When art comes to the audience

Holding the International Film Festival of Kerala in four cities will help reach a wider demography

January 07, 2021 12:25 am | Updated 05:39 pm IST

Photo: iffk.in

Photo: iffk.in

The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) , hailed by many as the best film festival in the country, recently announced that the festival will be held across four locations in Kerala between February-March this year as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 to avoid crowding and eliminate travel for those willing to attend it. The festival, which is held in Thiruvananthapuram every year, will now also travel to Kochi, Thalassery and Palakkad. While this may be a special measure considering the state of the pandemic in the country and around the world, this model perhaps merits some serious consideration for the future.

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It is a known fact that film festivals centred around cities have a certain logistical convenience. During such an event, film lovers from different parts of the State and country travel to the location to participate in the proceedings and catch up with the latest works in the world of cinema.

Also read | Decision to host IFFK across four cities sparks controversy

Film festivals, however, are not just screening avenues, but also spaces for dialogue and deliberation on the nature and craft of filmmaking. A film festival is thus much more than an event — it induces a culture of learning and thoughtful debate around the art of films. One could argue that the world of film festivals is a parallel institution and a breeding ground for generations of potential filmmakers. The educational role of such festivals cannot be overlooked or denied. Cinema, after all, is an outcome of sociopolitical and artistic sensibilities.

Local meets global

Film festivals usually offer a combination of foreign films with a generous dose of indigenous and homegrown filmmaking practices that are scheduled during the event. This lends a specific context to the festival, which exposes its viewers to films from various parts of the world, as well as some of the most exciting new works in the country. This rendezvous is paramount for festival programming and curation. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale also does a marvellous job of showcasing some of Kerala’s talent in the visual arts alongside artistes from all over the world. The creation of such a cultural cauldron is achieved not at the cost of erosion of local voices and talent.

The decision to hold the film festival across four locations in Kerala, a step towards decentralisation, is a welcome move. This will help reach a wider demography — a population that may be interested in films but may not have the means to travel to the centre to participate in the festival. Instead of the audience going to the centre, the centre, thus, chooses to reach the audience. This further strengthens peoples’ right to access cinema — to watch films made beyond their State and language, which are anyway released in local theatres for economic reasons.

Also read | Film festivals go online, draw an overwhelming response too

Cinema literacy

The step also assumes significance in a film-literate State like Kerala, where a popular legend is that South Korean director Kim Ki-duk was once mobbed upon his arrival in the State; the recent outpouring of grief after his death also demonstrates that Malayalis thought of the director as one of their own. Only films can induce cinema literacy, and for such literacy to be broad-based, film festivals are crucial. During the ongoing pandemic, several film festivals went online and we saw movies from the confines of our homes. However, that was a small number considering infrastructural challenges. Physical film festivals, thus, do not have any alternative in terms of outreach.

While I am not suggesting that taking cinema to various locations will herald major changes in viewership, it could perhaps work as an introduction to a different aesthetic altogether. Hence, the inclusion of local content is of great importance in a festival’s programming. In recent times, the emergence of various locally-funded, smaller film festivals in non-metropolitan pockets of the country further indicates the need and desire to watch films beyond the usual commercial releases. In this spirit, the experience of a film festival should be regularly extended to all and not confined to cities alone.

The writer teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune

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