Crowds, sometime unruly, at some of the venues of the IFFK, make cineastes wonder if there has to be some criteria for giving delegate passes

Nine thousand delegates, nearly 12,000 viewers and still counting. That and more were the number of people pushing, shoving and elbowing each other for seats or sitting space in theatres. Is the crowd the defining picture of the just concluded International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK)? From the look of it, the mass participation of people from all walks of life is the factor that has impressed many filmmakers and delegates to the fete. But it has left many cineastes wondering if there is some way to manage the crowds without affecting the participation. Questions are also being asked if the aim of the fete is to attract a crowd even if many are unable to watch the film of their choice.

“Many of them are here to participate in a mela and not to watch films,” says critic and cineaste C.S. Venkiteswaran. He adds: “The media is to be blamed in no small measure for turning this into a circus. People without any idea about cinema or the language of cinema write about movies and critique the films. Delegates assume these people are the last word in cinema and crowd theatres where those films are screened. Moreover, the delegate must understand that it is not imperative for all films to tell a story. As soon as a film deviates from the accepted notions of story-telling, some in the audience become restless and spoil the experience for the others as well.”

Reservations in the theatres did not help as volunteers found it difficult to deal with the excited crowds thronging the theatres. Aahana Ranjit Balan, a post-graduate who is attending her third IFFK, says she has never witnessed such an unruly crowd for any other edition of the fete. “I was surprised to see elderly men shoving and pushing in the crowd!”

Actress and television hostess Parvathi is indignant that some ignoramuses are spoiling the experience for the others who want to be enjoy the best of world cinema without being forced to deal with hecklers. “It was appalling when a talk by a leading curator and film expert was interrupted by impatient delegates who kept yelling at her to stop. They knew that there would be a talk prior to the screening to tell us more about the film and the filmmaker’s oeuvre. So it was not as if it was a surprise for them. Such people should stay away from such events,” says Parvathi. She feels it is high time a system was put in place to prevent dilettantes who merely attend the festival to be seen.

Filmmaker and actor Madhupal was unable to see the films of his choice because by the time he reached the theatre from another venue, it would be packed. What annoyed him was that if the film did not appeal to some of the young delegates, they would walk out half way through the film. “Neither did they watch the film nor did they allow someone who wanted to watch it to see the movie. I have been told that some of the ruckus was caused by students from so-called film and television courses that have been mushrooming in Kerala. Is numbers all that matter in a festival like this?” he wonders.

Will small cinemas screening art house films all the year around be a solution to reduce the frenzied crowds almost knocking down the doors of certain theatres?

TV hostess Annapoorna Balan feels that it is a workable solution to pacify delegates who might have missed out on a must-see film or two for want of seats.

Parvathi says that if the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, the organiser of IFFK, were to screen some of the DVDs in their collection in one of the smaller venues all the year around and collect tickets for the same, it might attract only serious cinephiles and students of cinema who are keen to watch and understand movies. “Moreover, there should be some criteria for becoming a delegate or there should be different categories of delegates. Members of film clubs, professionals and so on should be given priority for certain screenings wherein there could be lectures and the like. Youngsters who are in for the carnival atmosphere can go for the other screenings.”

Venkiteswaran and Madhupal also feel that there should be some criteria in the awarding of delegate passes. “While there was a huge rush for certain films, works of renowned filmmakers such as Claire Denis did not attract the masses because her kind of films did not conform to their idea of how a film must deal with a theme. The Missing Picture and When Evenings Fall in Bucharest were two superb movies that did not have many viewers. Similarly, some of the retrospective of Malayalam filmmakers did not catch their attention,” says Venkiteswaran.

He also wants to know where these ‘film buffs’ were when works of several classics and contemporary masters are screened by film societies in the city.

The Academy and officials concerned would now need a brainstorming session to ensure that the best of films get watched by the best of audiences too.