In the beginning, there was light. Until the Jazz Singer arrived in 1927 as the first motion picture with synchronised sound, the early film buffs had to make do with the interplay of light and shadow on screen, to the accompaniment of live music.
There is something of the spirit of going back to the basics and remembering the paths we had traversed, at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in its 27th edition this year, which will feature a special curated section of silent films, with Jonny Best, resident pianist at the British Film Institute’s Southbank theatre, providing live music.
It is not just empty nostalgia at play here. It is more about understanding the evolution of the medium, and paying a rich tribute to its history, with a keen eye on aesthetic as well as narrative choices. This is something which is evident in the selection of contemporary cinema, an eclectic mix of stories that document conflicts, resistance and resilience in the face of adversities, as well as a collection of deeply personal cinema.
History and narrative choices are, of course, the most polarising of subjects at film festivals these days, at least in India, as Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid the head of jury at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and his fellow jury members discovered recently after they called out what they thought was a “vulgar, propagandist” film.
For a fully government-funded festival, with no corporate interests to dictate its content, the IFFK has consistently had films with resistance and non-conformity as thematic elements. The open forum, one of the unique features of the festival, has been a platform for hard questions and criticism from the common delegates, the kinds of which Mr. Lapid was pilloried for. Yet, the discussions have most often aided in enlightening us rather than in clouding our minds.
This subversive bent of the IFFK is also reflected in the ‘Spirit of Cinema’ award, introduced last year to honour filmmakers whose passion for cinema shines through even in the most trying of circumstances, which will this year be given to Iranian filmmaker and women’s rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi.
Ms. Mohammadi, who has been vocal for women’s rights in Iran for the past several years, remained active in the ongoing protests in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for not wearing a hijab as per government diktats.
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The presence of Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, known for his philosophical and poetic takes on the human condition, as the recipient of the festival’s lifetime achievement award this year will be looked forward to by his admirers. One of the festival highlights will be the package ‘Auteur Odes’ featuring the latest works of some of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, including Alexander Sokurov, Claire Denis, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Cristian Mungiu, Jafar Panahi, Fatih Akin, Krzysztof Zanussi, Lav Diaz, and the last film of festival favourite Kim Ki-duk, Call of God.
The retrospectives celebrate legendary American screenwriter-director Paul Schrader who is celebrating his golden jubilee in cinema this year, Chilean avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica. Delegates will also get a taste of contemporary Serbian cinema in the Country Focus package. Continuing with the tradition of screening restored classics, the IFFK will this year screen Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi and G. Aravindan’s Thampu.
The festival will celebrate the 50th year of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram which paved the way for New Wave Cinema in Malayalam. The Malayalam Cinema Today section will feature the current trends in IFFK’s home turf, including the works of quite a few who have grown up watching the festival.
The IFFK will also witness a change at the helm this year with Deepika Suseelan taking over as artistic director from Bina Paul who has nurtured and scaled up the festival over many years.
With the IFFK now back to its full-fledged version, after floods and the pandemic, the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, the festival organisers, is gearing up to put up its best show yet.