My first experience of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) was in the summer of 2000 when Kozhikode hosted its 5th edition. Though the scale of the festival was much smaller, the level of energy and enthusiasm among the crowd was the same, or even more, as what you witnessed in its 24th edition.
I have vivid memories of watching Norbu’s Bhutanese film The Cup and some of Italian master Paolo Pasolini’s most controversial and wildly sadistic films. The Pasolini retrospective was the talk of the festival due to their shock value. True to the spirit of festivals, IFFK too has become an annual occasion for diverse people, united by the spirit of good cinema, to come together and celebrate films and life.
Almost 19 years later, for many people, the motivation for festival visits has changed from binge-watching world cinema to one that of bonhomie that includes wining and dining to the search for new stories to long-pending, never-ending discussions to supporting and helping people looking for a break into the indie scene.
We had discussed the controversies surrounding this edition of the festival in an earlier edition of this column. Voices of resistance and protests often find a platform at the festival. This time, there was a large group protesting against the Kashmir blockade. The parallel event, Kazhcha Indie Film Fest witnessed an unprecedented turnout this year. Credit goes to the programmers who ensured that most of the films rejected by the IFFK selection jury were included in their schedule.
One discussion around indie films that I attended in Kazhcha was rich by the diverse views aired by the panelists most of whom were from the reform IFFK group. Some of them whose films were rejected by IFFK had their revenge by screening their films in the parallel fest. One of them released his movie in theatres on the very first day of IFFK. Ultimately, everyone had their share of the festival season one way or the other.
Since the Kerala festival usually follows the one in Goa, people often compare the contents of the two festivals. Some come to IFFK to watch those films that got good audience feedback in IFFI. Those who came to Thiruvananthapuram expecting the best of Goa were expressing their disappointment, though. One quipped: the only thing that traveled to Kerala from Goa seems to be the Feni! For people like me who can no longer watch 5 or 6 films a day, it made little difference.
I have always wondered why a low-key festival like the one in Bangalore does not go wrong in its world cinema selections. Over the years curators seem to have grown lazy to apply their mind and explore the scene for newer, fresher lists and have started picking the best from other prestigious festivals. Small mercies!
A good number of thrillers found place in the schedule this time around. Browsing for reviews, waiting till midnight for the online seat bookings to open and then ensuring that we book for a good mix of films has always been an interesting festival ritual. The other being listening to “audience reviews” that mostly takes place in screening queues or in the nearest tea shop, smoking area or bar.
When you attend a literature festival, you have the luxury of listening to discussions all the time and then leisurely picking up the books that you would like to read. In an international film festival, you cannot miss any opportunity to catch good films because chances are that you will never get another chance to watch them. That’s perhaps why we see festival delegates running around all the time between theaters that spread across the city.
That brings us to the perennial demand for a dedicated festival complex, which usually comes up this time of the year. Perhaps to keep alive a ritual, the government has duly promised to do-the-needful, too, even though the authorities have done precious little to make that dream a reality. While I think it is a good idea to have the entire festival in one huge campus s that houses facilities to screen and promote cinema and other art, I tend to think that it would be a disaster if the complex that the government envisages is just a multiplex in the heart of the city.
The amphitheater Nishagandhi where popular festival films are screened on public demand, has become the face of the festival for many years now, thanks to its capacity to house thousands of people. Those who design the festival complex must take care to understand the many nuances and unique features that make IFFK stand out from the rest.
A large campus with quality screening facilities, conferece rooms and amphitheater, food courts, parking, and even accommodation facilities would not only make life easy for the audience and organizers but also could help cut costs and find regular revenue streams by renting out for other international events such as conferences and seminars that the capital city hosts.
Though I thought I would refrain from reviewing films in this column, I realised that this column would be incomplete without mentioning some Interesting films, especially those that had close resemblance to Indian realities, such as ‘The Parasite’, which attracted thousands in Nishagandhi. Watching world movies not only helps us get a taste of different cultures, but also relate their stories to those closer home.
Watching the black comedy sitting with the likes of Adoor and Sathyan Anthikad, I kept wondering how they would be interpreting the political film narrated in the format of popcorn cinema. Did Sathyan Anthikad get a “been there, done that” feeling watching some parts of the entertainer that resemble many of his and Priyadarshan’s earlier films with Mohanlal?
In the next show, it was amusing to see director Anand Mahadevan doing a tightrope walk avoiding melodrama and preaching in his Marathi film ‘Mai Ghat’, a fine film based on the story of Prabhavati Amma, whose son was tortured and killed in police custody in Thiruvananthapuram. Deja Vu struck those who watched the Balkan feminist satire ‘God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya’ as the gender-equality debate that it triggers is similar to the Sabarmila controversy that raged in the state.
‘The Orphanage’, a film by the woman filmmaker from Afghanistan Shahrbano Sadat, paid rich tribute to Bollywood’s music and storytelling tradition. The deliciously crafted film tells the story of a group of orphans during the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The week-long festival had many more for the delegates to devour, which the delegates have been sharing on social media.
For people like me, IFFK is more than just a series of film screenings. Despite its many flaws, the fest is a confluence of diverse ideas, people, perspectives, hopes, and much more. It is a place where relationships are made and broken, new collaborations take shape and some of your perspectives undergo transformation. Those who haven’t had this experience should try it at least once to get a feel of it. Chances are that you will fall in love and come back the next year. Until next time...
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and a film enthusiast. Read his past works here.)