I attended the Kolkata International Film Festival this year titled A Carnival of World Cinema in the City of Joy. It was a productive and worthwhile experience. I was able to speak to numerous filmmakers, film critics, film festival organizers. They were deeply appreciative of the work of NETPAC in promoting Asian and Pacific cinemas. It was gratifying to hear their responses. All of us associated with NETPAC can take pride in this fact.
This year there were five films shown in the competition for the NETPAC award. They are;
- Abraham – India
- Saga of a Nobody – India
- Amra and the Second Marriage – Saudi Arabia
- The Sweet Requiem – India
- Manta Ray – Thailand
The NETPAC jury decided to give the award to the film The Sweet Requiem.
All five films were interesting in their own ways. They showed a sensitivity to the medium of cinema. Some attempted to explore compellingly deep and significant themes, but failed to do so adequately and cogently. The winning film The Sweet Requiem dealt with an important issue – the problem of Tibetans living in India having been displaced from their homes – in human terms.
Abraham directed by Konarak Mukherjee deals with questions of belief and unbelief, religious dogma, personal agency within a mythical framework. It is a film with a metaphysical bent that aims to question such fundamental ideas as being and existence. Saga of a Nobody by Soumendu Bhattacherya is a work of cinema with existentialist connotations. Faiz, the protagonist of the film, is a sensitive young man who having failed to take his life is on a journey of self-discovery and self-definition. Tragically, he forgets his previous identity and human relationships. This makes his journey of question into the world and himself that much more compelling.
Amra and the Second Marriage by Mahmoud Sabbagh is set in the modernizing middle-class milieu of Saudi Arabia. It addresses questions of tradition and modernity, sexual politics with a satirical edge. It is, at times, marked by irreverent humor that is in keeping with the intentions of the director. The film has a feminist subtext. The Sweet Requiem is directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. Dolkar, a twenty six year old Tibetan exile lives in Delhi. Some fifteen years ago, she escaped from Tibet with her father. They undertook a perilous trek across the Himalayas, and the journey ended in tragedy. She has, up till now, chosen to suppress those bitter memories. However, when she chances to meet the guide who was associated with that escape and who abandoned them before their entry into freedom, her memories and will are re-activated. The film focuses on questions of belonging and un-belonging, territoriality and freedom in human terms and the powers of reconciliation.
Manta Ray directed by the Thai film director Phuttiphong Aroonpheng focuses on the human costs of the struggles of refugees and displacements. The film deals with a fisherman who discovers a man dying in the swamps after having washed ashore near the Thai-Myanmar border. The narrative connects to the larger theme of the Rohingya Muslim refugees who are the victims of state sponsored violence in Myanmar. The director has sought to focus on the loneliness, agonies and the helplessness of refugees in general.
As I was watching these films it became increasingly evident to me that we need to see films as significant cultural practices. What I mean by this is that films are art, entertainment, industry technology and ideology at the same time. How these different dimensions intersect and constitute a complex unity deserve our careful consideration. This will allow us to situate these Asian films in larger contexts of understanding. It will also enable us to see the formidable obstacles that these filmmakers have to overcome in making their respective films. In addition, I was also on the lookout for ways in which these Asian filmmakers were seeking to avoid the beaten tracks cleared by Western directors and carve out newer Asian paths to cinema and promote indigenous poetics of cinema. Such attempts, when and where we find them, deserve our careful consideration and encouragement.
Having attended the Kolkata Film Festival I am firmly convinced that NETPAC is continuing to play a vital role in the domain of international cinema.
-- Professor Wimal Dissanayake
Chairperson, NETPAC Jury