Friday Review

Images that grapple with the world

A still from Kamal Swaroop's film Rangbhoomi

A still from Kamal Swaroop's film Rangbhoomi   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, showcasing the best of short films and documentaries from India and abroad, focusses on contemporary issues.



The seventh edition of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), which begins in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday, provides a platform for showcasing the best of contemporary documentary films from the country and abroad.

Organised by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, the IDSFFK has acquired an identify of its own. This year, the competition section features as many as 97 films. Apart from national-level competitions in six sections, there is a new award this year instituted by the International Association for Women in Radio and Television for the most gender sensitive film in the competition (fiction or documentary). The increasing popularity and appeal of the festival among documentary and short filmmakers is evident from the fact that these films were selected from about 600 entries received.

True to its continuing focus on the Third World, this year’s festival opens with the screening of two documentaries, one from Latin America and the other from Africa. Paraguayan film La Estancia by Ferderico Adorno, is the winner of the Grand Jury prize winner at the Oberhausen Film Festival this year.

Both the films not only deal with politically charged, contemporary issues, but also experiments with the documentary format. The Paraguayan film is structured like a ghost story in fragments, and is based on a gruesome clash that occurred in 2012 in the city of Curuguaty. It was triggered by a land eviction procedure in which five landless peasants were accused of 11 eleven farmers and six policemen.

The South African documentary, Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me, directed by Khalo Matabane, is a personal odyssey in the form of an imaginary letter to Mandela linked to conversations with politicians, activists, intellectuals, and artists. Apart from celebrating the contemporary, any film festival is also a time to take stock, reminisce and think through retrospectives, homage and special thematic packages.

Filmmaker in focus

The Filmmaker in Focus this year is Saba Dewan, independent documentary filmmaker who along with her cinematographer Rahul Roy has created a body of work focussing on gender, sexuality and communalism in the Indian context.

Her documentaries have assiduously probed various incidents and personalities that mark the socio-political predicament of contemporary India. For instance, her early Dharmayudha captures the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and its communal fallout, while her film The Other Song deals with the art of thumri and the lives of tawaifs, weaving together an endangered aesthetic expression and the beleaguered sexual identity of the legendary singer Rasoolan Bai.

As part of the festival, Saba Dewan will also deliberate upon the topic – ‘The role of women filmmakers in the documentary film scenario in India’.

Homage section

The Homage section includes the legendary French filmmaker Alain Resnais who died last year. He is the director of all-time great documentaries such as Night And Fog. This section also pays tribute to Austrian documentary filmmaker Michael Glawogger who died in 2014 in Liberia while researching on his new film.

Two of Glawogger’s important films, Workingman's Death and Megacities: 12 Stories of Survival will be screened at the festival. Megacities strings together vivid portraits of street peddlers and other urban dwellers in their grinding yet always resourceful toil for existence in cities like Mumbai, New York, Mexico City and Moscow.

Workingman’s Death is again about the struggle and survival of the working people; it is a travelogue that captures the inhumanly exhausting manual labor in the coal fields of Ukraine, sulphur pits of Indonesia, abattoirs in Nigeria, ship salvage works in Pakistan and steel works in China.

Homage will also be paid to K.K. Chandran, filmmaker and film teacher from Kerala, and photographer par excellence Razak Kottakal. Chandran’s documentary on Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and A Day In Hangman’s Life, filmed by Razak (directed by Joshy Joseph), will be screened.

Asian entries

Other interesting sections are Focus on the Middle East, which includes five films that are personal and intense reflections upon life and politics in the Middle East in the post Arab Spring scenario; and a series of short fiction from women filmmakers in Asia, including films by Rajula Shah, Hila Shrem, Roqiye Tavakoli, Chu Hoi Ying…

Films on environment

The package on films on environment includes internationally acclaimed films like Virunga by Orlando von Einsiedel made in Virunga National Park Congo. the last habitat of Mountain Gorillas. The film explores how human callousness and wars have torn apart the habitat, threatening the very existence of this rare species. Other notable films in this section include A River Changes Course (Cambodia), By My Side (United States), Are You Listening (Bangladesh) and Powerless (India/U.S.)

Must-watch movies

Some must-watch films in the International Section include Invisible Wars, about the issue of sexual abuse in the U.S. Army, Propaganda, a ‘mockumentary’ from North Korea mocking the West, that caused a stir when it was discovered that it was actually a film from New Zealand, Concerning Violence, a filmic treatise of Frantz Fanon's book Wretched of the Earth; and Pietas of the Wind, a video based on an imaginary dialogue between Matsuo Basho, the Japanese haiku poet, and Carlo Scarpa, the Italian architect.

Competition section

The competition section has some of the best documentaries produced in the country in recent times such as Rangbhoomi (Kamal Swaroop), a riveting account of Phalke’s life in Varanasi after he left the world of films, Candles in the Wind (Kavita Bahl/Nandan Saxena), a heart-wrenching account of farmer suicides in Punjab, The Red Data Book – An Appendix (Sreemith Sankar) dealing with land evictions in tribal Kerala, and Land Belongs to the Army by Thamizh Prabhagaran, about the genocidal war waged by the Sri Lankan army.

Events held as part of the festival include a two-day workshop on ‘The challenges of science filmmaking in India’, which will feature some eminent science filmmakers.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 8:17:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/images-that-grapple-with-the-world/article6221032.ece

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