Dominated by mainstream taste in Indian cinema and Hollywood fare, Chennai is not known to be enthusiastic about alternative films. For years, film societies could barely shuffle along. Eight years ago, it seemed impossible to hold a festival of world cinema in our very own Kollywood.
But a determined Indo-Cine Appreciation Foundation not only managed to launch the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF) but kept it going despite lack of funding and venues with poor projection/sound facilities. The halls were packed, though, and applause resounded not only for experimental features, but also for inventive visualisation and witty use of technique.
Today, CIFF adds a significant component to Chennai's famous December season of art festivals. Originally a hodgepodge of available films, CIFF is beginning to develop its own identity by roping in local film personalities and instituting awards for Tamil features (Best and Second Best films, Best Director, Jury's choice). The award image has been created by Cholamandal sculptor S. Nandagopal.
What's on offer?
What does CIFF 2010, on from December 15 to 23, offer? The 125 films from 44 countries, most of them from other film festivals in Indian metros, hold much promise. The Country Focus on Canada, the Netherlands and Turkey spans interesting geographical and stylistic variety, and packages from France, Italy and Germany ensure weight, including a Bertolucci Retrospective. There is also a distinctive Nordic component with films from Finland and Denmark.
But, watch out for the East European features. They are often full of surprises. In particular, Romania (“Hello How are You?”, “Medal of Honour”) has been unfolding fascinating visions in both content and craft. Serbia (“Some Other Stories”), Bosnia (“32 December”) and Croatia (“72 Days”) bring local tales that are no longer culture-specific, but turning into universal allegories.
Neighbours from the region of magic realism send “October” (Peru), “Crab Trap” (Colombia), “A Day in Orange” (Venezuela) and “Puzzle” (Argentina).
Tunisia's “Buried Secrets”, China's lone representative “Diago” and Greece's “Building Manager” bring their directors Raja Amari, Zhang Chi and Efstathia Tsaparelli, who will introduce their films.
Just when you thought Iran's subtlety is all in the past, a new work from maestro Abbas Kiarostami brings romance rhythms and ruminative reflexivity in “Certified Copy”, set in Italy and starring Cannes 2010 posterchild Juliette Binoche. Palestine's tenderly-named “Pomegranates and Myrrh” combines the human interest story of a wife fighting for her jailed husband's rights over their olive orchard, with the political drama of the Israeli government's territorial aggrandisement in the Gaza strip.
Opening film “Soul Kitchen” (Germany) by German-Turkish Fatih Akin (remember his striking “Edge of Heaven”?) explodes into angst-ridden comedy as restaurateur Zinos struggles with tax debts, threat of closure in the name of estate development, a prima donna chef and broke clientele. In a film based on personal bonding with a Hamburg restaurant, Akin creates warm-hearted medleys with eccentric characters strumming, bleating and bellowing through the melee.
Closing film? Didn't lead actor Javier Bardem declare that “Biutiful” (Spain) made him go places he didn't want to go in the brutal underbelly of Barcelona? However, auteur Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's excruciating explorations are directed towards discovering the core of humanity in this terrestrial (and mental?) hell.
CIFF has also succeeded in bringing notable features from the Indian panorama to Chennai viewers. Girish Kasaravalli (“Kanasembo Kudureyaneri”), Rituparno Ghosh (“Just Another Love Story”) and Aparna Sen (“Iti Mrinalini”) are among filmmakers who will present their work in Chennai. The last brings Aparna and Konkana Sen together again in an intense mother-daughter confrontation.
That CIFF has drawn remarkable support from Chennai's mainstream film fraternity is evident from the fact that this year, film stars Khushboo, Revathy, Suhasini Mani Ratnam and Lizzy Priyadarshan have taken upon themselves the responsibility of conducting special red carpet screenings a la Cannes for special invitees — the sponsors and stars.
Another first this year is the Film Buff Award, for choosing a Best Film after viewing more than 50 films at the Fest.
The event is being held by ICAF with the support of the Government of Tamil Nadu, SIFCC, FFI and the film fraternity
There will be five shows every day at Woodlands, Woodlands Symphony and South Indian Film Chamber Theatre. INOX will have four shows every day
A total of 125 films from 44 countries will be screened, and there is a Country Focus on Canada, the Netherlands and Turkey. There's a Bertolucci Retrospective too
Notable features from the Indian panorama are Girish Kasaravalli's “Kanasembo Kudureyaneri”, Rituparno Ghosh's “Just Another Love Story” and Aparna Sen's “Iti Mrinalini”
There will be special red carpet screenings a la Cannes this year
The festival opens with the German “Soul Kitchen”, and closes with “Biutiful” from Spain, starring Javier Bardem