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  1. Emerging Voices – 3rd Day of the 17th Asian Women’s Film Festival 2021 By Arundhati Sethi The 17th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival concluded on 7th March 2021, keeping its winning streak intact. A particularly exciting segment of the last day was the set of four short films made by young filmmakers, most of which were in fact their film-school graduation films. These films included Prachee Bajania’s Spell of Purple, Tribeny Rai’s Yathawat (As it is), Kshipra Shekhar Dhavle’s Amepã and Lam Yan Yue’s And I, And I. Each film adopted a distinct genre, tone and sensibility. Such a curation seemed to emphasize that the vista of emerging female voices in cinema is bound to be diversely creative and sensitively nuanced. Bajania’s short fiction Spell of Purple journeys through and around the precarious life of its somber protagonist, Inaas. Living an arduous solitary life in tribal Gujarat, owner, protector and nurturer of her land, we encounter Inaas engaged in a range of different relations with the world around her. Labelled a witch by the village folk, we find the film haunted by a much darker social menace of savagery and violence. Inaas’s quiet independence, her persistent claim over her land, the mobility of her body and her spirit, seem to mark her out as monstrous in the eyes of the village men. What the film manages to do is reveal the real centers of monstrosity. It is Inaas who remains haunted and hounded by these men, bearing a constant fear of the shadows lurking around her. The men, staking impudent claim to her land and her untethered body and mind, begin to resemble threatening ghostly presences in the film. One also notices the different relationalities that emerge within the characters of the film. One kind of relationality that Inaas finds herself locked in is that with the men in her village. This is an equation of violent barging in, a dismantling of boundaries that are sacred. The film uses the trope of repetitive trespassing as a trope to display the perversity of this relationality. On the other hand, we see connections emerge between Inaas and two other female characters (one a young mother and the other a new wife) that offer a different energy. These are bonds not of intimate friends, yet these connections forge a sense of solidarity and strength. By reaching out to each other across their deserted islands, the film articulates the possibility of seeds breaking open in lush forests, gardens blooming in our yards. Continuing with the thread of relationalities, Rai’s short fiction Yathawat (As it is) abounds in complicated bonds. These bonds crisscross however in a domestic realm, among a mother and her three daughters. The overarching narrative of the film takes off from the recent death of their father and the emotional and economic struggles that the household finds itself plunged into. Yet, what comes across in the film very clearly is that each character appears to be a world in themselves. Multiple sub plots are woven into the film that keep each figure rounded and complex. Each of them also seem to be charting their own journeys and battling their own inner crises. The space created by Rey in her film is a deliberately chaotic universe, in which the different worlds of the characters are constantly orbiting each other, sometimes they collide violently and at other times they seem to be gliding in oblivion to the other. Yet, despite intermittent disconnections and despair, the film holds them all together in one shared familial space that continues to have a nonchalant yet resilient buoyancy that keeps them all afloat. A balance of distance and affinity is what I noticed in Dhavle’s short animation film Amepã too. Mumbai based Kshipra Shekhar Dhavle tells the story of the bond that the North-Eastern tribe of the Idu Mishmis have traditionally shared with the vulnerable Hoolock Gibbon species. Enjo, a young curious boy, encounters the mesmerizing presence of the gibbon one fine day. The audience, much like Enjo, feels mystified but unfamiliar with the gibbon’s story. By delving into the folk lore of the community, the film not only recovers the tale of the gibbon in this region but also a world-view that is holistic and wise. The grandmotherly figure turns back her watch and narrates the story of the creation of life on earth. We learn that in the Idu Mishmi imagination, their mother, Nani Erayii, at the very beginning of the world, gave birth to a tiger, a man and the hoolock gibbon. Thus, embedded in this tale is a unique kinship structure shared between the diverse ecological players of this land. The story goes on to indicate the eventual banishment of the gibbon from the community due to his mischief, without rupturing their shared familial bond. The film suggests that this inherited tale and its latent wisdom has helped sustain this unique species in Arunachal Pradesh. But along with this, by incorporating the fragmenting, deforested present of our world into the film, Dhavle also manages to articulate the importance of striving for a healthy balance between distance and affinity, between difference and connection as imagined in the Idu Mishmi consciousness. The last film in this segment is Lam Yan Yue’s short Cantonese documentary And I, And I. From the folk primal mother Nani Erayii in Amepã, we now encounter a very human mother, yet no less formidable. The film steps into the shared intimate world of Judy, a single mother in her sixties, taking care of 45 year old Peter, her intellectually disabled son. Peter due to his medical condition is entirely dependent on his caregiver. And we see Judy embody, as Festival Director Deepti Khurana mentioned in the following panel discussion with these young directors, the archetype of the courageous mother figure. Judy seems to be the epitome of motherliness, with bottomless reserves of care and patience. And yet, it seems to me she is also the quintessential child. Through the eyes of Lam Yan Yue we too see Judy’s youthfulness. She sings and dances and laughs as freely and spontaneously as a child. This short portrait of mother and child makes one wonder that perhaps to mother is also to be most child-like. Deepti Khurana rightly observed in the discussion, that the film in spite of handling a subject that can be immensely distressing, never veers into pitifulness. The constricted lives they lead, the claustrophobic space they live in is interspersed with shots of the blue sky, silent, serene and spacious. The story of struggle is supplemented with energizing doses of laughter and song. While each film was unique in subject and form, I felt they all explored and upheld certain ideas of affinity, care, nurture and co-existence. In fact, I can safely say that these values were not only witnessed within the films but also in the space carved out by this film festival at large. Deepti Khurana in the panel discussion at one point mentioned how the spark of agency keeps circulating between film makers, their subjects and the audience. One can say, that the 17th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival with its community of brilliant women succeeded in keeping this crucial spark alive.
