Hannah Fisher of SAFF Canada was in Chennai recently to meet the leading lights of Tamil cinema in connection with a project to showcase the history of South Asian cinema
It is no secret that South Indian films, Tamil movies in particular, are gaining wider acceptance in several international film festivals. Bollywood may be the face of Indian cinema, but it is Kollywood that is making waves on foreign shores. Consequently, it was only natural for a person of Hannah Fisher’s stature to spend two valuable days in the home of Tamil cinema, Chennai, to meet people for a special feature — SAFF Memories Project — which will be part of the inaugural South Asian Film Festival (SAFF Canada) to be held in Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford from October 31 to November 3, 2012.
Hannah, who has contributed to major international festivals, including the Dubai International Film Festival, the Off Plus Camera Festival of Independent Cinema, Krakow, Poland, and the Kolkata International Film Festival, is the former director of the Vancouver International Film Festival. She utilises her years of experience, relationships, contacts and passion for South Asia, for the development of SAFF Canada.
Bytes from professionals
As part of the festival, the SAFF Memories Project, a special showcasing of the history of cinema from the South Asian countries, is being put together by Hannah. To gather material, including bytes from industry professionals, she visited Mumbai and Chennai recently.
“Actually, it was only Bollywood which was in the scheme of things. But, Rekhs, whom I had met during a Shanghai Film Festival, insisted I look at Tamil cinema which was making waves at several festivals abroad. Thanks to her, I came to Chennai to meet industry stalwarts,” says Hannah.
Says Rekhs, a professional subtitlist and coordinator (for Tamil films) of some international film festivals, “Thanks to the English subtitling, Tamil films have gained more viewers at several international festivals. Many of our stars and directors have a big fan following abroad. Therefore, it is only just that Tamil cinema finds a place in the SAFF Memories Project that Hannah is putting together. Hannah spent close to two days in Chennai to record bytes from directors S. P. Muthuraman, Vijay, Krishnan Seshadri Gomatam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, producers AVM Saravanan, L. Suresh and G. Ramkumar, art director Thota Tharrani, actor-director Suhasini Mani Ratnam and editor Anthony.”
Earlier Hannah went on a Bollywood tour. “I have shot a lot of material in Mumbai with leading Bollywood personalities such as Sudhir Mishra, Vivek Vaswani, Avtar Panesar, Sujoy Ghosh, Arjun Sablok, Subhash Ghai, Ashish Kulkarni, Sanjai Mishra, Pravesh Sippy, Ketan Desai, Vivek Agnihotri, Anand Narayan Mahadevan, Devang Dholakia, Pushpendra Sharma, Rajesh Masaird, Saurabh Pandey, Shiamak Davar,” says Hannah.
Taking people down memory lane
Hannah is going around all the countries that are part of the showcasing at SAFF, to collect material for the Project. The countries that will showcase their films include India, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. “The SAFF Memories Project is one of the highlights of the festival. It is a way of taking people down memory lane. I am starting with India and all these clips and bytes will be available for viewing on a dedicated section on YouTube and our festival website. Select clips will be screened before some of the feature films during the festival. This is our way of celebrating the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema. In fact, for the next year’s festival, Rekhs’ team and I are putting together a focus on South Indian cinema,” informs Hannah. “The SAFF Memories Project was not conceived of with just India in mind, but also to honour all the filmmakers in South Asia. It is our way of creating a family.”
The festival provides a platform for cinematic programmes from South Asia, and opportunities for professional networking between Canadian and South Asian film artistes, through the collaboration of BC Film + Media, the BC Film Commission, the Canadian-BC Film and TV Production Association, the Directors Guild of Canada-BC and Telefilm Canada.
One of the biggest challenges Hannah is facing is funding, considering that SAFF is in a nascent state and its focus is South Asian films. “But, I am pleasantly surprised at the excitement over the concept and the involvement of even the Canadian politicians in the project. SAFF is bringing world-class cinema to Canadian audiences. There are visa-related issues and the lack of an airline sponsor which will prevent us from bringing some leading lights of the industry to SAFF. But, we will surmount all this and are hopeful of making SAFF Canada a big success,” concludes Hanna. With India being represented by two of the largest filmmaking fraternities — Bollywood and Kollywood — SAFF will grow in stature, even as Tamil cinema gets more exposure and recognition.