Open new frontiers
Cinefan tries to showcase films that see the universal in the local, balancing the views of insiders and outsiders, retaining contradictions that stimulate reflection.
CREATIVE VISION: "Divine Intervention"
ASK Aruna Vasudev about Osian's Cinefan (New Delhi, July 15- 24), and the festival director will explain that this feast of Asian cinema opts for "works that question, comment, fantasise, reflect, invent, take you into the future, pause in the present, or glance back at the past". A tall claim? It has the merit of being true.
When Cinemaya, the one-of-its-kind journal of Asian cinema, with Vasudev as founder-editor, launched a festival seven years ago to celebrate Asian cinema, few foresaw its turning into a major film festival in the country. The reasons for this success are simple clear focus, creative vision and class. The films were hand picked by organisers who travelled and networked with major international film festivals. They made sure that the festival evolved identity, character and an intimate atmosphere. Celebrity film makers came regularly, and remained accessible for interchange in the foyers, making the festival unforgettable.
If cineastes were afraid that its new avatar as Osian's Cinefan (2004) in collaboration with Osian's Auction House would bring glitz and expansion at the cost of quality, they were happily proved wrong.
Neville Tuli, founder-chairman of Osian's, had standards as high and demands stringent. He was determined to dispense with government patronage in order to shape a large-scale interactive event, to spark a new, robust inventiveness. He widened the festival's impact while retaining its uniqueness, not surprising in a man who had envisaged his auction house as an arts institution and an archive for heritage preservation.
This year, Osian's massive collection of India/Hollywood/popular culture memorabilia (exhibited for the first time at the Jehangir Art Gallery (July 5-12) made a fabulous prelude to the 10-day Osian's Cinefan, Siri Fort, New Delhi. Besides seminars and lectures, the Infrastructure Building for Minds and Markets, the European Round Table Conference and a talent campus in association with the Berlinale increased the festival's wingspan. The festival's awards of Rs. 5,00,000 for the Best Asian and Indian features will go to works of depth and originality.
Tuli's concern is holistic. "No other nation has been as negligent of its heritage as India, we're left with the crumbs." Osian's ultimate goal is to change the infrastructure of India's cultural and artistic heritage, making the arts financially independent from government and corporate bulwarks. Tuli adds, "Then people will fall in love with the arts once again, with a new energy and a new respect." The responsibility of the artist and the intelligentsia is crucial. "You can't say I'll have the thought, let someone else put it into action," he laughs, and adds in a rush of passion, "Don't be satisfied with self-expression. Reach out, communicate. Rebuilding can happen only with love and knowledge."
"City of Sadness"
How does cinema fit into the scheme? "A film with integrity is a major platform for creativity, it contributes to the evolution of human culture. Treat cinema as a great art form, as a creative discipline, and as a source of knowledge. Only then can it also succeed as entertainment."
A festival of insightful films plays its part in the big dream of changing India. Assembling and packaging is not the purpose of Osian's Cinefan. The organisers see the festival as a tool to recharge batteries, a space for vigorous exchange, an experience in the discipline of significant art, an event lighting up new ways of thinking and feeling, about things both familiar and unfamiliar.
That is why they don't reject the tired Bollywood-Hollywood models outright, but try to look beyond them. If Zhang Yimou's "Hero" dazzled the eye in the past, 2005 brings a stunning package of the martial arts from Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia and Korea, going beyond Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, John Woo and Tsui Hark. They blend twin sophistications modern technology and ancient forms, forcing eyes to see differently.
The other end of the spectrum? This year's tributes to auteurs salutes rich layering with striking nuances in Satyajit Ray (on the 50th year of "Pather Panchali"'s release); and in Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Taiwan) who paints fragile moments in human relationships, subjectivity and memory.
Vasudev was ahead of her times in curating the first edition of Asian cinema for IFFI 1987. Those new perspectives also shared values familiar to India respect for tradition, elders, marriage, family and community bonds, and stressed spiritual transcendence. She continues to think on her toes, identifying unknown or little known work from spaces claustrophobic and crises-rent.
If "Osama" chilled hearts in Cinefan 2003 as the first film in post-Taliban Afghanistan, this year brings a feature to speak for the unheard in Iraq. In "Underexposure", the title puns on the old film stock it uses to make scorching comments on post-Saddam Hussain Baghdad.
The "Arabesque" section explores the Middle Eastern maze, with immediacy and penetration as only the big screen can do. Here Edward Said ruminates poignantly just before his death on "Selves and others". Says Vasudev, "As times get more complex, Asian film makers too are getting more intricate in outlook." Features by both Asians and non-Asians in "Cross-Cultural Encounters" showcase individuals and communities, moving eagerly or sullenly into alien zones, widening mental horizons at the cost of irreversible losses.
Ultimately Osian's Cinefan tries to see the universal in the local, as it balances the insiders' views with those of the outsiders, retaining all the contradictions that stimulate reflection. It invites viewers to participate, debate, and enjoy the expansion of consciousness, which happens when you open new frontiers in art, and in life.
That is why the opening and closing films "Shanghai Dreams" (Wang Xiaoshuai, China) and "Memories in the Mist" (Buddhadev Dasgupta, India), explore what the eye can but dimly see, but what the imagination can illuminate.
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