21st Kerala International Film Festival
India, December 9 - December 16 2016
Kerala, the most southern state in India, is in many ways unusual. The literacy rate is around 94 per cent (compared to 74 per cent in the country as a whole), the social sector is well developed and people are truly committed to social issues. Peacefully and orderly conducted protests are both frequent and widely accepted. From the outsider’s perspective this appears to create an atmosphere far from the hardcore nationalist aggression that seems to prosper elsewhere in India. In the state capital Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) takes place in December each year, and in 2016 presented its 21st edition.
Yet nationalist tendencies can still be felt inside the cinemas even before the films begin. Nowadays it is mandatory to play the national anthem before every screening, and you must stand up while listening to it. If you remain seated, you run the risk of being arrested.
This is exactly what happened for the screening of Jayan Cherian’s controversial Ka Bodyscapes, a film included in the section of local productions in Malayalam (the majority language spoken in Kerala). The film follows a free-spirited gay painter and his outspoken activist friends. Someone reported to the police that a few people remained seated during the national anthem. The police showed up at the cinema in great numbers, arrested those in question and took them to the police station. A couple of days later they were released on bail.
Issues concerning offences against national and patriotic values are not something that the authorities take lightly. Just the other day, the Keralan author Kamal C. Chavara was taken into custody for “insulting” the national anthem in one of his books. He was later set free.
You could argue that, when people are standing in line for several hours to get into the screenings, it seems overly harsh to arrest them for not having the stamina to stand up when the anthem is played.
At IFFK the FIPRESCI jury handed out two awards: one to the Best Film in the international competition, the other to the Best Film in Malayalam. This year we awarded the exquisitely directed minimalist Mexican drama Warehoused (Almacenados, directed by Jack Zagha Kababie) and the contemporary, docu-style and socially informed Manhole by Vidhu Vincent about manual scavenging.
The festival is very well organized and the people involved make a real effort to create a welcoming atmosphere. Out of the three juries at the festival, the FIPRESCI jury watched the most films, almost four per day, making for quite a packed schedule that nevertheless gave room for different receptions in the evenings, offering the chance to meet colleagues.
The heart and soul of any festival are more than often its hard-working volunteers. And a big thank you goes out to the volunteers at IFFK 2016 who gave us a memorable festival experience and showed us around in Trivandrum.
A final note: Yes, Kerala is a tropical location and the heat is palpable. The temperature sits steadily at 33 degrees Celsius in the daytime. But travelling between screenings as a jury member and walking in and out of air-conditioned cinemas poses another challenge: the constant shifts in temperature by over ten degrees require at least some kind of long-sleeved garment while indoors. Or even a blanket, as one of the members of the international jury preferred.(Anders E. Larsson, edited by Birgit Beumers)
Our jury awards two prizes, to a film in the international competition and to a film in the regional Malayalam competition.