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I’m recently returned from Goa, where I was at IFFI for a few days, doing mostly non-IFFI things, hedonistic and aimless. I saw a couple films, but that’s not what this post is about.
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I was at IFFI because I’d been on the Panorama non-fiction jury. Did I want to take on this onerous task? Not really. I’ve got lots of work – and watching dozens of bad films to get to the good ones was not really my idea of fun. Furthermore, since I’m not a fan of the censor board, and both the National awards and IFFI require a CC for submission, I never submit my films to either, even when I’ve had a CC because my producers asked for it. So it seemed a bit comical to be sitting there in a freezing theatre for these purposes. And, did I really need to feel that my peers whose films wouldn’t get selected, might be bitching about me later?
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I went with some trepidation – and I’m glad I did. Because I realized that the rather disparate jury could work with harmony and respect and in the end there was a selection that felt like it fairly took into account the range of practices in the space of documentaries and short films today.
But that’s also not what the post is about.
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Time and time again, those who involve themselves in activities outside of their own artistic pursuits – as directors, editors, writers – to organize screenings, be on juries and selection committees find themselves in a strangely underpopulated land with a few thankful and some resentful folks on the horizon. The resentful folk are like the CPM that wants to always support the government from outside. The thankful folks swing many ways.
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More than once in the last few months I’ve heard people say: I’m an artist/filmmaker – I can’t be on juries, curations etc. I’ve heard them say it to other filmmakers who’ve been on a jury, oblivious of the disrespect inherent in the remark. As if those who have donated their time and energies aren’t artists as well? I know they won’t be saying this if they get asked to be on the jury at Yamagata or Cannes or IDFA. But to do it here, seems like the hard work is so much more than the prestige (of which actually there’s none in a sense). Does this mean they think the context here is not worth contributing to, building?
There are some people who keep at it I’ve noticed. Despite despair, disappointment, giving up on one endeavour because not enough people helped, or paid their membership, or canceled at the last minute, or backed out of a planned event, or said they would help but did not or everyone began fighting so things fizzled out. These people, step back for a bit, then a couple of years later, full of cheerful hope go right back to planning some more community events, running listserves, newsletters, making phone calls – for no money, only for love. Even if their friends (instead of pitching in) mock them and say, what’s the point of this? No one cares. Nothing’s really going to happen. Jeez, if we cared so much about what other people care about, would we not be working at HSBC or at least YRF? To these people who keep at it I say right on baby.
For the last few months a few of us have been regularly organizing documentary screenings in town. It’s a nice thing to see a fellow filmmaker’s work – to show it to other people – go out for a drink after. It’s an act of love from which all parties get a warmth and strength to sustain them along the not always easy path of their uncommon choices. Filmmakers have said at screenings, nothing matters as much as having your colleagues do this for you. I know I would feel the same. You’d imagine people more would want to do it too, but,well, it ain’t necessarily so it seems. Golly.
In the last few days in sundry fora people have been talking about starting up their own TV stations, distribution networks etc. The air is full of talk about independence and alternatives. But few people extend the artistic generosity of making sure their colleagues’ films are seen, bought, promoted when it comes down to the wire. Some people don’t even come to watch – although they watch everything that comes out of the commercial mainstream, in the cinema hall for 200 bucks. For a smaller film they prefer to borrow a DVD. The same people might then exhort the “community” to come support their work in some way because it is independent and alternative – as if the one on the borrowed DVD wasn’t. I find this convenient use of the language of independence depressingly cynical.
In some schools you are taught this old fashioned notion of shram dan – donating labour. This, it is believed, will make a better person of us, and build a better world for all. I believe this. I think it is futile for us to speak of alternative worlds if we don’t choose alternative ways of being – a pragamatic way of being idealistic.
For myself, by consistently watching other people’s work, good, bad or indifferent I’ve felt a sense of connectedness and community and it has made me feel happier while doing my own work. I don’t undersand why I’d want the street cred of first day first show dekhna of some crappy mainstream movie instead of engagemement with the work of my peers – the two things can also co-exist surely? Sometimes there have been filmmakers whose work I’ve not felt inspired by and then suddenly one day, they make a beautiful film, and in retrospect you realize, they have been struggling with themselves to find their language – as a poem I love goes: I have traveled the seas, I have lost my tongue/In the place of the old one, a new one has sprung and it’s a fantastic thing to have been able to see that transformation, or sudden flowering, or whatever it is. Other times a filmmaker whose work you’ve always envied and admired makes something not as good and you feel relieved, that he or she is as human as you are, become more compassionate about their earlier achievements.
But another thing strikes me as I think about these things – I’ve been on four different type of juries this year so believe me I’ve had much occasion to think about it. It’s worth remembering that the alternative paradigm is mostly a smaller one – that the desire to force it into the mainstream, is a desire for it to be something it’s not, in a sense. Like smaller sized fruit, this paradigm has a different density and intensity and correspondingly a different value. Like poetry, it takes a little longer to become popular. It has to be enriched and made stronger in itself, not diffused, I believe. For that to happen, I think we all have to pitch in and do our bit, quite a bit. Like with climate change, our future as artists too depends on it.