Bina Paul, Artistic Director of the IFFK, looks forwards and backwards as she gauges the evolution of the festival
With just hours to go before the curtain goes up for the 15th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), the office of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, the nerve centre of the festival, is abuzz with activities. And in the hot seat is Artistic Director Bina Paul who says she sees the festival as a “sacred place, a cultural sphere” that is almost nonexistent elsewhere.
Says Bina: “The evolution of the festival has been quite phenomenal. It has become one of the most important festivals and it has got a good reputation, both in terms of organisation and in terms of quality of programming.”
The focus of the IFFK has been to showcase films from the Third World and to provide a space for not-so-easily-accessible films from different corners of the globe.
Unlike several other mega film festivals, where watching films has become secondary to celebrity watching, the IFFK's highlight remains cinema. “Partying is not a priority here. Filmmakers, cineastes, students of cinema … all of them are busy watching and discussing films and that is a unique feature of this festival,” feels Bina.
She believes it is important to have a sense of the history of cinema, to understand where it has reached and how it has reached there. So while popular and contemporary movies find their place in the IFFK, due importance is also given to pioneers who dared to walk ahead.
“Having Werner Herzog here is really the coup d'etat of the festival. His presence and what he represents enhance the status of the festival. This is a man who is totally dedicated to the art of filmmaking. Of course, there are people who disagree with his films but his place in world cinema is irreplaceable,” says Bina.
Of special interest would be a package devoted to black independent filmmakers from the United States (U.S.). “America is well known for Hollywood, independent films…but here we have a package of films made by people who started working in the sixties and seventies, people who truly fought the odds to make films. For instance, we have Julie Dash. All of us may not know her but it is important to learn about her.”
Julie's Daughters of the Dust has been selected to the National Film Registry in the U.S. in 2004. She was the first black woman filmmaker to make a full-length feature film. Haile Gerima, another filmmaker whose film will be screened during the fete, and Julie were members of the Los Angeles School of Black filmmakers.
IFFK will also be commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore and the 70th birthday of Kumar Shahani by having a screening and discussion of his film Char Adhyay, which is based on Tagore's stories.
Watching this potpourri of films would be festival delegates from all walks of life.
Despite the enthusiasm of participants, Bina admits there are several constraints in terms of finance, manpower and infrastructure. And comparisons with the Pusan Film Festival, which is also celebrating 15 years, are unavoidable. She points out that Pusan has become such an important festival because of its booming market for films.
“There are two reasons for their success. Festival programming and all that are one part of a festival. Marketing is different. One needs a team, a set-up and a budget dedicated to that. The first couple of times, we may have to bring the buyers and build up the network. That is what Pusan did. They really spent time, energy and money on building that market. It is a different but important aspect of that market,” she explains.
But at the end of the day, Bina is all smiles when she says: “The IFFK is really what you call a festival in the real sense of the word. The challenge is to preserve that space and nurture it without destroying it any way.”