Taking the best of cinema beyond India's metros: Why the Gorakhpur Film Festival matters
The latest edition of the Gorakhpur Film Festival is will held this weekend.
Video Republic, Sambresthi and KVK Samachar are Odisha-based filmmakers' collectives who have made several documentaries on the politician-corporate nexus running rife in the state, deals that the government wants to pass off as development but actually harm people. However, in a country where almost every state has a big budget film festival, they found no takers for their films. It is then that the Gorakhpur Film Festival, organised by Cinema of Resistance, a unit of Jan Sanskriti Mancha, came to their rescue.
"No state would dare expose corporate malpractices in a film festival backed by them," says Sanjay Joshi, convenor, Cinema of Resistance.
Cinema of Resistance, which started organising film festivals in 2006, has organised at least 43 film festivals across India with a focus on non-metros and small towns. The first chapter was organised in 2006 in Gorakhpur. In the following years, the group has organised film festivals in Lucknow, Bareilly, Nainital, Ballia, Bhilai, Patna and Bareilly among others. They also try to organise film screenings regularly in small towns of India.
The latest edition of the Gorakhpur Film Festival is to be held this weekend.
"We started out in 2006 when traditional film screening practices were dying. Single screen theatres were shutting down and malls and multiplexes took over. We wanted to keep the old school movie watching practices alive," Joshi said.
Another motivation was to establish a culture of watching good non-mainstream films in places where there is no such practice.
"The film societies in north India too were diminishing in number at that time. Moreover, the reason good films by small production houses don't get released is because big producers block all shows. Even distributors show no interest in such films," he says.
While you would think tier II and tier III cities would have little interest in foreign selections and films which don't have big stars, Joshi says that their most popular films are Canadian film Neighbour and a French short Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge), directed by Albert Lamorisse.
"The latter has no dialogues and is extremely popular. We have screened it several times in places like Palampur and Nainital," says Joshi. "It's wrong to think that only metros appreciate good films. Cinema is a language that speaks most effectively to people - literates or not."
While the popular perception is that Bhojpuri films are loud and crass, Joshi says that their film festival also seeks to bust myths such as that.
"We are showing three Bhojpuri films this year. One film called Naya Pata, made by a young filmmaker called Pavan Srivastava, will be screened in New York simultaneously at a film festival," he said.
The idea of the festival is also partially tied to activism, to defy the domination of corporate entities on society.
"The biggest and most prominent literature fests in India are sponsored by companies which have several cases of human rights violation against them. We don't want corporate funding. Instead we work with individual donations. One can donate as less as Rs 10. We also don't want a lot of money from one person as we don't want to stoke expectations of VIP treatment at festivals," clarifies Joshi.
Despite what people may think, Joshi said organising a film festival doesn't require too much money. "We show films on a LED screen. We need a few speakers and need to a book a hall," said Joshi.
"This isn't a film appreciation forum. We just want to make good films available to a cross section of people," Joshi said.