Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Bina Paul talk about the bond between the IFFK and the city
Come December 6, all roads in the city lead to the cinemas, as another edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) opens in the capital city. The reel fete begins with an inaugural film at the Nishagandhi open-air theatre. As daylight fades into twilight, buzzing voices fall silent, all eyes are on the silver screen that comes alive with tales from far and near. From then on a variety of themes from all around the globe are played out in colour and black and white; masters are feted, newcomers and local talents scanned by eagle eyed purveyors of cinema; discussions centre on movie, more movies and only movies. Names like Kim Ki duk, Carlos Saura, Kieslowski, Godard, Bergman and Gitai are artfully dropped into conversations. Grey heads and bearded film buffs rub shoulders with a new generation of young cineastes who study cinema with equal fervour.
For seven days, it is an unabashed celebration of the art of the 20th century.
Prior to the carnival, which begins next Friday, MetroPlus speaks to auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan, one of the pioneers of the film society movement, and Bina Paul, artistic director of IFFK, about the city and the film festival.
As chairman of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, he was responsible for giving the IFFK a permanent venue in the city and also introduced the system of paid delegate passes, perhaps a first in the country. However, the filmmaker who put Kerala on the international map of cinema, says as far as the city was concerned, it was P. Subramoniam who made it a centre for filmmaking by opening Merryland Studio. However, in those days, most films buffs did not have the opportunity to watch world cinema.
The filmmaker who has just returned from Goa, recalls that the first ever international festival of cinema in Kerala was held in 1966 in Kozhikode on the sidelines of a writers’ conference.
“I was in my final year in the Film and Television Institute of India, when certain eminent writers contacted me for conducting a film festival. I organised about 25 films. Of the two Indian films, one was by Satyajit Ray and one by Ritwik Ghatak. It was a huge success. That festival travelled to nine districts and also to Nagercoil. I exhorted viewers to take the movement forward by beginning film societies in all the districts we had toured,” he recalls. “The film festivalin teh city was organised at Pattom Salim, which later became Pattom Kalpana. Now the theatre exists only in our kalpana (imagination),” he says with a laugh.
Adoor also got in touch with Thalekunnil Basheer, the then chairperson of the Kerala University Students’ Union and encouraged him to begin a film fete where students got the opportunity to watch world cinema for the first time. It was continued by his successor Suresh Kurup as well. The University of Calicut also organised a film festival that was very well attended.
By the early seventies Adoor’s Chitralekha Film Society had taken root in Kerala and it spawned a film culture. He was one of the co-founder of the Chitranjali Studio at Akkulam, where Kodiyettam was shot. “All the pre- and post-production of the film was done there. Sadly, it all fell into disuse soon after,” he adds.
Talking about the IFFK, he says: “Over the years, the IFFK has been able to make its presence felt with the kind of films that it screens and a number of innovations were introduced to streamline the festival. For instance, when I was given charge of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, the festival was not open to all those who wanted to see world class movies. To open it up, we decided to introduce delegate passes for a nominal amount. That made it possible for anyone who wanted to watch the films to apply for a pass and become a delegate. Now, this system is followed even in the International Film Festival of India.”
Adoor was also responsible for choosing the city as a permanent venue of the festival. He says that logistically, it made sense for the IFFK to have a permanent venue.
He adds: “It is true that we were able to expose youngsters to world cinema and it did give birth to several filmmakers. But let me reiterate what Carlos Saura, who is being honoured with the lifetime achievement award this year, said: ‘It is very easy to make films but very difficult to make a good film’.”
Adoor says the former Cinema Minister Ganesh Kumar had done well by adding a new theatre (Nila) to the Government-run Kairali complex and by renovating Kalabhavan.
Like any fan of films, Adoor says he will certainly be there to watch movies.
Bina Paul, artistic director of the IFFK, says the city has a special charm for delegates and guests from all over the world.
“For one thing, the theatres are situated over a radius of two to three km. So it is very easy to go from one screening to another without negotiating huge distances, roads or traffic jams. One can hop from one theatre to the other in an autorickshaw. Moreover, unlike watching movies in a mall, where every mall looks the same, the character of the city has been maintained in a place like Thiruvananthapuram, which is a city and yet not a big one.”
She is all praise for the film society movement that has seen film festivals mushrooming all over Kerala. “It is an interesting development. At any time of the year, there are festivals happening in one place or the other in Kerala,” she says. She points out that many a time, the organisers have no idea that they have to seek permission to screen a festival. Yes, she sees it as a positive sign of their involvement in cinema. “Moreover, the proliferation of film festivals in the city and the widespread participation is indicative of the rich culture that prevails here.”
As curator of the festival with the largest participation of delegates, Bina says she always tries to have a wide range of films covering themes, schools of filmmaking and countries.