Spotlight: IFFK 2015

How far would you go to get a film made? Would you dare to put your life on the line? Why not, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi would exclaim, we would imagine. The dream run that Panahi’s Taxi (his third after the 20-year ban on filmmaking and house arrest the Iranian government imposed on him in 2010) at festival circuits around the world is proof enough that good cinema will find its own way to reach its audience.

“No prize is worth as much as my compatriots being able to see my films,” Panahi had said to an Iranian news agency when the film won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. Taxi and many such cinematic gems will soon make a halt closer home this time at the 20th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), which begins today.

Dubbed in jest as the annual pilgrimage of film lovers, IFFK, which is one of the most anticipated cultural events in the state, boasts an audience who talk, walk and breathe cinema. Unlike festivals held in other parts of the country, which cater to a predominantly urban elite audience, the eight-day-long IFFK is special because it is ‘the common man’s festival’.

The curiosity of “interested and cultivated” viewers here is what sets the festival apart, claimed legendary Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi, who was recently in the city to conduct a masterclass. “When youngsters come up to me to have a conversation, I can see that they have seen my films and that they care. I respect their enthusiasm for the form. This will ensure that better films will continue to be screened and watched here,” he said.

This time around, IFFK will screen nearly 180 films, including many international award-winners and Oscar nominees, from around the world across 13 venues in the city. The main highlight of the present edition is that almost 50 films will have their Indian premiere at the festival. Renowned director and IFFK 2015 advisory committee chairman Shaji N. Karun confirmed that the festival authorities have managed to bring home “a distillation of the most important films of the year”. These films will be screened under 10 categories namely: International Competition, Malayalam Cinema Today, Indian Cinema Now, Country Focus (Lithunia and Myanmar), World Cinema, Contemporary Masters In Focus, Korean Panorama, Restored Classics, Jury Films and Lifetime Achievement Films.

The festival will open with French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem, a period drama that deals with the relationship between man and beast, which will be screened in the new 3D Experience section of the festival.

Malayalam filmmaker Kamal, who headed the international competition selection committee of the festival, promises that this year’s IFFK will be different. “This year the festival will showcase films from countries like Haiti, Philippines, Nepal and Kazakhstan, which are usually not featured in this section,” he said.

Among the 14 films competing in this category, which were selected out of 140 submissions, there are four Indian films, too, of which two are in Malayalam (Jayaraj’s Ottal and Satish and Santosh Babusenan’s Chaayam Pooshiya Veedu). The films will be judged by the international jury headed by renowned Brazilian writer and filmmaker Julio Bressane Eduardo. The best film in this category will win the Suvarna Chakoram with a cash prize of Rs.15 lakh, while the best director will receive the Rajata Chakoram and a cash prize of Rs.4 lakh.

Another highlight this year is the addition of a special package of 20 films hand-picked by Shaji himself, which will be screened under three new categories. While First Look will feature films from first-time filmmakers around the world, Women Power will have films that speak from the point of view of women and Based On True Stories, as its name suggests, comprises of movie adaptations of real-life events.

Amid all the noise that the regional “new generation” films are making these days, the First Look category will serve as a reference point for both viewers and filmmakers on what exactly “the idea of new generation movies is conceived among the global film fraternity,” said Shaji. “If a filmmaker is able to impart a distinct creative expression that makes his work unique, then technique and experience will take a backseat.”

This section will feature a string of award-winning, internationally acclaimed films like Cesar Augusto’sLand and Shade, Gan Bi’s Kaili Blues and Sanna Lenken’s My Skinny Sister. The section on stories told by women brings forth their universal pain and explores the lives of women from different cultural milieus all over the world, he added.

Nanni Moretti’s My Mother, Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante’s Ixcanul and Brazilian film The Second Mother are the prominent titles in this category.

The final category, in which Karun seems to have followed Godard’s golden words that ‘all great fiction tends toward documentary’, features six films, of which five are being screened in the country for the first time.

The annual retrospective is on French-Romany director Tony Gatlif this year and his films Gadjo Dilo(1997), Je Suis ne d’une cigogne (1998), Swing (2001), Exlis (2004) and Transylvania (2006). Iranian filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui, who was part of the country’s new wave movement of the 1970s, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award this year and Australian script advisor-editor will deliver the Aravindan Memorial Lecture at Tagore Theatre on December 6. Fans of Kim-Ki-Duk have reason to rejoice as his latest feature Stop will be screened in the festival’s Korean Panorama section.

As the capital city gears up for the event, what brings more joy to the delegates is that this year will see an increase in the number of venues and their seating capacity. With the renovation of Tagore Theatre and the transformation of Nishagandhi open-air auditorium to a temporary theatre that can seat 3,000, IFFK will be able to accommodate about 12,000 delegates this time around. Two new public spaces in the capital city – Manaveeyam Veedhi and the basketball court of Central Stadium – will also double up as venues for the fete and screen titles from the special packages.

The opening ceremony, which will be held today on December 4, at Nishagandhi also promises to be a gala event with tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain’s performance.

MUST-WATCH FILMS AT IFFK

We all have heard of the big fish and we will be seeking them, braving long queues and the scorching heat. But here is a list of the lesser known films, which have done well in their own right and must be watched.

Victoria (Germany/2015): Two hours and one single take. This German film by Sebastian Schipper is more than just a gimmick and has played to packed houses at every festival it has been screened at. Winner of the cinematography award at the Berlinale.

Tanna (Australia/2015): The first film to be ever shot at Vanuatu, Tanna tells a story of forbidden love set in 1987. Performed by non-professionals, the film marks the feature debut of Bentley Dean and Martin Butler.

The Wolf Pack (USA/2015): Based on the true story of a family who homeschooled six of their bright sons in the confinement of a Manhattan housing project, the film is directed by Crystal Moselle and won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The Thin Yellow Line (Mexico/2015): A dramedy about five financially strapped men hired to paint the yellow median line along 120 miles of the Mexican State Highway, this debut feature by Celso Garcia is a bittersweet crowd-pleaser.

Mustang (Turkey/2015): Five sisters from a remote Black Sea village, who are forced to suppress their sexuality, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut feature Mustang was a festival darling this year.

Videophilia (And Other Viral Syndromes) (Peru/2015): Helmer Juan Daniel F. Molero’s second feature explores how the digital age affects the new generation through the adventures of a group of teenage slackers hanging around in Lima’s backstreet internet cafes. Winner of the Tiger Award at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival.

Chronic (Mexico,France/2015): Winner of the Best Screenplay Award at this year’s Cannes festival, Michel Franco’s Chronic was described as the ‘subtlest film’ to have competed this year. Reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Amour, the film raises the question of who cares for the caregiver of terminally ill loved ones.

Stories Of Our Lives (Kenya, South Africa/2014): An anthology of five short films, shot in black and white, laying bare the realities of LGBT lives in Kenya, the film is directed by Jim Chuchu. Banned in Kenya owing to the legal status of homosexuality in the country, the film was shot over eight months using a single Canon DSLR video camera.

Land And Shade (Colombia, France, Netherlands/2015): Cesar Augusto’s debut feature is a story of a comeback of a man to meet his ill son after an absence of 17 years. Winner of Critics’ Week Camera D’or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Ixcanul (Guatemala, France/2015): The story of a young Mayan woman battling the traditional and modern worlds forms the premise of Jayro Bustamante’s debut feature. The film is also Guatemala’s official entry to this year’s Oscar.

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