IDSFFK 2017: Kerala govt expresses support for banned films; vows to protect democratic dissent
The 10th edition of International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) was inaugurated at a solemn ceremony at Thiruvananthapuram on the evening of Friday, 16 June 2017. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan lighted a lamp to inaugurate the five-day-long festival organised by Kerala Chalachitra Academy, which will conclude on June 20.
The IDSFFK is being held amid a controversy following the decision of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting not to allow the screening of three films based on allegedly contentious themes, at the festival. The films are: The Unbearable Being of Lightness, by PN Ramachandra on the Rohith Vemula issue; In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, by NC Fazil and Shawn Sebastian on the Kashmir unrest; and March, March, March by Kathu Lukose on the JNU protests.
Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court has dismissed plea of directors of two films who approached the court to get the ban revoked. The court said the petitioners have no locus standi to file the case and only the Kerala Chalachitra Academy, which operates under Kerala Government — the organiser of the festival — could do so. Following this, the Kerala Government (which has announced support to the cause) also announced that it would implead in the case and would convey its opinion to the court.
Referring to the ban, the Kerala chief minister said the state government will continue to provide platforms to those who raise voices of dissent in a democratic way. “We are committed to protect the secular and democratic ethos of India,” Vijayan said. He asked filmmakers to make use of advances in technology to overcome restrictions on free speech. A ban is not end of the road for artistes. They can upload their works on platforms like YouTube and get viewers, Vijayan added. He also said the Kerala government was committed to ensure a level playing field to all groups in the film industry. The government has already appointed a three-member committee to study the problems of women in the film industry and their recommendations would be given due consideration and implemented, he said.
Other speakers at the inaugural function of the IDSFFK also echoed protests against the ban on films.
Kerala's minister of culture AK Balan, in his presidential address, said the Kerala government would implead in the case moved by the directors of banned films in Kerala High Court (to overturn the ban). The government has decided to join the case and convey its opinion, he said. Many of the acts of Government of India in the cultural realm point to fascist tendency which aims to stifle all opposing opinions, Balan further noted, adding: there is an undeclared emergency in the cultural arena. Meanwhile, a petition signed by 380 people — including filmmakers and eminent personalities from different fields — would be submitted to the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday, 17 June, to lift the ban.
Altogether 210 films, of which 77 are in the competition category, will be screened at the festival. The films — from across the globe — depict human predicaments in the contemporary world.
The speakers pointed out that short films and documentaries have become the preferred medium of the youth who want to express themselves on the situations in the world around them. Advances in technology have made it possible to shoot films on extremely low budgets. Now everyone can be a filmmaker, Balan said.
Kiran Karnik, who is well known for his contributions to the broadcasting and outsourcing industry said the purpose of short films is self expression and raising debates. Referring to the short films denied permission to be screened at Thiruvananthapuram, he said the ban will lead to more people seeing it and more discussions around it. He requested the Kerala government to give fellowships to short film makers every year and ensure that they are screened in theatres around the state at least once a week.
Sakhisona, directed by Prantik Basu, which won one of the three Tiger awards at the 46th International Film Festival Rotterdam was screened as the opening movie at the festival. This was followed by Life Animated by Roger Ross Williams, which had been nominated for Academy Awards.
Some of the highlights at the festival are the films of Palestine filmmaker Mai Masri and Malayali director Vipin Vijay. Their films will be screened under the Filmmaker in Focus category.
Mai Masri made her entry into the field of film with her debut directorial, Under The Rubble. She is a Palestinian filmmaker who studied film at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University where she graduated with a BA degree. She founded Nour Productions in 1995 with her husband, filmmaker Jean Chamoun, and directed several documentaries that received over 60 international awards including the Trailblazer Award at Mipdoc Cannes (2011) and the Luchino Visconti Award in Italy (2004). Masri who has directed nine films till date, attained fame with her 3000 Nights.
The film 3000 Nights focuses on the life of a young newly-wed Palestinian bride, who was arrested and incarcerated in a top-security Israeli prison where she gives birth to a baby boy. Shot in a real prison in a cinéma-vérité style with handheld cameras, the film has a raw documentary edge that resonates with the reality it portrays. Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, 3000 Nights was Jordan’s official entry for Oscar’s Best Foreign Film category that year. 33 Days, Beirut Diaries, Suspended Dreams, Children of Shatila, Frontiers of Dreams and Fears are her other movies.
The seven short films of Malayali filmmaker and scriptwriter Vipin Vijay have earned a place of their own. He received the Charles Wallace Arts Award for research at the British Film Institute, London, in 2003. Vipin is also the recipient of The Sanskriti Award (2007) for social and cultural achievement. His works are made under independent codes and defy any categorisation eluding all traditional genre definitions and merge experimental film, documentary, essay, fiction all into one. The Egotic World (2000) is his maiden cinematic venture. In addition to this, Palace of the Winds, Broken Glass, A Flowering, The Image Threads, Venomous Fold are some of his other films.