The Well Organised Film Festival By Sudhir Nandgaonkar

in 11st Kerala International Film Festival

by Sudhir Nandgaonkar

The “Kerala International Film Festival” (KIFF) was started in 1994 by the ruling Marxist government in Kerala, the picturesque southern tip of India. Kerala was the first state in the country to organize an international film festival; India’s second such festival after the “International Film Festival of India” (IFFI).

The 11th edition of KIFF was held at the state capital Trivandrum. In 1998, the Kerala government framed its policy to promote cinema, and appointed the Kerala State Chalachitra (motion picture) Academy to implement it. The Academy not only organises the international film festival, but also undertakes a range of other film activities including film appreciation courses, promotes a film society movement, maintains a film archive, and a library of books and DVDs.

This year the KIFF enrolled more than 6,000 delegates. It may be pertinent to note that in India, no international festival undertakes sale of tickets to the public, but instead prefers enrolling delegates by charging a nominal fee. The KIFF delegate fee was approximately US$ 5 making the films accessible to anyone. To accommodate 6,000 delegates, the festival had eight different screening venues, and each of the theatres was packed to capacity. Over 200 films including documentaries and animations films were screened during the seven-day event.

Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, and due to the strong roots of the film society movement, cinema-related awareness is also high among the lay public. As a result, audiences thronged not just the theatre to see films, but participated enthusiastically in other academic activities like the G. Arvindan Memorial Lecture, Daily Open Forum, and Meet-the-Director programmes.

Internationally well-known director Mani Kaul delivered the memorial lecture instituted in the memory of G. Arvindan, one of the Kerala’s prominent film-makers. Kaul made an interesting point in his lecture explaining how cinema has no longer remained a visual medium, but a temporal medium. He said the constant bombardment on visual images through 24-hour television, advertisements and other means has robbed cinema of its the visual culture, which emerged during the Renaissance movement.

The KIFF produced two catalogues carrying details of the festival programme. A larger catalogue provided synopsis with photos, and articles on cinema, while a smaller easy-to-carry handbook provided delegates with the gist of the daily programmes. However, the catalogues did not publish the source of each print screened at the festival as is the requirement according to the international film festival rules.

It may come as a surprise to readers outside India that such a large number of delegates found the time to view five films a day for seven days. The answer lies in the fact that Kerala has a 95 per cent literacy rate, and a strong presence of a film society movement. Kerala has more than 100 film societies spread across the state, like the state of West Bengal in eastern India. Kerala also produces a large number of books and literature on cinema in English and the native language of Malayalam. Film culture is better rooted in Kerala than any other state in India.

Despite the state’s efforts to improve the quality of cinema halls, the cinema theatres in Kerala need urgent upgrading. Though key cities in India witness a multiplex revolution, Trivandrum is yet to get its first multiplex. The screening of Pedro Almodovar’s Volver had to be cancelled after sound equipment was not found up to the mark. The decoding machine was later hired from Mumbai, and the film was screened.

Despite such constraints, the KIFF was well-organised with a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore (approx. US$ 325,000). The grand prize for the Best Film in the competition section is worth US$ 20,000. KIFF has three juries to judge its entries including the Main Jury for judging the competition section, the FIPRESCI jury, and the NETPAC jury.