Mayurakshee Gangopadhyay, the moderator of most of the press conferences of the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival 2019 writes about her enriching experiences at this prestigious celebration of cinema.
Kolkata is known for its enriched culture, one that the reel world is proud of. The celebration of cinema has own a name here – the Kolkata International Film Festival, more famously mentioned as KIFF. This year was it was the 25th year of festival that had been successful in promoting and nurturing good cinema.
I have been visiting KIFF for a while now but this year the story between us was kind of a role reverse. The spectator became a narrator here. Taking a note on each day’s schedule, planning and managing time to watch films were not this year’s mandate for me. I was the moderator of most of the press conferences of the 25the KIFF and this surely enriched my memory to cherish over time. Unlike most of the preceding years, this year the festival started early, on 8 November 2019 and went on till 15 November 2019.
Every year, the festival focuses on the cinema of one or a couple of countries with a retrospective. This year it was Germany and included its animation as well as contemporary films. The Director’s Choice retrospective was on Volker Schlondorff. There were documentary films, early German and Indian Productions, German Classics and new German Cinema. Apart from that there were categories on Masters of Comedy, Centenary, Short and Documentary, Homage, Retrospective, 50 years celebration-Restored Classics, Bengali Panorama, Children’s Screening, Cinema International, Great Master: Bernardo Bertolucci, Indian Master: Basu Chatterjee, Maestro, Regional Focus: Kannada Cinema, Special Screening, Unheard India: Rare Language Films, Official Selection etc. In the competition categories there were Asian Select (NETPAC Award), Competition on Indian Language Films, and International Competition: Innovation in Moving Images. Beside film screenings, several seminars and Master Classes by actress Andie MacDowell and filmmaker Volker Schlondorff were of prime attraction in this KIFF. The queue in front of movie theatres as well as in front of the seminar halls seemed equally long proving the need of showing good films along with fertile discussions on cinema.
The inaugural film of 25th KIFF was Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. Before beginning of the festival I got an opportunity to meet Sandip Ray, son of Satyajit Ray and spoke to him about the background stories of making of the film. Though he was himself a child then, he could recollect and share many interesting stories, “I have never seen my father to be so intensely devoted in any of his films before.” He was probably correct since seldom did Ray make any other film which needed so much elaboration in terms of locale and cinematography.
After the official start of the festival, each day, I had to interact with many filmmakers and actors and had the privilege of sharing the same frame with legends of Indian cinema viz. Rakhee Gulzar, Goutam Ghose, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sagar Sarhadi and others during the press conferences. Rakhee Gulzar with all her elegance and soberness came and sat right with us in the press conference for the movie Nirvana by Goutam Halder. During the conversation in her simple tone she said, “I do come to Kolkata, but silently. No one could ever know I am here.” One could make out that her love for this city was so pure and she was so polite in expressing it. How can I miss the moment when Soumitra Chatterjee entered the hall and slowly walked to the chair and sat in silence for long? And then just in reply to a question he had to say, “If I need to be a real Alzheimer’s patient to portray my character in a film, I could have lost my breath in scenes of death.” No, this line is not memorable for the content, but for the presence of mind; for the intellect; and for the wisdom reflected in that sentence, it remained in my memoir. Legends like Soumitra CHatterjee can instigate myriad emotions in just a sentence holding the microphone in his slightly trembling hand!
Filmmaker Sagar Sarhadi shared memories of shooting his films in general. Those were interesting as well as informative. He was jovial as a child but was particular in replying to questions. He said, “I read a lot. In my drawing room I have only books. You can come and see. I can show you the books.” I looked into his eyes when he was saying it. He was so focused while saying those words that it captured my attention at once. After the press conference he told me “Read any literature. Read plays. Read Shakespeare, read any book you get. This is the best habit, you know. We must love to read, we must love books. I read a lot, I read a lot even now.” Then I realised yes, these were the words that particularly stuck me during the conference and he repeated the words when we were chatting leisurely afterword. Those words were his heart’s voice. I could feel. I could remember!
No, this is not the end. There were moments, there were glances, and there were simple smiles which all made this journey so blissful for me. Filmmakers from Syria and Iran spoke about society, politics, their life and films. Not only Syria or Iran, filmmaker Jessica Oreck from USA was emotional while she talked about her journey in making a film out of a real social event and how she researched and gathered information from the places she had portrayed in her film. These were the moments of emotional bonds that I tied throughout my journey in the 25th KIFF.
How can I forget the Indian filmmakers who tried to show life of the tribal people, the unnoticed and unheard people as opposed to the cinema that reflects the urban and modern Indian? They wanted to send a social message through their creation and that touched me emotionally.
It felt great when on the eve of Children’s Day on 14 November there were screenings of children’s films and the filmmakers tried to convey deep messages about a child’s knowledge, a child’s psyche and a child’s rights not neglecting the essence of entertainment for them. Interactions with personalities like Volker Schlongdorff, Aparna Sen and Shabana Azmi made me believe I was truly living a fairy tale which should never end!
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