12nd Kerala International Film Festival

India, December 7 - December 14 2007

The jury

Sheila Johnston (UK), Cüneyt Cebenoyan (Turkey), Anand Varala ()

Awarded films

Few festival audiences in the world — if, indeed, any at all — can come close to matching Kerala’s in terms of enthusiasm and well-informed cinephilia. 200 rupees (about 3.5 Euros or 5 US dollars) bought participants a weekly pass with unlimited access to screenings, and they were certainly out to get value for money.

Thanks, no doubt, to the state’s robust tradition of film societies, it was common for a 750-seat cinema in the small provincial capital of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) to be packed to the rafters for a 11am midweek screening of a modest first film from, say, Chile or Mozambique. The (overwhelmingly male) audiences would yell in an infectious frenzy of anticipation as soon as the festival trailer began, and burst into spontaneous applause at a particularly fine image or piece of dialogue.

At any given time of the day, they could choose between eight or nine movies. At its 2007 edition, the festival’s very numerous strands included, among others, a strong official competition of work from the Third World, a section of New Malayalam Cinema, homages to recently deceased masters such as Antonioni, Bergman, Sembene and Edward Yang, retrospectives devoted to Almodóvar, Jiri Menzel, P. Bhaskaran and others, and themed packages of Balkan, Caribbean and French films. It’s an ambitious and eclectic programme.

Kerala is not the sort of festival which parachutes in a Hollywood star or relies on a preview of the latest American blockbuster to attract the crowds and red-carpet media coverage (though Bollywood does, of course, supply a helping of populist glamour). There were, in fact, only a small handful of US films over the entire ten days, and so lively and varied was the line-up that one did not notice (or mourn) their absence.

One reservation: aside from the nightly parties and some seminars, there were no structured opportunities, such as press conferences or audience q&a sessions, to meet visiting film-makers; the festival did come in for some criticism from local producers for its lack of networking facilities. However there are plans both to establish a conference centre and to develop a market, and when these are in place, Kerala — at 12 still a relatively young festival — should become a major film hub in Southern Asia. (Sheila Johnston)