  2. Shades of Exile in Village of Women and Drapchi Elegy By Arundhati Sethi (Reprinted from www.ftiipeople.com) The 17th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival - India Chapter opened on the 5th of March 2021, with a thoughtfully crafted singing bouquet of nine films. While each of the screened films had their own captivating hue, I find myself compelled to pick, to hold and to gaze, to touch and to inhale, two out of the vibrant lot. Two distinct documentaries, Village Des Femmes (Village of Women) directed by Tamara Stepanyan and Drapchi Elegy by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam managed to enfold me with their lingering fragrance, bittersweet. Accompanied by Stepanyan, we are led into Lichk, a radiant yet melancholic Armenian village. Like a modern remnant of a twisted folk tale, this is quintessentially a village of women. All the working-age men spend the longer part of each year in Russia, to eke out a living. In their absence the sturdy women of Lichk tend to everything, from land to animals, from children to the elderly. What emerges before us is a sundered homeland. We learn of the sons, husbands and fathers forced out of their homes, ‘exiled’ as the villagers say, due to economic necessity. We hear of them more often than we see them in the film. They figure as consistent allusions in every conversation, story and song exchanged in the village. It is however, in the intimate witnessing of the women left behind, that the film’s poignant strength shines most. Though unlike their adrift husbands, the women are rooted, this strange sundering renders their sense of home unwhole too. Both the far flung men and the landlocked women experience a bitter estrangement. Through the length of the film we experience an almost inverted seasonal cycle that this village of women is caught in. Ironically, it is winter that is desperately awaited in Lichk, the only time the men return to their homes, whereas the arrival of spring, as the landscape begins to thaw, marks instead, loss and separation. Stepanyan’s film in this way beautifully conjures paradoxical affective landscapes. In winter, for example, Lichk transitions into a frozen white world but also begins to glow with the warmth of reuniting families, in hearths that tinkle with song and drink. There is of course a contrast highlighted between the wintry exterior and the cozy interior spaces, but even within the home, the season seems tempered with currents of joy and sorrow. In a memorable scene in this winter sequence, we see Anushik and Aram’s three little children dancing by the decorated Christmas tree. The frames capturing their merry dance are entirely dark except the scattered glimmers of colorful light falling upon them, lighting sometimes their eyes, sometimes their smiles. And in fact, all through the film, there runs such a cross weave of light and darkness, of laughter and sighs, of separation and togetherness. We closely see the people of Lichk negotiate this arduous repetitive cycle. At the same time, through the songs ringing out of the tired men’s lips, we are reminded of the larger cycle of displacement, de-homing and loss that frames Armenian history. In spite of this extraordinary pathos enveloping their lives, in spite of the recurring declarations by the women considering their lives meaningless, experiencing time to be passing them by; the film manages to capture a different truth as well. We see from start to end, this community of women never passive, never resigned, but perennially as creators of meaning and sustainers of life. The film is brimming with shots of their ceaselessly laboring arms, kneading dough, swirling and baking bread, harvesting potatoes from the earth, stacking grass in the open fields, picking apples perched upon trees. We hear them tell tales and sing songs, filling the ‘emptied’ village with their powerful voices. We glimpse them laughing and dancing and giving strength to one another. The Village of Women gets etched in our minds not merely as a space of absence and loss, but also as a steady stage of life and resilience. Stepping out of the expansive and elongated time-space of the Village of Women, we find ourselves led into a more constricted enclosure in Sarin and Sonam’s short documentary Drapchi Elegy. In contrast to the proliferation of communal spaces in Stepenyan’s film, the space in this film is predominantly inhabited by the solitary, often lonely presence of the protagonist. The camera follows Namdol Lamho, a Tibetan refugee seemingly leading an ordinary day in the city of Brussels. Enmeshed within this ordinary day however, is Lamho’s extraordinary history. In 1992, 28 year old Lamho, one among a group of nuns, was put into Drapchi prison for six years for peacefully protesting China’s hegemony, in the streets of Lhasa. While still enduring imprisonment and brutal torture in the largest prison of Tibet, these same nuns sang, recorded and smuggled to the outside world a series of powerful protest songs. This act of resistance unleashed a lengthening of their sentence and redoubled punishment. In the film, we see Lamho on the other side of this heroic trajectory. Having survived intense physical and mental torture at the hands of Chinese