IFFLA is proud to be celebrating 10 years of amazing programming with the help of many individuals who bring their knowledge, time, and experience to putting it all together. Get an insiders view on this year's programming and their perspective on where Indian Cinema is going.
What distinguishes this year's selection from those of years in the past?
Year to year the body of films reflect what is currently happening in our society. The true story tellers hone in on these tides and bring them back to us in their own unique voice. Globalization is a big factor in the evolution of Indian cinema – filmmakers are exposed to and grow up with cinema that is not just from the Indian mainstream. There is a larger pool of work coming from within the Indian community, films about Indians and for Indians, going beyond "showcasing" India to an outside world. The 10th Anniversary program is not only exciting, but also it shows a strong sense of maturity and vast diversity, reflecting the New Wave of Indian filmmakers, and indicates where Indian cinema is going to. It challenges us all as viewers and participants.
As a programmer, how do you approach the process of narrowing down a huge number of submissions to just a chosen few?
It’s definitely not easy. The breadth of work we selected from this year’s submissions was incredible and many films we were not able to include were heartbreaking to say no to. There are always a few things we look for, most importantly, story. We watch first as a viewer, always. Is this a film I would want to see? Will I walk away remembering this film? And then we think about the choices that were made. Are they taking risks? Do they have a unique voice that needs to be heard and recognized? Will the director be IFFLA’s next discovery? We look for new, fresh stories that are challenging, engaging, unique.
We also look for themes/trends in an effort to create a cohesive program. However, it is still important to have a variety of films, and ultimately we want to showcase the best films that we can, no matter where they come from or how they were made. It’s a very thorough process, which is important to the entire team. Most of us are filmmakers and have worked at other festivals and the integrity of the programming is essential to everything we do.
You have watched a spectrum of the latest work in Indian alternate cinema. Do you see some strong trends emerging?
There is a strong resurgence of the long history of New Wave Indian Cinema or Art House Cinema as it’s also called. More and more we are seeing strong women filmmakers and more women in the audience asking to hear and see their stories. The growing Indian middle class has also meant a new force in films made for and about that audience.
We believe that everyone is ready to be challenged, to witness and engage in art that may be uncomfortable, critique tradition, take apart old structures and political alliances. Whether this is sexuality, relationships, politics, or identity, everyone is ready for the next phase. And fortunately we have a new generation of emerging trailblazers who are changing the landscape of Indian cinema.
What are some of the overarching themes that you discerned in this year’s slate of films to be featured at IFFLA?
We have many first-time directors who have already developed a strong voice and a clear point of view in their filmmaking. There is definitely a throw back to the old masters of Indian neo-realism. This year the films tend to be dark, gritty, and raw. We have several films about children that are sort of coming-of-age stories, but generally less sentimental and more geared toward the theme of disillusionment of discovery of the "adult" world. You can see this in films such as CHITTAGONG, GATTU, and LUCKY.
What issues would one get to see in this year’s documentaries? How has the genre of Indian documentaries evolved going by the ones you’ve watched in the last few years and especially this year?
This year we saw many films dealing with middle class Indians, and the issues they face. Instead of "anthropological" pieces about the wonders of India, geared toward European/American audiences, we are looking within India. Films that are character-driven and slice of life stories. The issues of women play strongly in this year’s selection. The changing role of women in Indian society through and how globalization is affecting cultural norms and ideas.
The canvas of shorts is very fascinating because in the hands of a skilled filmmaker a quick exploration of even a slim idea/storyline can evoke amazing depth. Tell us about the nature of films in IFFLA’s two shorts programs.
The shorts are the heart of our emerging filmmakers. This is usually the time where filmmakers can break rules, throw caution to the wind and take risks they would normally be questioned about. It’s also where we can really glean what is happening next in Indian cinema. We have a wide variety of shorts but you can see some recurring themes such as the exploration of the clash between modernity and traditional stories and societal roles (AUDACITY/AFTERNOON/SUJATA/THE 5 to name a few). Overall, this year’s shorts are less sentimental, darker, and with each film you really get a glimpse into a unique artist who is definitely willing to walk their own path.