The IFFK standouts are its packaging and popular participation

While on a walking tour of the city, two French tourists stopped to watch the commotion in front of a dingy cinema. It was much before cinemas in the city were done up to host the 17th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala. What they saw, after much jostling, left them speechless before they split their sides. It was not a Malayalam film, but a Jean Renoir work.

In his homeland, the master director would not get such a crowd. Here, in a cinema far away in a land so vastly different, every seat had two claimants and not an inch of the floor was left unoccupied.

“But that is the IFFK for you — a secular equivalent of a temple festival,” J. Devika, Associate Professor, Centre for Development Studies, says recalling the tourists’ surprise.

Every December, a vibrant and populous social space seems to form out of thin air in the city.

Whatever shortcomings a film festival of this scale has shrugged off or developed over the years, one compliment offsets them all — that the festival is indeed a people’s event, more democratic and open than many others of its kind that have mushroomed in the country.

But then one wonders if the overflowing theatres mean a society with a taste for good cinema.

C.S. Venkiteswaran, film critic, asks where all these self-proclaimed film aficionados disappear the rest of the year, never present for any film society screenings. “The crowds gather mostly for certain icons, for instance Kim Ki Duk, and the world cinema section. But if it was really good cinema they are after, then why do most quality retrospectives get a much smaller audience,” he asks.

Even so, he rates the IFFK as the best in the country, especially because of the well-thought-out packaging of content and more diverse participation. It is important to create context, he says with reference to showcasing movies from countries in a similar predicament as India’s for the people to relate with and be influenced by. “For a week, people feel like they are part of the world. Kerala loses its prohibitive, provincial self for a while and this cosmopolitanism is a huge positive that the festival brings,” Professor Devika says.

V.K. Joseph, former Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy and critic, feels that cinema is irreplaceable in its outreach and impact. “The range of films at the IFFK allows a viewer to feel as if he or she has experienced everything about the place, and gestures, costumes, sensibilities will invariably affect the audience,” he says.

Many ardent media students do pay close attention to the nuances in direction, cinematography and sound editing, though there is a dearth of seminars and discussions that they could be part of, I. Shanmughadas, critic, says.

“But those who do have the passion will eventually land up in a mainstream film production set, but the IFFK experience is bound to leave sensibilities of art that will positively influence all their works.” He hopes that students in particular will keep their minds open to the diversity.

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