authorities, we see her forging a life in Europe on her own, exiled from a home still struggling for independence. According to me, the film, though only located in Lamho’s present space of Brussels, brilliantly captures her lived experience of exile. The figure of exile inevitably experiences the convergence of the ‘here’ and the ‘there’, the present and the past. The film invites us to sense this convergence. When we see Lamho travelling in the city trains, we see the mundane visuals of her present European life. And yet, what the camera dwells on are the train’s closed doors, framed windows and grab handles that uncannily resemble handcuffs. These shots eerily echo Lamho’s past incarceration and at the same time make us wonder whether a psychological incarceration continues to grip her even today. Apart from cinematic strategies to emphasize the past being embedded in the present, the film often highlights through juxtaposition the two worlds Lamho straddles each moment. The visual and the audio track often converse dialectically. As Belgian station names and indicators flash before us in the opening scene, we hear Tibetan songs playing alongside. While she actively navigates this European city, she simultaneously is plugged into videos of Dalai Lama’s sermons. As she cooks and eats alone, her voiceover speaks of the community of prisoners she found comfort in, back in Tibet. At one point she also signals the disparity between her external and internal states. From the outside she is an active, healthy young woman, yet she speaks of internal wounds and aches that don’t leave her. Very often in the film, the camera situates Lamho in states of motion, whether in trains or on foot. This obviously becomes emblematic of her continuing exilic status. At the same time, it also signals to me the emotional and spiritual journey she is consciously undertaking with each forward step. Her trauma fails to paralyze her. Her Buddhist practice deepens her psychological resources. Through her work at the old age home, she extends care and service to those in need and draws meaning and strength from it. What amazes and moves one long after the film is that despite the encounter with excessive Chinese brutality, despite the lingering struggle with loneliness in her new home, Namdol Lamho embodies the possibility of an expanded consciousness, capable of immense empathy and compassion. And last but not the least, the sense of unceasing motion that seems woven in the film reminds one that the struggle for Free Tibet is still underway, and there are many more miles to go before one can rest. Both these films in their distinct and nuanced ways explore ideas of home and exile, of estrangement and community, of oppression and compassionate, soulful resistance.
  3. until
    About Us People’s Film Collective is an independent, autonomous, people-funded cultural-political collective based in West Bengal. Formed in 2013, it believes in the power of films as a weapon of pedagogy of the oppressed as well as alternative media for people. PFC organises monthly film screenings in Kolkata. It travels in Bengal with films & movemental videos. It’s members document movements and make political documentaries. PFC organises an annual film festival, called ‘Kolkata People’s Film Festival’ and brings out a magazine ‘Pratirodher Cinema’. PFC is interested in collaborating with like-minded collectives of the working class and people’s movements. Campaigns and initiatives Kolkata Monthly Documentary Screenings and Conversations Kolkata People’s Film Festival Little Cinema campaign Travelling Cinema campaign People’s Media – documentary and alt media collective Pratirodher Cinema – film and counterculture magazine Sister collective People’s Study Circle Contact Us Email: peoplesfilmcollective@gmail.com Phone: +91-9163736863 (also WhatsApp) Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KolkataPeoplesFilmFestival/ (page) http://www.facebook.com/groups/PeoplesFilmCollective/ (group) Twitter: @pfckolkata | Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/peoplesfilmcollective/ https://kolkatapeoplesfilmfestival.wordpress.com/about/ Join Us To organize a film screening in your locality please write to peoplesfilmcollective@gmail.com or leave a message at 9163736863. We will get back to you. To join our collective or festival organizing team, please contact us in the manner above, or simply turn up at one of our screenings for a face-to-face chat!
  4. until
    All Lights India International Film Festival, Kochi. All Lights India International Film Festival (ALIIFF) All Lights India International Film Festival (ALIIFF) aims at providing a unique platform for global film industry to portray excellence in film making, aids to inspire, nurture and integrate the Indian Cinema industry thereby facilitating congregation of people and nations. The film festival provides a premier showcase for all aspects of filmmaking: the art, the filmmaker, talented directors and actors, and the film- lover in all of us. ALIIFF aims at educating the community & film festival attendees through the art and science of film, promoting cross-cultural awareness, the exchange of ideas, and social understanding.
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