The opening of the 25th edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival, proudly hosted by the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs of the Government of West Bengal, was a night to remember. A staggering 366 movies at 17 venues were cheered by a group of local supporters and international celebrities, all delighted to be participating in what has become an incredibly exciting festival event. I believe much of the growth and the vibrancy of KIFF may be attributed to the Chief Minister, Madame Mamata Banerjee, so loved by the people of Kolkata for her overwhelming support of the arts.
I used to attend KIFF regularly, and have the warmest memories of the very welcoming team of Ansu Sur and Sanjoy Ghosh. At that time, the festival was non-competitive and centered primarily around the Nandan complex. The audiences were diligent, passionately supportive, and absolutely inclusive in their love for cinema – shorts, documentaries, feature films, both Indian and international. Today, KIFF, guided by the remarkable team of Director, Mitra Chatterjee, and Chairman, Raj Chakraborty, is unrecognizable to a person who has not attended it for many years.
I was invited to attend this 25th edition as a member of the NETPAC Jury, and I was delighted to witness its remarkable growth not only in the quality of the programming and the numbers of films presented, but, more importantly, in the number of substantive competitive sections with awards. The programme was expansive, and included a fascinating array of sub-sections, including - Great Master: Bernardo Bertolucci; Indian Master: Basu Chatterjee; Regional Focus: Kannada Cinema; Bengali Panorama; Cinema International; and a German Focus which included German Classics, New German Cinema, Documentaries, Animation, and a retrospective of the work of Alexander Kluge.
What was touching and reminiscent of the Kolkata Festival of the past, were the generous and open-hearted Homage and Centenary Tribute streams. Programmes of Homage were presented honouring Mrinal Sen, Vidya Sinha, and Chinmoy Roy, among others. Centenary Tributes were offered to great artistes such as Gillo Pontecorvo, Jahar Roy, Aurobindo Mukherjee, and Manna Dey. As it was KIFF’s 25 year - the Silver Anniversary - many special events were held to ensure there was an event or film stream for everyone:
- Master Classes by US Actress, Andie McDowell, and German Director Volker Schlondorff.
- Retrospective programme honouring Czech Director, Dusan Hanak, Chair of the International Jury
- Exhibition of photos, posters, memorabilia, detailing the 25-year journey of the Kolkata International Film Festival.
- Workshop by Mr. Sridhar Gopalam (Prasad Corporation), on the restoration of old films.
- The prestigious Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture, delivered by Film Historian, Kumar Shahani.
- “Actors Speak”, featuring a group of Bengali theatre and cinematic thespians discussing their work.
- Exhibition of photos, posters, and memorabilia of German Director, Ranier Werner Fassbinder.
- Unheard India: Rare Language Indian Film Series, attended by KIFF Chief Advisor, Aroop Biswas, Minister of Public Works, Youth Services and Sports.
The NETPAC section comprised eight films, selected in accordance with the NETPAC directive of focusing on new filmmakers and primarily their first or second films. These included:
Hava, Maryam, Ayesha: Director: Sahraa Karima. Afghanistan
Jibo Azadiye (The End Will Be Spectacular): Director: Ersin Celik. Syria
Chandrabati Kotha (The Tales of Chandrabati): Director: N. Rashed Chowdhruy. Bangladesh
Mystic Memoir: Director: Aparajita Ghosh. India
Gitarista (The Guitarist): Director: Jason Orfalaro. Philippines
Sraboner Dhara (Between Raindrops) : Directors: Abhijit Guha, Sudeshna Roy. India
Devi aur Hero (The Goddess and the Hero): Director: Aditya Kirpalani. India
Jo Kuluk (Running to the Sky): Director: Mirlan Abdykalykov. Kyrgyzstan
The NETPAC award was presented to Chitrangada Satarupa, lead actress in the superb film, Devi aur Hero by director/novelist Aditya Kirpalani. Devi aur Hero is actually Kirpalani’s third film, and a truly memorable and highly accomplished work, filled with depth, compassion and laser sharp insight into the human condition.
Although NETPAC does not allow citations of ‘Special Mention’ some of the Jury members were extremely taken with, and supportive of, Jibo Azadiye (The End Will be Spectacular) because of the personal risks taken by the Kurdish actors and filmmakers in honouring their colleagues and fellow Kurds who withstood one hundred days of siege by the Turkish army. The film, shot after the liberation of Kobane, is a heartrending reminder that the siege against the Kurds is happening once again, and in fact, today. We do not seem to learn, and political expediency has once again won over reason and basic humanity.
Today, the Kolkata International Film Festival is a delight. There were the usual problems such as technical glitches that haunt many established festivals, but overall, the event appeared to be seamless – it is certainly a festival that filmmakers the world over should investigate for the presentation of their films. The prize monies are extremely attractive, but the most compelling aspect is the warmth and vibrancy of the audiences and the organizers - a rare commodity indeed. Of special note: unlike countless other festivals the world over, KIFF does not pander to the allure of Hollywood or the colour/noise/action of Bollywood. Instead, great care and attention are paid to the true icons of cinema through the many respectful retrospective programmes and homage sections. The emotional, social, philosophical and spiritual bedrock of the state of Bengal seem to be carefully maintained.
-- by Hannah Fisher, Canada (Chairperson), NETPAC Jury
-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar