By: Shoma A. Chatterji
A major attraction at the 15th Kolkata Film Festival (10th to 17th November, 2009), was the section entitled ‘Passage Through Darkness’. It featured two films shot within the war backdrop. One was The Passenger (Poland) and the other was Romeo, Juliet and Darkness (Czech Republic). War was a signature theme for this festival, lauded by film buffs hold and young, projected from the perspective of filmmakers who have neither seen the war nor encountered the hardships of World War II. War and Resistance had five brilliant films – Flame and Citron (2008), The Anarchist’s Wife (2008), Broken Promise (2009), A Woman in Berlin (2008), Arch of Babel (2008) and Sniff the Dog (2008).
Mexico as the special focus of the festival had two dimensions. One was films inspired by the Nobel Laureate Marquez’s works made by famous filmmakers such as Arturo Ripstein. This also covered screening of f evolving young films by young directors makers like Rodrigo Pia, Carlos Carrera, Roberto Rochin and Fernando Eimbcke. The other category called Marquez on Celluloid screened The Blue Lobster, No One Writes to the Colonel and Oedipus The Mayor. The KFF this year featured a relatively promising director Nikos Panayatopoulos of Greece. Seven of his films were scheduled in the programme. He has the rare reticence of portraying even the most suspenseful moments effectively on celluloid. His films are dotted with subtle touches and unexpected turns.
Screenings at Nandan I, II and III, Sisir Mancha, Rabindra Sadan, New Empire, Girish Mancha, Madhusudan Mancha and Purbasree drew crowds thinner than past years. The crowds were within control and more disciplined than other years. Security was at a new-time high, perhaps traced to the political dissidences within the city and the state. Among the 228 films spanning the screening programme, were 75 contemporary films drawn from distant countries like the Bahamas, Cyprus, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Cuba, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and others. A surprising entry was a film version of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shyama from UK, directed by NRI Obhi Chatterjee with the title role danced by his wife Kaberi Chatterjee who also produced the film and designed the costumes. The film is more a loyal picturisation of the dance drama that does not fall back on cinematic technique or any kind of interpretation of the original creation. Sri Lanka’s talented filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage’s Flowers of the Sky. It is a kind of self-reflexive film that revolves around an ageing actress who has gone into seclusion but suddenly finds her in the limelight for completely different reasons.
The retrospectives comprised of a centennial tribute to Elia Kazan of Hollywood whose films are marked by a leaning towards social realism. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Boomerang (1947), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata (1952), On the Waterfront (1954) and East of Eden (1955) took the viewers back in a time capsule where within Hollywood, Kazan constantly struggled to fight studio Moguls to portray his perceptions of society. The other centennial tribute to Indian filmmaker Bimal Roy attracted a handsome audience. Udayer Pathey, Do Bigha Zamin, Parineeta, Yahudi and Bandini, capped with a screening of Remembering Bimal Roy, a documentary by his son Joy Bimal Roy. An beautifully laid out exhibition of photographs, working stills and posters of his films was held in the foyer of Nandan II. Bimal Roy was a brilliant photographer. His works, mainly focused on photographing his family, formed part of this exhibition. An Open Forum discussion was held in his honour. The Homage section covered four renowned filmmakers – Federico Fellini, Brazilian maestro Rogerio Sganzerla, Ousmane Sembene, the first African director to confer value on African images on celluloid and non-conformist Yilmaz Guney of Turkey. The Homage section was dedicated to Poland’s Andrzej Wajda, Hungarian filmmaker Marta Meszaros and Germany’s Caroline Link.
Five films featured in the documentary section of which three were Indian entries. One of them was Wagah, Supriyo Sen’s Berlin Today awarded film The film looks at the crowds that gather everyday from either country to watch the change of guards at the India-Pakistan border on the northern side The film looks at the parade through the eyes of three children who sell DVDs of the parade to those who have come to watch. One was Sharmila Maiti’s Bharati Devi – A Beautiful Heart, that talks about the illustrious times this great actress worked in, during the peak years of New Theatres. The third documentary is the one by Joy Bimal Roy. Sadly, the 38 films chosen for the short film section, that drew very good audience footfall in Nandan III, did not include a single Indian entry. This is perhaps due to Indian shorts having separate screenings at the Bangla Academy in the evenings. However, these screenings draw crowds mainly from short filmmakers.
Seven films were featured in the Children’s Section which included two Indian films, Sunil’s Street Symphony, that zeroes in on four boys who offer a microcosm of thousands of street beggars in the country, The Kid Gang directed by Ramchandra PN that focusses on the possible outcome of children’s participation in village politics. A few experimental films from Austria, Spain and Peru aimed at a glimpse into forms of filmmaking.
Indian Select featured 12 films of which Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Janala was cancelled for technical problems. Few of the remaining revealed much promise. Among the better ones are Paresh Kamdar’s Khargosh (Hindi), T. Rajeevnath’s Stars in the Day (Malayalam), Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar’s Gho Mala Asala Hawa (Marathi) and Paresh Mokashi’s Harishchandra Factory (Marathi.) Khargosh, based on a prize-winning short story by Priyamvad, is about the coming-of-age of ten-year-old Bantu who finds himself playing go-between for his older friend Avneesh, and the girl he desires, who is named Mrityu metaphorically by her young boyfriend. But once the lovers get together, Bantu finds himself at a loose end and begins to feel a strong pull towards the young girl. His boyhood metamorphoses into adolescence and the world of sensuous passion begins to unfold. It is a film eloquent in meaning, aesthetics and cinematic texture in the production design, the sound effects, the music and the acting.
Harishchandrachi Factory marks Paresh Mokashi’s transition from Marathi theatre to Marathi cinema. It is a fictionalised recreation of a historical milestone that defined India’s entry into the world of motion pictures. Mokashi has experimented his way of fictionalized history with vivid yet atypical humour. Harishchandrachi Factory is India’s official entry to the 82nd Academy Awards.
Alongside International cinema, the Indian Panorama at the 15th KFF offered a very good insight into the varied and colourful landscape our culture is rooted in. The KFF is perhaps the biggest non-competitive film festival in the country that is international in character. One is however, saddened by the fact that seminars, discussions and open forums do not draw much of an audience as they are held either when a screening is on or during the lunch break. Any film festival is more about actual films being screened – and watched, and less about discussions and seminars that are best placed in an academic world.
The festival opened with Mark Henman’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, a film set against the backdrop of World War II. It is about Bruno, an 8-year-old boy, the protected son of a Nazi officer whose promotion is linked to the removal of his family from Berlin to move to a desolate area where the lonely boy has nothing to do and no one to play with. He strikes a friendship with Schmuel, a boy who lives a different existence on the other side of the barbed wire.