Paris attacks, freedom of expression dominate debates at KIFF 

Kolkata, Nov 22 (IANS) Despite star power and the buzz surrounding world cinema, the horrific Paris terror attacks cast a shadow over the 21st Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) with filmmakers and movie-goers turning to cinema for solace.

Coincidentally, the film fest that began on November 14, within 24 hours of the deadly assault, had a strong French connection in addition to the tribute to auteur Jean Renoir.

The sombre opening ceremony saw a one-minute silence being observed for victims of Paris and Beirut attacks and was dominated by megastar Amitabh Bachchan’s stress on cinema for communicating better with people in the wake of controversies over communal prejudices dividing the world.

The tenor for much of the festival seemed to be on unification and doing away with communal prejudices. The theme of women’s empowerment in cinema was also loud and clear at KIFF which honoured women filmmakers with special awards.

Sandra Da Fonseca, a Frenchwoman and one of the producers of Tunisian film “As I Open My Eyes” (popular with cinegoers at KIFF), was overwhelmed with emotion while speaking about the attacks.

“I was in Paris when the attacks happened. It’s very sad I lost friends. It’s difficult to speak about this,” Fonseca told IANS as she fought back tears.

However, the message she had for the film fraternity was to “defend freedom and carry on”.

As extremism unleashed horror on the French republic’s most valued ideals -liberty and fraternity – Syrian-born Nada Azhari, who is now based in Paris, and was the jury chairperson of the NETPAC awards, expressed gratitude at the calming presence of cinema amid the chaos.

“When I learned about attacks I just arrived in Kolkata. I was touched. I felt thank god cinema is here’. It’s not just to try to think differently but cinema is best way to communicate for people of different countries,” Azhari told IANS.

Praising Marathi film “Court”, India’s entry to the 2016 Oscars, Azhari was optimistic that new wave of filmmakers will talk about extremism in their own ways through films.

Canadian French producers of “The Passion of Augustine”, another crowd favourite, remarked “such senseless acts of cruelty should get attention all over the world” and that “the US, Mumbai and Nigerian attacks didn’t get so much attention as Paris is getting”.

Adding to the voices of women from the Arab world, Yemeni filmmaker Khadija Al Salami, considered the first woman director from her country and who is also Paris-based, said the bombings and shootings were a result of “brainwash” since the attackers were French and Belgian in origin.

While Al Salami spoke about importance of education to tackle extremism, Azhari said the incident will spur more youngsters to initiate dialogue on extremism and fundamentalism through cinema.

During the week-long event, discussions on what happened in Paris also dominated conversations at the sprawling Nandan complex – the hub of the fest.

“I feel it’s not just attacks based on communalism, but on culture as well since both Indian and French cultures talk about unity,” a French visitor dressed in Indian ethnic-wear told IANS while conversing with locals at KIFF, which concluded on Saturday.

Shilpa, a woman entreperenur, who sported an image of Eiffel Tower inside the peace sign, felt the festival was the perfect setting to kick off discussions at grass-roots on issues that define international relations.

India-Pakistan relations were also in the limelight as makers of Pakistani film “Manto” spoke about “freedom of speech not being easy in either of the countries”.

As people queued up to catch top picks such as “Manto”, “The Passion of Augustine”, “As I Open My Eyes”, Al Salami’s “I Am Nojoom, Age 10 And Divorced” as well as Indian indie films “Mail Runner”, “I am Not He But a She”, KIFF experienced minor snags when auditoriums were packed to the capacity and several couldn’t gain entry.

Many film studies students, who patiently waited for shorts and documentaries like “Riding On A Sunbeam”, “Dheu (The Waves)”, “The Immortals”, complained about the dearth of screens and wished the fest would widen out next year by increasing the number of screening venues from the existing 12.

As many as 149 films by 137 directors from 61 countries were screened across the 12 venues in the week-long extravaganza organised by the West Bengal government.

“The public is receptive and it’s not like other fests where only delegates are seen,” signed off Irina Evteeva, who helmed Russian animation fantasy “Arventur” and watched several Indian films with the audience.

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