Hindi: chhoti haziri, vulg. hazri, 'little breakfast'; refreshment taken in the early morning, before or after the morning exercise. (Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, 1994 )
8 December 2014
Post Facto -- Unforeseen effects: Why I love film festivals
Queuers, conferrers and posers: Outside the INOX complex, at the 2014 IFFI in Goa.
It's hard to
describe the lure of a film festival to people who've never done one.
And yes, it is something you do. Like a drug. I'd never
quite thought about it before I started to write this column, but
clearly my subconscious has known all along — I often call myself a
film festival junkie.
A film festival isn't somewhere
you show up for an evening because you're bored, or something to
which you make an obligatory social visit, politely applauding the
efforts of the organisers. No, you plan for it in advance, having
taken leave from work and from all social responsibility. Sure, you
meet people, but the bright light of day soon begins to feel like
something to scurry away from. It's in the velvety darkness, as the
screen flickers to life, that you do, too. And as you go from one
darkened theatre to another, cinema seeps into your veins.
close to two decades of film-festivalling, I've often been asked how
I can possibly absorb five films a day, or even four. Don't they
start to bleed into each other? Don't I zone out by the third film,
or fall asleep in the fourth? Doesn't every [worthwhile] film I watch
make me want to pause for the day and analyse it, instead of rushing
to grab a quick lunch and hurtling into the next film? In short,
these people want to know, isn't the film festival the very
antithesis of the ideal film-watching experience?
answer to most of these questions is yes, of course, sometimes.
Sometimes I zone out, sometimes I decide a particular film is the one
to take a nap in, sometimes all I remember from a hectic festival day
is a single climactic scene. But the films you remember are ones that
have managed to stand out in a sea of images. And anyway, does the
leisurely, sit-down, one-film-at-a-time mode really give a film its
due? Of course films need free time — but doesn't the multiplex
visit, with its absurdly powerful popcorn-and-soda ritual, muffle
every film we watch with the unvoiced expectation of sameness? The
film festival might seem frenzied, but it rescues film from the
domesticated tedium of packaged leisure — by turning it into
something a little like work.
And by juxtaposing all kinds of
narratives, from all kinds of places, it reinstates some of the
unruliness and unpredictability of cinema. Where else but at an
international film festival could I go from watching a Russian
postman on his rounds of a sleepy lake-edge settlement (The
Postman's White Nights),
to experiencing the joys and sorrows of a group of sightless Chinese
and then on to Iran in the 1990s, waiting endlessly with a mother
whose son never came back from the Iran-Iraq War (Track
course, I understand that there is such a thing as a festival
film. Capitalism being the sophisticated thing it is, it has built
the so-called "niche" into the market. If you've ever
looked up films on the internet to decide what you're watching at a
festival, you've read those Variety and Hollywood
with their pithy summing up of the film's chances. Here's one such
evaluation of a Greek film I fell in love with at this year's
IFFI: "It should appeal to festivals and distributors with
a mainstream or more female-oriented sensibility as well as
broadcasters of classy European fare."
is an atmospheric period piece set in (and shot on) the craggy island
of Andros. The plot centres on two sisters who fall in love —
unwittingly — with the same man. But this is no generic love
triangle: after a point, we barely see the man. And then he dies
(somewhere off-screen), and it is his death that tears the sisters'
lives asunder. If this is a women's picture, it is so in the most
gloriously literal way: Andros in the 1930s and '40s is almost
entirely female, because most men are sailors, out at sea, sometimes
at war, while the women hold the fort at home — often for most of
festival can paint a portrait of a country you've never been to. The
other Greek film I saw this year, for instance, would seem to have
nothing at all in common with Mikra
Set in present-day Athens, Xeniais
about two brothers who dream of winning a national musical talent
search. The film uses their marginal status — poor, orphaned,
half-Albanian, one of them queer — to highlight the fascist, racist
intolerance of contemporary Greece: in one early scene, we hear
street thugs harassing some unseen people with the line: "This
is not your Bollywood".
But placing Xenianext
sees a country that remains recognizable in many ways — a place
where family still counts for a great deal, where high drama is
normal. Watching random films back-to-back can make you see patterns
— a Chinese murder mystery and a Turkish romantic thriller emerge
as unlikely partners in neo-noir; you begin to notice how often
filmmakers in cold countries use snow and ice to create a sense of
In a world of torrents downloadable at
will, the film festival is no longer about enabling access. Choices,
in fact, are limited by the programming. But what you end up watching
at a festival can create unintended, powerful effects. It's as close
as one can get to fate.