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A potpourri of moving images and sound brings a festival alive

A whopping 385 documentaries and short feature and animated films were screened during the seven-day Mumbai International Film Festival 2022 organised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the five theatres of the sylvan  Films Division Complex, located at Peddar Road aka G. Deshmukh Marg. The clamour was for an annual doc fest says Ronita Torcato

Documentary films from Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Panama, South Korea and UK, besides India, were screened in the international competition section of the bi-annual Mumbai International Film Fest, popularly known by its abbreviation MIFF, which showcased special packages, retrospectives, a homage to Satyajit Ray (among other luminaries), master classes and various workshops.

The Dutch film, Turn Your Body to the Sun, by filmmaker Aliona van der Horst bagged the Best Documentary Award, Golden Conch and Rs ten lakh prize money. The film highlights the resolute quest of a daughter to retrace the footsteps of her Tatar soldier father, who was taken prisoner of war by the Red Army during the Second World War. Dedicated to Soviet prisoners of war and their families, the film draws on archival material  to make sense of their experiences. Sixty years after, the daughter, Sana, realises that war is far from bravery, courage and patriotic idealism, but empty nihilism.

Wartime continues to be a popular subject with filmmakers. Italian producer-director Nicola Piovesan’s period film, Closed to the Light, is set in 1944, during the Second World War and the Italian civil war. “It’s a single long take movie where actors seem motionless and only the camera is moving… “

The Polish animation film, Prince in a Pastry Shop, won the Silver Conch in the International Category, prize money of Rs five lakh and a handsome trophy. Mumbai’s affable Polish Consul General Damian Irzyk accepted the award on behalf of the film director, Katarzyna Agopsowicz, at the valedictory function held at the Nehru Centre auditorium.

Malayalam film Saakshatkaaram and Gudmund Helsmsal’s Brother Toll, a film from Faroe Islands of Denmark in the Faroese language, shared the Silver Conch for Best Short Fiction in the International category. Saakshatkaaram’s director Sudesh Balan is a communication design faculty member at the IDC School of Design in IIT Bombay, of which he is also an alumnus.

Renowned Israeli film maker, academic ( teaching in NYU among other institutions) and MIFF juror  Dan Wolman screened  his 2020 film, The Fringe’s Heart, which focuses  on two productions of the Beersheba Fringe theater co-founded by Yoav Michaeli: Be-Polar (inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman) and Goral Hagra, Yoav’s biographical play about  a Kabbalistic ritual that helped identify 35 young paramilitaries who were killed and dismembered by Arabs in 1948 at Kfar Etzion near Jerusalem. For Yoav, the film is intensely personal since among the youths slaughtered, was his teenaged uncle (rather, surrogate father) Amnon, “who was more like a father to us children, since our own father had deserted us”.

Also making an impassioned plea for personalised film-making was Carter Pilcher, founder-CEO of ShortsTV, a leading short movie entertainment company. It is interesting that like journalists of yesteryear who never went to journalism school, Pilcher did not receive formal education in the creation of moving images. He has been repeatedly nominated for his short films and is on the board of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA.)

Eminent filmmaker Shyam Benegal lauded  non-feature filmmakers saying that they are self-motivated to make films which usually don’t have large audiences unlike mainstream films. “Making short-films or non-feature films is not only challenging but also the most creative form of film making… It is wonderful we have this festival, and we are recognising wonderful filmmakers giving them a forum to show their films,” he said.

Paris-based, French-Iranian filmmaker and MIFF 2022 Jury Chairperson for the International Competition Mina Rad said the quality of all the movies was “very good”. She expressed the hope that the festival would be an annual event. Concurring, Ravinder Bhakar, managing director, NFDC India and director, MIFF 2022 responded, “We will try to make this festival even bigger and support filmmakers in the best possible manner,” he added. “This year our aim at MIFF 2022 was to create an eco-sphere for the documentary market which is predominantly being ruled by the feature films and web series and we took a giant leap. Another effort was to connect the industry and the market.”

At one of the MIFF Dialogues (engaging and enlightening conversations between filmmakers, media and delegates), film editor Subhash Sehgal noted that MIFF films covered a variety of subjects such as child molestation, women’s issues, child marriage, water shortage, and forest depletion to name a few. In contrast to the international jury’s decision to give more focus to content rather than technical skills in award selection, Sehgal said that the national jury treated both the technical side and content of filmmaking at par.

As many as 158 filmmakers pitched their projects at MIFF-2022 which attracted over 5000 delegates, including 1400 students. Oscar winning shorts and VFX films were a big draw for students at MIFF which could boast of such participant institutions as MIT Art, Design and Technology University Institute of Design, Pune, the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, the Auroville Film Institute, Pondicherry and the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute, Kolkata.

Bangladesh was the Country of Focus this year in commemoration of its 50 years of independence and 11 films from the country were presented.

The B2B activity which was one of the firsts in this edition, the hybrid mode being another, saw the participation of leading players Amazon Prime, MUBI, and Pocket Films as well as  MyCinemaHall, Planet Marathi, DocuBay and Shorts TV, Event Scape. “Delegates were given insights on how to pitch their films and the monetization ecosystem was explained to them. This will help them in the long run,” Bakhar said, adding, “We also organised Masterclasses by eminent personalities.”

At his Masterclass, noted sound designer Resul Pookutty talked about the different forms of sounds used in filmmaking, namely, production sound, ambience sound, designed sound, and music. “While designing sound, we have to keep in mind, the context of story, vision of the director and socio-cultural aspects in which it is being set,” he said. 

Jury Chairperson for National Competition MIFF 2022 Sanjit Narvekar said that jurors saw a total of 67 movies including documentary, short-fiction and animation films. “We observed a radical change in the way short films are made.” Noting that “there was a separate section for student films in the past”, he urged its quick resumption. Interestingly, there were only five films vying for the Best Student Films award from the renowned Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA) which has tied up with city colleges  for free screenings and film appreciation workshops online and offline, and plans to expand its footprint across India.

The MIFF 2022 jury selected as winner, Megha, a Bengali film directed by Rishi Bhaumik.

The titular character is a little girl who harbours a horrifying secret that slowly distorts her sense of reality. The film was adjudged award winner for its “rare use of animation to tackle a serious theme which is discussed  even within the family and for its unerring use of colour which enhances and underscores the poignancy of its theme.” The award carried a trophy, certificate and prize money of Rs one lakh.

Congratulating the award winners,  Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting L. Murugan remarked, “These short films don’t need 18 reels and 180 minutes to communicate with the viewers, but they encapsulate a very big message in them. They do not rely on the superstars and box office gimmicks either. Every person who works in a documentary film is a superstar.” Well said. But it is not clear why the Indian government continues to blithely disregard, repeated appeals for a TV channel dedicated to docs and shorts.

Award-winning doc film maker Anand Patwardhan was nowhere in sight. Like French (Jewish)  filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who was unwelcome in Israel (and even issued death threats) for Shoah, his  epic documentary about Holocaust perpetrators, witnesses, survivors and collaborators who sent fellow Jews to their deaths in Nazi camps, Patwardhan too has fallen foul of  the Indian powers that be and has had to battle censorship and bans. A toast  would be in order then, to feisty filmmakers who persist in fighting the good fight, disseminating  in-depth information, insight and perspectives on diverse subjects ranging from socio-economic issues, and arts and culture to  conservation and climate change which adversely impacts us all.

(The writer is a government accredited journalist, chorister, amateur historian, traveller and student of philosophy.)

July – September 2022