Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival returns to the Capital with ambitious plans for the future.

Returning from a two-year-sabbatical, the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival begins in the Capital today. Commencing with Keiichi Sato’s animated feature film Asura, the ten-day-long festival of Asian and Arab cinema concludes on August 5 with a screening of Rituparno Ghosh’s Chitrangada.

Given its selection of 175 films from 38 countries, including nearly 125 premieres of various kinds, it is easy to lose sight of the background against which these films will play out. However, Delhi, as the choice of venue, is not incidental to the festival in any way.

Panel discussions titled “Is Delhi our next cinema city?” and “Filmmaking in Delhi: challenges and opportunities” reveal a distinct effort to promote Delhi as a cinema hub. Nevile Tuli, Founder Chairman at Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art Private Limited, says, “Given the significant increase in filming in Delhi due to its magnificent architectural backdrops, diplomatic communities, and other advantages, it is time to take forward the concept that like Rome and Venice, if not beyond, Delhi must now stake its claim for global pre-eminence.”

Eminent persons from the government and the film fraternity, including Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Uday Kumar Varma, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Imtiaz Ali, Prasoon Joshi, Raghu Rai and others will participate in a two-day summit (July 31 and August 1) to deliberate on the subject of Delhi as a film hub.

Moreover, the film festival will be followed soon by the inauguration of Osianama, a museum of art and film artefacts. Its collection can be glimpsed today in exhibitions of Indian film memorabilia. The festival also comprises lectures and master classes. Chief among these is the first annual Mani Kaul Memorial Lecture being delivered by Marco Mueller, Director of the Rome International Film Festival. The filmmaker who passed away last year is also the subject of a tribute which comprises films such as Dhrupad, Siddheshwari and Idiot among others. Apart from the Siri Fort Complex, Blue Frog at the Kila Complex near Qutub Minar has been enlisted as a venue for the festival’s events.

Despite additions to venues and ambitious plans, the fundamental design of the festival has been retained. The competitive categories, for instance, are the same. The competitions — divided into the Asian and Arab, Indian, first features and short films categories — will be viewed and judged by a mix of academics, filmmakers and theatre persons.

Directors are excited by the prospect of showing their films to a new and eclectic audience. According to Ashish R. Shukla, whose film Prague is part of the Indian competition alongside at least eight other features, “Osian’s would be an honour to showcase my work to the eminent audience from India and abroad and also to explore the space and acceptance for my kind of cinema as a first time filmmaker.”

Additionally, the festival has dedicated a segment to films that have run into trouble with authorities. Titled “Freedom of Expression”, the segment includes films such as Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, which generated a controversy for depicting the free Tibet flag, Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film, shot by the Iranian director under house arrest, and Passolini’s Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom which was banned in several countries for its graphic depictions of sadism.

Cultural intolerance has been a concern of the organisers, and the rapid deterioration of the climate of tolerance has necessitated the raising of awareness, especially in the youth and urban middle classes, Tuli adds. The theme of freedom of expression runs through the retrospective the festival has mounted on the films of Koji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi, whose works Tuli describes as “bold and genuine depictions of creative will”.

With its “Environment” section, the festival has accorded importance to natural heritage, over and above its sustained focus on manmade heritage. This section includes documentaries such as Toshi Fujiwara’s No Man’s Zone, which looks at people continuing to live in the evacuated zone around the Fukushima nuclear power station, and Abdul Rafia Fazili’s Mangroves, which highlights the collaborative efforts of governments, NGOs and local communities in restoring mangrove forests. This concern for the environment is also reflected in the turtle that is the festival’s new logo.

It remains to be seen whether the capital will be transformed into a film hub. By way of waiting, one can watch the films at Osian’s.