Film southasia

"Festival of southasian documentries"

Film Southasia’15

Nitesh Pradhan
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 It was quite serendipitously that I came across a poster of Film South Asia 2015 (hereafter referred to as FSA15). But that is a story for another time. Right now we’re going to talk about the Festival.
Firstly, I have to admit; FSA15 was my first exclusively Documentary screening film festival. Barring FSA09 I think, when I watched just one film, which doesn’t really count. This time though, I’m rather proud of myself for making it all the way through (not that it was a burden at all, but because I can be quite unpredictable sometimes).
While the other festivals I’ve attended, have been a major influence in shaping my perspective of films and the film industry in general, one thing I’ve learnt, is to leave all prejudices and illusions of knowledge behind. Which is also the reason why I flat out refused to buy one of the festival booklets, even after the convincing sales pitch at the ticket counter. To a festival such as this, you go with mind wide open to receive, especially after what Hitchcock once said about how the director is God in narrative films, but in documentary films, God is the director.
The first day, which exclusively screened student films (and should’ve been clearly stated in their schedule) was I’d say, lukewarm, in terms of the films and the attendance. A couple of films really stood out though, ‘Tyres’ a Burmese production which won best student film, gave us a peek into the life of tyre recyclers in Myanmar and ‘Sagar Manav’ from India, which dealt with loneliness issues and the psychological challenges of a lighthouse attendant who stays all alone on an island. I hope these directors continue to contribute to the world of cinema and films.
The second day onwards, I was hooked. While I cannot say I found all the films great, most of the films were a delight to watch. Some were works of great technical excellence, and then there were a few that transcended into pure cinema and blew me away with aforementioned transcendence. The ones that really impressed me were ‘My name is Salt’, ‘Drawing the Tiger’, ‘Tomorrow we disappear’, ‘The Walnut Tree’ , ‘Castaway Man’ and ‘Feet upon the Ground’.
While watching ‘My name is Salt’, an Indian production; my eyes actually welled up, not because it was sad or emotional, but because of how beautiful the film was. The cinematography was exquisite, and with the absence of a voice over, I felt like a silent observer watching as the salt people went on with business as usual, of course without the inconvenience of having to stand under the sun all day. The last time I remember feeling this way was at the end of Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’, where he tells a really funny joke about love, but it had me in tears because it was the perfect ending to a phenomenal film.
‘Tomorrow we disappear’, was very intriguing to say the least. Another Indian production, it peered into the lives of a colony of travelling performers whose homes are under threat from real-estate developers in Delhi. Although the people had good reason to be dejected and in despair, their ability to still enjoy life and go on living in good spirits, was a breath of fresh air.
‘Drawing the Tiger’ which won the UNICEF award, was an emotional roller coaster of a film. Shot over 7 years with a family in rural Nepal, it dealt with their struggle to mitigate poverty, and the ever surmounting challenges they face in trying to do so. Despite the bleak subject matter of the film, I was left with a sense of hope at the end.
‘The Walnut Tree’, which won the Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film, was a thought-provoking and heart-tugging document of a family of internally displaced refugees in Pakistan. These are the kind of films that bring us out of our comfortable shells and make us re-evaluate our sense of justice, freedom and humanity, in the same vein as a lot of Iranian films like ‘Turtles can Fly’.
I don’t think a subject driven film like ‘Castaway Man’ could’ve possibly been boring. The record attendance speaks for itself. The film was about the disappearance of Dor Bahadur Bista, one of the foremost intellectuals of Nepal. I was completely engrossed during the full length of the film.
Technicalities like cinematography, editing, etc, all faded into the background, it didn’t matter. I journeyed with the characters on screen as the multi-layered story unfolded itself.
Then there was the 175 minuter, ‘Feet Upon the Ground’, that delved into the life and work of South Indian Filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who was also the chief guest of the Festival. This was a must watch for film professionals, students and enthusiasts alike. It was basically a lifetime worth of knowledge condensed into a 3 hr long time-capsule. I have no idea how these three hours passed as I was glued to the screen from the rather trippy first shot to the very end.
Other films like ‘Behind the Screens’ from Myanmar, ‘Brief Life of Insects’ from India, ‘The Journey Within’, about the journey of Coke studio, from Pakistan, and ‘Being Bhaijan’ from India (the latter two were screened in the courtyard) were very well made too and like the films above, had a lot of soul and are definitely worth multiple watches.
How I wish I had one of those time turner machines of Hermione’s, so I could’ve watched parallel screenings too. But, I am very pleased and satisfied for having watched the films I did, even though some of them were quite forgettable. One of the pioneers of the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol once said in an interview, that the script of a film i.e. the subject and the theme, doesn’t really matter, what matters is the director’s vision and style. After attending the festival I must say I couldn’t agree with him more. Some of my favourite films of the festival stood out not because of what it was about, but because of how the directors chose to handle the the subject he/she/they had chosen.
That being said, FSA15 to me was more than just the films. The ambience of Yala Maya Kendra, the people, the conversations, and the energy formed what I would think, could in itself be a film or part of a film. So, even though they were a bit behind schedule on a few screenings, it didn’t feel like I had to wait too long, because I was too busy soaking-in this sublime experience.
Nitesh is a filmmaker based in Mumbai…. If what Truffaut said about film-lovers being sick people; is true, then he admits affliction.

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