Say no to censorshipFeb 10th, 2009 | By editor | Category: On festivals
WHAT KIND of activism can unite lawyers and filmmakers, artistes and media activists, youth-motivators and film collectives? Bangalore can fuse with their collective spirit through an extraordinary Films for Freedom documentary festival at Jayanagar’s J.S.S. Auditorium from July 29 to August 1.
Triggered by the Vikalp Alternate Film Forum in February 2004, when 300 documentary filmmakers spontaneously challenged the arbitrary censorship rule imposed by the former Ministry of Information and Broadcasting at the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), FFF promises to shake Bangalore wide awake.
The 28-film festival opens at 6.30 p.m. on July 29 with Mumbai-based Rakesh Sharma’s acclaimed Final Solution, a 150-minute, four-part reliving of a polarised Gujarat. The director sums it up thus: “The film is anti-hate or violence, as those who forget history are condemned to relive it.” No wonder it riveted audiences at the Berlin, Hong Kong, Mexico, Zanzibar, and other recent festivals, releasing them with their eyes wide open. Other international award-winning films slated for FFF include Rahul Roy’s The City Beautiful, Sanjay Kak’s Words on Water, Paromita Vohra’s Unlimited Girls, Bikramjit Gupta’s Laden is Not My Friend, and Amar Kanwar’s lyrical A Night of Prophecy.
The FFF organisers — including artists Ayisha Abraham and Jenny Pinto, documentary filmmakers Deepa Dhanraj, Challam Benurkar, Surabhi Sharma and Sushma Veerappa, Pedestrian Pictures, Collective Chaos, Samvada, and the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) — share a vision beyond the immediate festival. Curated packages are already doing the college circuit to engage with youth power.
Its daily panel discussions will include one on Censorshop and Film, engaging with the experiences of Saba Dewan, Rahul Roy, Amar Kanwar, R.V. Ramani and the embattled, never-say-die Anand Patwardhan (War and Peace).
Couched primarily as part of a national campaign against censorship, FFF forefronts its stances without apology. “Whether it is denial of spaces to hold a queer rights film festival or the threat of seizure of films related to Gujarat genocide, censorship is very much present within the context of Bangalore city,” Pedestrian Pictures’ Sanjana points out. ALF’s Lawrence Liang notes: “Though freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right under Article 19 (a) of the Indian Constitution, it is often rendered vacuous as a result of the immediate invocation of regional restrictions and censorship laws.”
As Jenny points out: “Vikalp was not necessarily Mumbai-centric. Bangalore-based documentary makers like Deepa, Challam, and Surabhi were instrumental in pointing out the gravity of the situation to Girish Karnad, chairman of the MIFF jury that quit.”
Deepa says: “Bangalore’s always had an engaged audience. There’s an active film society movement here. And it makes sense to bring these debates against censorship into a more public sphere. For instance, one of our panel discussions is about non-state players, and how difficult they make recognition of the creative rights of, say, Dalits or hijras.”
Ayisha, who teaches at the Srishti School of Design, takes a new angle: “Shabnam Virmani and I, as filmmakers, have organised a broader international package for our students to watch, review and engage with from July 19, as an offshoot of Vikalp. It’s our effort to awaken young people to the politics of hate. It’s important for them to distinguish between what lies in our backyard and the greater cultural context.”
At the heart of any true democracy is a commitment to the freedom of expression. Doesn’t that explain the runaway success of Mumbai’s Vikalp-2004, the six-day, 58-film festival? At FFF, we are being given a chance to say “no to censorship” through a package from Travelling Vikalp.
Will we give this timely festival the rousing reception it deserves? It’s our cue now. A time to come to grips with documentary reality.
Published on July 27, 2004