Even if the stories and the storytelling styles were hard to relate to, we all appreciated how technically sound the Malayalam film-makers were, specially with their use of camera, lights, and choreography. However, most of the female characters in the films were fragile and helpless, which was difficult to grasp at this day and age
International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is hailed as the most prestigious film festival in India. The 24th edition of the festival was held from December 6-13 in Kerala’s capital Trivandrum. I was lucky to be a FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) jury at the festival this year. Here is a sneak peak at what I discovered there.
The International Competition
The International Competition segment had films from all the major festivals this year. There were films that premiered at Cannes, Venice, Toronto and Berlin. The mix of films was so incredible that we shortlisted more than half of the films we saw for giving the award. But we had only one award to give in this section and it broke our hearts to reject such strong contenders.
Our award went to Camille by French director Boris Lojkine. The film follows the final year of a young photojournalist’s life, who was killed in the Central African Republic’s civil war in 2014. The director, who has his roots in making documentaries, smudged the film-making styles of fiction and docu-drama in this heart-wrenching true story.
Other films I would strongly recommend from this section include- Brazilian film Pacarrete by Allan Deberton for its portrayal of an aging artist, Lebanese film All This Victory by Ahmad Ghossein for its minimalist depiction of the Israel bombings, and Malayalam film Jalikattu by Lijo Jose Pellissery for its originality in illustrating animal instincts in humans.
For stunning use of camera, cinematographers should check out Japanese film They Say Nothing Stays The Same by Joe Odagiri, Dominican Republican film The Projectionist by Jose Maria Cabral, and Azerbaijani film When Persimmons Grew by Hilal Bayderov.
The Malayalam Competition
This segment was surprisingly underwhelming for us. For some reason, all the films were commercial ones that the local audiences really appreciated. They laughed and clapped and whistled during the screenings. But the international audiences could not relate to their sensibilities.
The film we awarded in this section was Fever/Pani by Santhosh Mandoor. It was about Tamil couples murdering their old parents out of greed for grabbing their land. Many of these are claimed to be mercy killings, and this phenomenon is still quite prevalent.
Even if the stories and the storytelling styles were hard to relate to, we all appreciated how technically sound the Malayalam film-makers were, specially with their use of camera, lights, and choreography. However, most of the female characters in the films were fragile and helpless, which was difficult to grasp at this day and age.
After judging 19 films from our designated sections, we barely had time to explore the other sections at all. There was a separate segment showcasing the works of the jury members. The lifetime achievement award winner of this year, Argentine third cinema director Fernando Solanas had a section all to himself. There was another retrospective section dedicated to popular Malayalam actor Sarada. A Chinese Panorama section was showcased this year. Every year, a different country is highlighted in this segment.
Daily open forums
At the main venue of the festival, the Tagore Theatre, there were Open Forums every day. These events were held outdoors in the hot and humid weather. All Keralan speakers spoke Malayalam despite having an international crowd. Celebrated directors like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Goutam Ghose made appearances at these forums. Even Aparna Sen was seen at several of the events. Our jury panel spoke at one of these forums titled Film Criticism in the Age of New Media.
The warmth of the organizers and the discipline of the volunteers of IFFK is world famous. Every guest was overwhelmed by how the management took care of every small need or request. Some of the volunteers were students of film, or film enthusiasts, while some others were studying hospitality management. This background made them very eager to do this job right.
Kerala is a beautiful state and anyone visiting this festival must keep at least two days to see the sights around Trivandrum. There is the Kovalam Beach and a museum, only 15km from the festival. The Kallar mountains, waterfalls and Ponmudi Hilltop, a mere two-hour drive from the venue, also should not be missed.
IFFK, like every other film festival in India, takes place at the same dates every year. If you are a film lover in Bangladesh and paying an annual visit to Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto is a bit of a stretch, I highly recommend this festival to replenish your soul with all the best films of the current year.