Tampere Film Festival and We Care HIV+ sections. The Indian features competition presented quite a few interesting films  from various parts of the country, while a selection of world cinema brought up the rear end of the festival that also showcased quite a few Gujarati films and, laudably, children’s films.

Finally, it was Delhi-based Nishit Mohan Singh’s moving 88 keys to Heartbreak that walked away with the best short film award of $2500 for its powerful artistic realisation of the complex dimensions of an intense emotional situation of the protagonist, a young, aspiring musician, whose dreams lay shattered after a car crash that sends him to a 15-year coma. The jury lauded the film, which also won the best cinematography award, for being able to tell the story with “an economy of expression, a stylistic cinematic discipline and an understanding of human nature”. In the feature competition, the top award went to self-taught filmmaker Paresh Mokashi’s Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory (Harishchandra’s Factory), which through a comic treatment, brought alive the trials and tribulations suffered by Dadasaheb Phalke on his way to making India’s first film Raja Harishchandra. The film, which was screened to wild appreciation, tells the story using a Chaplinesque comic language that instantly connected with the audience.

The best documentary award in the festival went to Azadnagar Gulamnagar by Ahmedabad-based Pravin Mishra for its sharp expose of the plight of bonded labour in parts of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, highlighting the continuing suffering of the victims due to official apathy and corruption in spite of there being a law banning bonded labour. The best direction and screenplay awards went to Diageo Sanchidrian of Spain for The Golden Thread, while the best editing award went to Because There Are Things You Never Forget by Lucas Figueroa, Spain, which was one of the festival favourites. The best sound design award went to the animation film Raah, by Sanjay Jangir, while special jury prizes were awarded to Nepalese director Deepak Rauniyar’s Chaukaith (Threshold) which spoke of women’s emancipation, and Soul Voice Solo Voice by Mallika Sarabhai & Yadavan Chandran which brought alive the life and struggles of Rukmabai, a widowed, physically-challenged Manganiyar singer.

In the feature competition, the best direction award went to Sasi for the Tamil film Poo (The Flower), while the best screenplay award was given to Anjan Dutt for the English film Chowrasta-Crossroads of love. The best cinematography award went to Tapan Vyas for Ocean of an Old Man shot at the stunning locations of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, while the best editing honour went to Suchitra Sathe for the Marathi film Gabricha Paus (The Damned Rain), and the best sound designer was Anup Mukhopadhyay in Bengali film Kaler Rakhal (The Understudy). The festival also gave special prizes to Shridhar Rangayan’s 68 Pages and Sachindra Siddella’s Best Foot Forward for taking up the important subject of HIV-AIDS.

With its focus on short films, a genre that is predicted to become highly exciting both creatively and commercially in coming years in India, the AIFF has chosen to carve out a different identity for itself. And if the first edition is any indication, it is sure going to be an exciting addition to India’s film festival calendar, a few birth pangs notwithstanding.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 19-07-2009)



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