|2014-03-19|||||From Mumbai, India|
I was sipping masala chai in one of the theater lobbies of the National Centre for Performing Arts during the Mumbai International Film Festival, when a little bird told me about the indie doc filmmakers talking about initiating an alliance to represent their voices. “A platform to exchange ideas,” “To screen each others’ films,” “A collective to negotiate for events that will benefit us!” A few days into MIFF, the biennial festival for documentary, animation, and short films, Indian filmmakers from around the country had adrenaline running strong, enthused about being together to share films and experiences. The new MIFF director V. S. Kundu had revamped the festival this year to reflect indie filmmakers’ needs and suggestions. Positive energy was everywhere. “We’ll meet in the square at noon!” Heated discussions on facebook, twitter, in the cinemas and at parties, spread the word for gatherings and issues to pursue in solidarity.
Long gone was the era when government employees and a limited elite class made cultural films for education, information, and academic purposes. Government of India Films Division short films used to be shown in commercial cinemas before the blockbuster came on—unpopular with audiences who would prefer to stay outside smoking. Today, it is the independent filmmakers who are making the most interesting creative and urgent documentaries, as you can easily see in YIDFF’s lineup over the years. They come from places all across the vast continent, where they organize their own screenings and mini-festivals in town cinemas, village squares, galleries and cafes, seaside resorts, in private spaces. The independent documentary Gulabi Gang is currently running in its third week in multi-screens across the nation. Indian filmmakers are negotiating financing from the west and showcasing their work on television screens and film festivals globally.
In February 2004, MIFF was met with a boycott by hundreds of filmmakers who protested government censorship. An alternative festival Vikalp managed by filmmakers took place, showing over a dozen films withdrawn from MIFF in protest, in addition to all films rejected by MIFF that year. So it was especially jubilant to see MIFF this year (a decade later), packed with the enthusiasm and activities of independent filmmakers and collaborators. It was symbolic that Anand Patwardhan was given the V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural ceremony. The film festival was now a place for the celebration and sharing of filmmakers’ fruits of labor. Next is to support its growth as a place for audiences to participate.
From YIDFF 2013, the two Sky Perfect Ideha Prize winners were invited to screen at MIFF. Murakami Kenji’s Sound Hunting fascinated audiences who rediscovered the magic of film. The folk tales in Storytellers by Sakai Ko and Hamaguchi Ryusuke were met by sighs and laughter from the audience, who recognized the oral traditions from their own Indian cultures.