In a Nutshell By Premendra Mazumder

in 9th International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films

by Premendra Mazumder

The 9th Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short & Animation Films (MIFF) was held in the city of Mumbai – the film capital of India. Mumbai, previously known as Bombay and popularly known as “Bollywood” for its dream factories creating hundreds of fantasies in celluloid every year, witnesses this feast of reality once in every two years under the fabulous patronage of both the Provincial Government of Maharashtra and the Union Government of India. In fact, the Films Division – the biggest organization responsible for the film activities of the Government of India has been the key player of this unique festival for the last eighteen years. Held as one of the largest festivals for shorts, documentaries & animations, the MIFF has already earned acknowledgement and popularity worldwide.

The Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, a well-known film fan, inaugurated “MIFF 2006” on the evening of February 3rd on a colorful occasion where many of other dignitaries from home & abroad were present. Mr. Ram Mohan (1931-), the pioneer animator in India and creator of numerous award-winning animation films, was honored with the most prestigious V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award on this ceremonious occasion.

The pleasant climate of the Arabian sea-coast and colorful festive ambience of the main venue the P.L. Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy in the heart of the city with its several theatres and auditoriums greeted the joyous mood of thousands of delegates, most of whom were the enthusiastic film makers and film buffs coming from the different parts of the Indian subcontinent as well as from the various parts of the globe. Festival Director Mr. Raghu Krishna and Festival Coordinator Mr. V. Packirisamy along with their efficient and well-mannered task force were always vigilant to hail the spirit of the festival in its truest sense. Their sincere untiring efforts made it possible to uphold the freedom of the filmmakers avoiding censorship, which was a must according to the Indian Cinematograph Acts for any public viewing. An independent screening committee chaired by the celebrated film personalities Ms. Arunaraje Patil for the International Competition Section and Mr. Ervell E. Menezes for the National Competition Section selected the films for a quality competition from thousands of entries for about 33 hours running time for each section. It was quite a tough job undoubtedly, which, however, was never doctored by any Government invigilation at any level. The filmmakers and critics exacted that such heterodoxy should continue beyond the festival.

The International Competition Section showcased a total of 55 films from 4 to 90 minutes’ duration. Out of these 55 titles in competition, only 4 were animations, while 23 were short fictions and 28 documentaries of varied lengths. Australia was the most enthusiastic country to compete with 16 titles, followed by India with 15 in this section. The competition also included Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. Surprisingly such a big event with an incredible bouquet of cash awards failed to draw the attention of filmmakers in many other countries where the independent film movement had already proved to be the pivotal force of the freedom of the camera. The entry fees may partly explain the apathy of the skilled filmmakers of several other absent countries and therefore should be properly reviewed to improve the quality of the International Competition as well as to bring the entire third world under the umbrella of the MIFF in the future.

The International Critics Jury appointed by FIPRESCI only considered films in this section and its distinctive “Certificate of Merit” was awarded to the Indian entry titled AFSPA, 1958 directed by Haobam Paban Kumar, a young film student who made the film at his own expense. It was a very courageous film rhapsodizing about the people’s spontaneous opposition against the Indian Army on the enforcement of the highly controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act in Manipur, an isolated North Eastern province of India. The film also bagged the International Jury Award for “the illuminating portrait of a community under siege and its struggle for justice” which was valued at 100,000 INR besides the citation. The Golden Conch, the highest prize of this section including a cash amount of 250,000 INR for each film, was awarded to the Australian entry Black Road by William Nessen for documentaries of up to 60 minutes’ duration, to the Canadian entry Continuous Journey by Ali Kazimi for documentaries above 60 minutes and to the UK-India joint venture The Elephant Boy by Rene Mohan Das for feature films of up to 75 minutes’ duration. Shot over a four-year period, The Black Road recounting the harrowing story of Ache’s struggle for independence from Indonesia also won the Best Production Award with a cash amount of 100,000 INR. It came as a surprise that no film in the animation section was eligible for the Golden Conch and cash award of 250,000 INR. However, the Second Best Award with a Silver Conch and 100,000 INR was shared between two animation films, Home Delivery by Elio Quiroga from Spain and Boond (The Drop) by Kavita Singh from India respectively. The Silver Conch with a cash amount of 100,000 INR each was awarded to Vietnam Symphony by Tom Zubricki from Australia for documentaries up to 60 minutes’ duration, Zero Degree of Separation by Elle Flanders from Canada for documentaries above 60 minutes and to The Little Terrorist by Asvin Kumar from India for feature films up to 75 minutes.

