Undoubtedly the best in India.That is how P.K. Nair, one of the pioneers of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), described the decade and a half year old festival.

Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the 15th IFFK on Saturday Mr Nair, renowned film scholar and founder director of National Film Archives of India, said that focus on films from developing countries has helped IFFK in building up its own unique identity.

``When we started this festival we wanted it to be a festival with a difference. Back then the discerning film audience of Kerala were familiar with films from Europe and America and to some extent Russian and Japanese cinema. But film from African, Latin America and developing Asian countries were almost totally unknown. So we wanted to project it. I am glad that they have been able to maintain this outlook even today after 15 years,’’ he said.

Mr Nair, who is nearing 80, said that he has never given a miss to the festival except in 2005 when he was bedridden after a fall. Praising the IFFK team he said that festival owes its growth and recognition to the quality of films and its audience.

``There is tremendous enthusiasm among the Kerala youth to cinema. Every second person I meet on the streets of Kerala wants to make a film. I think this festival has given them a kind of incentive and perspective to think laterally about film-making,’’ he said.

Despite ill health the veteran film archivist and historian continues to be a regular at festival circuits and is keenly involved in the activities of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, where he single-handedly set up the National Film Archives more than four decades ago.

Recently he was appointed by the government to head the committee for re-vitalising the courses and curriculum of FTII. As the head of the committee Mr Nair is now fighting moves to privatise the Institute and enhance students’ fees.

``There was a move to privatise the institute on the sly because some bureaucrats thought that it was a waste to spend so much money on training film-makers. With the support of the students we are opposing this move because FTII is a centre of excellence which has produced so many talented technicians and artists,’’ he said.

He added that the move to enhance fees also cannot be accepted as it would steal the opportunity of students from small towns and humble backgrounds. ``The outlook of a person coming from a rural background is totally different. We need such film-makers and artists,’’ he said.

With so many things to be done and so much responsibility, Mr Nair will have to head back to Pune soon after the festival. However over the next week he would be relaxing to the visual treats offered by the festival.

``I am looking forward to the retrospective on Herzog. He is one of my favourite directors. I was the first person to introduce his films to the students at the Institute. It was thrilling to meet him yesterday,’’ Mr Nair said.