MUMBAI

Fuelling the indie spirit

This year’s edition of the Viewing Room at the NFDC Film Bazaar grows bigger with202 films in 19 languages, with over 100 of them being directorial debuts

A film graduate from the National Institute of Design, Ridham Janve had been visiting Chamba and Kangra districts in Himachal Pradesh on various projects, assignments and treks. It was during one such hike with his co-writer Akshay Singh that the idea of a film occurred to him, about a fighter plane crashing in an invincible, unreachable place in the hills. And so The Gold-Laden Sheep & The Sacred Mountain was born, a film that is centred on the local myths, legends and anecdotes and the spiritual experiences that often only mountains can offer.

Though Janve hails from Udaipur in Rajasthan, he has made the film in Gaddi, the dialect of the shepherds of the region. He is unaware of any other fiction film in the lingo. But how did he write it in a language he himself didn’t know? “In keeping with the spirit of the mountains, we wanted to approach the filmmaking in a different way. We did not want anything constructed. The film found itself in the process of the making,” says Janve. There was no script per se, just a germ of an idea, a 15-20 page treatment and improvisation on the shoot that happened last September. Incidentally, the film has been shot with non-actors in all roles.

The Gold-Laden Sheep … is one of the seven projects picked up for the Work In Progress (WIP) lab at the upcoming NFDC Film Bazaar in Panjim, Goa, and is also one of the 202 new films that will be showcased this year in the Viewing Room. Janve hopes it will help the film get noticed by international festivals, producers, sales agents and financiers for more spit and polish. “It is an independent film; it is not conventional, and is fresh in its form. Our effort has been that it should not get affected by people who put their money into it, that our voices should remain original,” says Janve.

Bridging the gap

Here is where the Viewing Room (VR) mediates for filmmakers like him, and has become valuable over the six years of its existence in the Film Bazaar, which itself celebrates a decade this year. VR is a space, a platform where independent filmmakers can show their films (complete or still in progress, to be completed in 2017).

Potential investors, buyers, world sales agents and festival programmers can view the indies on single computer terminals in private booths via a specially designed software, which can help them choose a film according to different criteria: debuts, shorts, features, those awaiting international premieres, whether rights are available or given, duration, language, stage of completion. Details about a project and how to contact the filmmaker can be directly accessed through the software. Investors can also specifically pick films that have applied for finishing funds. The filmmakers, in turn, get information on who viewed their films and their responses. “It is all about empowering indie filmmaking, which fills a vital gap for South Asian indie cinema considering there is no trade magazine for it,” says Deepti D’Cunha, programmer for WIP and VR.

Such has been the clamour for it that last year, there was a four-hour wait for the 18 terminals in operation. This year, 12 new ones have been added. D’Cunha, who designed the previous software, is also hoping that the new software will work better this year. Filmmakers can now upload their films directly to the server, eliminating a previous intermediary: the DVD.

A trade hit

The fact that VR has been gaining in popularity among filmmakers since its inception (called Screening Room in an earlier avatar) in 2011 is evident in the exponential growth in the number of films applying for it. This year, 202 new films were received in the Viewing Room in 19 languages, as against 156 last year. In the first year, D’Cunha had programmed just 50-odd films from her own personal database. Of the 202 films this year, 164 are feature-length films (131 fiction features and 33 documentaries) and 38 short films. Almost a 100 films are awaiting world premieres and 60 are still in progress, looking for gap financing through co-producers and investors.

“The Viewing Room is not like festival programming,” says D’Cunha. Whatever be the quality, none of the films that apply for it are rejected. “Our task is to ensure visibility to each one of them. Who are we to judge whether they will sell or not? Who are we to decide whether they will find buyers or not?” A handful, however, are showcased as the Film Bazaar Recommends (FBR) package. Thirty-two of the 202 — six feature-length documentaries and 26 fiction features in 14 languages — are part of the FBR package this year. These include Amit V Masurkar’s Newton , Idgah starring Shabana Azmi, Lathe Joshi by Mangesh Joshi, the Anand L Rai-produced Nimmo starring Anjali Patil, Rinku Kalsy’s docu-feature Wayfare to the Night , The Bioscopewala by Deb Medhekar, and Sexy Durga by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. The focus is not on films that are already out, but on the most fresh entries seeking world/international premieres or gap financing.

For D’Cunha, the positive results of VR are already visible. “Filmmakers are more aware; they are coming with their second films and are savvy about networking and setting up meetings,” she says.

Exponential growth

What is interesting this year is the spread of languages. There are six films in rare languages: Dari, Gaddi, Rajbangshi, Kui, Chokri and Shertukpen. Apart from The Gold-Laden Sheep … in Gaddi , there is The Bioscopewala in Dari, Sonar Baran Pakh in Rajbangshi, Dongar Dei Paribi Naahin in Kui, Kho Ki Pa Lu in Chokri, and River Song in Shertukpen. “Every year, new languages need to be fed into the software,” says D’Cunha. It astounds her that filmmakers, of their own initiative, are going deep into India and doing ethnographic work with non-actors in languages not heard on screen before. It could be about taking the camera to the tribal belt which hasn’t ever seen the gadget. “It’s about non-traditional cinema spaces, about new places, stories, narratives,” says D’Cunha.

Viewing the bulk of independent cinema is a good way to look at the future of filmmaking. D’Cunha is intrigued how the mockumentary genre — films where you can’t draw a line between fiction and fact — is catching up in popularity. She finds the aesthetic and concerns of a bunch of young Malayalam filmmakers about gender, caste and prejudice very interesting. “It’s not about the classical narrative that we are used to seeing. It’s about totally new forms.” Assamese films are incredible revelatory for her, both in the landscape and narrative they cover.

There has been a rise in debut film entries too. This year, there is a record number of over a 100 debut directors, making it the largest showcase of fresh budding directorial talent from South Asia. Moreover, six of them are in the FBR section: Rahul Shanklya, Deb Medhekar, Charles Kollannoor Chakkunny, Manas Mukul Pal, Aakash Bhatia and Vijay Jayapal.

But what is even more interesting is the huge dip in the age of debut filmmakers in indie cinema. “They are making full-length features as early as 20-22 [now],” says D’Cunha. And that, too, with considerable maturity. The debut directors are not working on silly subjects or making indulgent pieces. They are not assailed by self-doubts, but are brimming with enthusiasm and positivity. “They are very smart, very fast with figuring out distribution deals, know how to pitch projects, and have incredible confidence. They don’t need any hand-holding,” she says. The ultimate sign of indie spirit?

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