In the National Section there was a total of 80 entries finally selected for the Competition featuring 8 animation films, 25 feature films and 47 documentaries. Most of the documentaries, say about 20, were in Hindi, followed by some entries in various other major Indian languages such as Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Assamese, Gujrati, Malayalam etc. The “Golden Conch” with 100,000 INR each were awarded as Best Documentary to the Riding Solo to the Top of the World by Gaurav Jani, as Best Fiction to Nothing Happens on this Turn by Hitesh Kewalya and as Best Animation to the Printed Rainbow by Gitanjali Rao. “Silver Conch” with 75,000 INR went to Kora Rajee – Land of the Diggers by Biju Toppo for Second Best Documentary, Baba Black Beard by Sanghamitra Karmakar as Second Best Fiction and jointly to Dhara by Ganesh Gothwal and Swoosh by Ranveer Singh Sahmbi for Second Best Animation films. Amongst other prizes in this section, there were the National Jury Award valued 100,000 INR shared between Hoon I by Amit B Shah and Shit by Amudhan R P while the Critics Jury Award was given to Riding Solo to the Top of the World. This film was an adventure of a lonesome traveler who rode on his motorbike all the way from Mumbai to one of the most remote places in the world, the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh at Indo-China border. Another interesting film following the sad-happy story of the Chinese community in Kolkata and its migration to Toronto and elsewhere in the aftermath of the Indo-China war in 1962, titled The Legend of Fat Mama by Rafeeq Ellias, won the Best Production Award. Other films worth-mentioning were Journey by Somath Mukhopadhyay portraying the struggle of a poor Bangladeshi girl Najma Khatun, (In)Visible City by Pramod Gupta accounting the struggle of four thousand families evicted from the stretch of a railway track in South Kolkata, The Die is Caste by Ranjan Kamath contemplating three decades of the far leftist movement in Bihar, an Eastern Province of India.

The “Homage” section was devoted to Indian masters J. S. Bhownagary (1921-), Narain Singh Thapa (1924-2005) and Vijay Bahadur Chandra (1935-) and also to famous British filmmaker Margaret Tait. Bhownagary’s Radha and Krishna, Thapa’s Jawharlal Nehru the Universal Man, Chandra’s Luminous Jewell on the eminent Indian classical dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj stand amongst the many masterpieces presented in this section. Margaret’s package was composed of 11 great creations under the two chapters “Film Poems” and “Islands”.

In the “Retrospective” section, there were some worthy films of eminent filmmakers like John Akomfrah from the UK, Lasse Naukkarinen from Finland, Sato Makoto from Japan and Lisa Goldman from the USA. Akomfrah’s 7 films including Martin Luther King Days of Hope, The Wonderful World of Luis Armstrong; Naukkarinen’s 6 films including Once Upon a Time there was a Utopia, Somebody to Dance with; Makoto’s 140-minute-long documentary Out of Place and Goldman’s 7 animation films including Mona Mon Amour and Pilar’s Adventure were the main attractions of this section.

“Special Packages” featured many significant films under the sub-sections “Hybrid Forms – Germany”, “SAARC Films”, “Best of Students Films”, “AFC Presents”, “Iranian Independents”, “Oscars”, “North East Films”, “Doordarshan Classics”, “Buster Keaton et al. “Germany Hybrid Forms” included award-winning films like Buenos Aires, My History / Images of the Absence by German Kral, Master Game by Lutz Dammbeck, Divine Obsession by Volko Kamesky to name a few. A tribute was paid to Buster Keaton with three of his films The Blacksmith, Our Hospitality and Seven Chances. The “Best of Students Films” section was quite enchanting with so many films made by students at the “Film and Television Institute of Tamil Nadu”, “National Institute of Design”, “Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi”, “Film & Television Institute of India, Pune”, “Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute of India”, “Biju Patanayak Film & Television Institute of Orissa, Cuttack” and the “Hamburg Media School, Germany”.

The “SAARC Films” package was represented by 4 films from Nepal, 8 from Sri Lanka, 3 from Pakistan and 4 films from Bangladesh. This proved to be a key package for the solidarity of the Alliance of South-East Asian Nations. The “Australian Film Commission” (AFC) presented 13 films, 7 of which were short fictions. There were 18 films in the “Iranian Independent” section, including a documentary by Mahnaz Afzail The Ladies, a short fiction by Pirooz Kalantari That is Life et al. The package of “North East Films” included 11 documentaries dealing with various aspects of the North Eastern Provinces of India. “Dance With The Camera” was quite an interesting section, it included 9 documentaries dealing with the dancing in divergent schools from different countries. “Doordarshan Classics” was the package of 6 selected classic short fictions made by well-known filmmakers of India. “Zagreb Animation” was an interesting section showcasing 15 attractive animated shorts from 1-minute Love You, Too by Josko Marusik to 16-minute Satiemania by Zdenko Gasparovic. The most popular package was the 14 “Oscar Films” which included the famous animation Ryan by Chris Landreth (USA/2004), a classic short fiction of 13 minutes’ duration (A)Torzija by Stefan Arsenijevic (Slovenia/2002), an important Polish documentary The Children of Leningradsky by Jolanta Galika and many others. Some films became so popular that the organizers had to run repeat shows on public demand.

Mr. P. R. Dasmunsi, the Union Minister of Information & Broadcasting presented the merits and awards to all the successful competitors and also congratulated the Jury Members on a very colorful occasion on the evening of February 9th. He was also available to chat with national & international guests at the gala closing dinner hosted by the Films Division, Government of India after the award ceremony. The MIFF established itself as a major international forum for short, documentary and animation filmmakers, not only to present their works to the world but also for much-needed interactions and discourse in the independent film movement.