Film aficionados packed into Thiruvananthapuram’s legendary Nishagandhi auditorium on 9 December for the inauguration of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) erupted in applause when Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari held up a lock of hair her Iranian counterpart Mahnaz Mohammadi had sent as a mark of protest against the stringent hijab laws in her country.
Mohammadi could not travel to India to receive the ‘Spirit of Cinema’ award instituted by the Kerala government as part of IFFK 2022. Her passport was not renewed in time.
A week and scores of films later, as the curtains come down on the Kerala film festival on Friday, 16 December, its message was clear: Stand in solidarity with those using films as a means to fight injustice worldwide.
At one level, it was grand event. It saw one of the largest gatherings of film buffs in the country in the post-pandemic period. Compared to previous years, it attracted a huge number of film lovers.
Some of the best films from across the world were screened, and their makers descended on the festival venue to interact with a discerning and well-informed audience, making it a world-class event.
Between words and action, falls the shadow
But at another level, the festival exposed the hypocrisy of Kerala society.
Many young film lovers were left disappointed as entry passes were issued selectively, and mostly to officialdom.
Some of them dared to organise protests at the festival venue seeking fairness and transparency in the issuing of passes, but they were silenced using the might of the state police.
On the sidelines of the IFFK, where the right to dissent and protest was discussed threadbare, the police charged protestors under Section 146 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for rioting.
Those arrested included a 21-year-old college girl who politely asked the authorities why she was denied a chance to watch the movies.
Premkumar, vice chairman of the Kerala Chalachitra Academy, the organisers of the event, was categorical that the protests were peaceful and there was no rioting.
But the police are pressing ahead with the charge against some 30 protestors.
Then there were the technical glitches that irked many delegates. The online reservation system was far from perfect. Many who reserved in advance failed to find seats. Their grievances were not appropriately addressed.
Also, while the number of delegates at the permanent venues is increasing with each passing year, the infrastructure development has not kept pace, sometimes turning the event into a harrowing experience.
The refusal to have multiple screenings of the top most films also evoked resentment.
Protest by film students during IFFK 2022
The IFFK also saw protests by students of the Kottayam-based KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA) who assembled at the main venue with placards to invite public attention to the caste discrimination and other wrongdoings of the institute’s director.
No prominent actor or actress expressed solidarity with the protest during the IFFK, and the number of filmmakers who extended solidarity to the agitating students was meagre.
But the students used the occasion to highlight the state government’s indifference, as well as that of the institute’s chairman Adoor Gopalakrishnan, to taking action against KRNNIVSA director Shankar Mohan.
The festival that honoured outspoken critics of governments elsewhere, seemed not-so-tolerant to local critics who wanted the state government to be more responsible.
IFFK 2022 a success, nevertheless
Despite the shortcomings, the IFFK 2022 marked an important milestone in world cinema.
This is the 27th edition of the festival, and it screened 186 movies from 70 countries. It opened with the Belgian-French film Tori and Lokita, winner of the Cannes 75th Anniversary Award this year.
Hundreds of film buffs, many from outside the state, thronged the festival venues in the Kerala capital to watch quality films — hotels and lodges in the city were full to overflowing.
They avidly listened to, and enthusiastically participated in, many discussions on cinema. It was a gala event and a true celebration of cinematic expression.
What was remarkable about IFFK 2022 in the Kerala capital was its insistence on maintaining the quality of films screened. But there was more to it than film screenings. There were musical events and book readings. On their part, delegates used the occasion bond with each other.
Books related to cinema were also released at the festival. Vida Parayatha John Paul, an anthology edited by poet Balachandran Chullikkad and brought out by the Chalachitra Academy on the noted script writer who passed away recently during the IFFK, is a fascinating account that sheds light on the talented writer.
The release of Swayamvaram: Adoorinteyum Anuvachakanteyum by A Chandrasekhar and Gireesh Balakrishnan during IFFK 2022 marked 50 years of the classic movie by Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
Cinemayude Bhavana Desangal by veteran critic CS Venkateswaran and Malayala Cinema, Aasayavum Akhyanavum by Ethiran Kathiravan were the other books released on the occasion.
Going by official data, IFFK became a meeting place for 12,000 delegates and 200 filmmakers.
Serbia was the focus country of the festival, with six distinguished films from contemporary Serbian cinema being screened. It also screened five silent films accompanied by live music.
Besides Swayamvaram, G Aravindan’s Malayalam film Thampu was screened in the reinstated classic category.
Two photo exhibitions were also held as part of the Kerala film festival — one of well-known photographer Punalur Rajan and the other chronicling the career of actor Satyan.