The inaugural Ladakh International Film Festival offered eclectic options to lovers of cinema but lack of infrastructure almost turned it into a flop show

Film festivals are now mushrooming practically every other day either upon the cyber highway, a college campus or a street down your neighbourhood. Delving in eroticism to literature and sports to wild life, they cater everything from sublime to ridiculous all because cheaper forms of multimedia technology has converted filmmaking into an assembly line industry rather than a sensitive and sophisticated art of storytelling.

Obviously, in an age when a large number of people believe pushing the record button of a camcorder is all to creating a film, you do require newer festivals to screen diversified genres of movies. Of course, sometimes you do come across some splendid films that aren’t available at your regular cineplex but many modern day film festivals are merely social events for promoters. Though festival organisers may constantly denounce practitioners of commercial cinema as being detrimental to cinematic craft yet they invariably end up pandering to star divas, making a mockery of their self professed claims of being different!

However, one looked forward to the inaugural Ladakh International Film Festival (LIFF 2012) with enormous expectations as Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Shekhar Kapur were guiding the festival management but sadly, in spite of its magnificent location and hospitality, the pathetic standards of screening made the film fest an excruciating experience for all. What shocked everyone was that except the main auditorium ‘Sindhu Sanskriti’, which was gratifying in terms of seating, acoustics and viewing comforts, the other two exhibition halls – Indus and Pangong – were worse than village classrooms with seating on floor for all viewers!

Surprisingly, it was only after the inauguration of the festival by th J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that the organisers realised the need for black curtains to shut out the light in the subsidiary halls as the windows and doors hadn’t been installed! And as this meant that the two halls were rendered unfit till the second day and there were no printed screening schedules, most filmmakers and viewers were unaware of when and where the films were being exhibited. Surely, a virgin locale might be great attraction for a festival but you can’t expect filmmakers to take kindly to abysmal standards of exhibition especially if their audio-visuals are reduced to a mockery.

Italian producer Marco Fenni was visibly distressed that his film “The Summit” was shown to just half a dozen spectators. “I can sympathise with their difficulties but they can’t butcher a film screening with such poor equipment,” he said in disgust. Dutch filmmaker Ingmar Sauer felt lack of a proper film market was unpardonable “as festivals are great places to showcase talent.” Many viewers were also irked by absence of famous classics of Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan or RajKapoor in the feature film section as well as non-screening of the much publicised first film of India “Raja Harishchandra” by Dadasaheb Phalke. In fact, poor planning was also evident by the fact that the jury chairman Jahnu Barua was not presented with a memento on stage.

Nevertheless, some of the films did make the trip worthwhile, especially Bashar Nawaz’s “Khwab, Zindagi aur Main” by Jayprad Desai, “Bard Song” by Sander Francken, “Partners in Crime” by Paromita Vohra (winner best documentary), “Gulabi Talkies” by Girish Kasaravalli and best feature film award winner “Alexandra David Neel” by French Director Joel Fargges. Though some films did not win the jury’s approval, yet quite a few were much appreciated by the audiences. For instance, “Khwab, Zindagi aur Main” wherein the lyrical movements of camera amidst frescoes heightened the poignancy of the Urdu couplets rendered by Bashar Nawaz. Jayprad showed a mature feel for poetry and seems a gifted director to look forward to in future. Sander’s film, though slightly lengthy, took a delightful look at folklores and singing traditions of ancient civilisations, revealing underlying wisdom and unity in diverse cultures. Similarly, “The Finish Line” by Akshay Roy was a moving saga of school time friendship but could have been handled better with crisper editing and greater attention to silent interludes.

Certainly the organisers must be applauded for giving Ladakh a place on world film map but if they wish to attract the world’s attention and make LIFF a worthy destination, then they need to plan, co-ordinate and execute the festival with greater finesse than they did in its inaugural year.

(The writer, a TV anchor, was at the festival at the invitation of the organisers)