Friday, May 7, 2010

Report on the 6th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival, Seminars and Exhibitions

Report on the 6th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival, Seminars and Exhibitions

India International Center, New Delhi, March 6-8, 2010

A big thank you from IAWRT India to the India International Centre, our participants, members, friends, families and well wishers and all those who contributed in so many wonderful and unique ways to making the 6th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival 2010 and associated events such a success.

We are very happy to report that each of our day-long events saw not only a good turnout in terms of numbers, but also engaged and informed conversations between the seminar panelists, filmmakers and audiences.

BREAKING BOUNDARIES, SHARED SPACES, the 6th edition of the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival, began with two seminars on Saturday, March 6, 2010.

The purpose of the first seminar WOMEN AND PUBLIC SPACE was to understand what public space signifies for women of all categories: to what extent are they able to access it and what are the challenges they face when they do so?

In her opening address, Jai Chandiram said that the hardest battle in India today is to realise our constitutional rights, as many women are overpowered by norms of caste,tradition, gender and religion. To understand the suppressed histories of gender exploitation, and the stories of the heroic struggles and triumphs of women engaging with life, we need to unlearn male institutional thinking. In doing so, we also create a new language of creative expression. Jai expressed her belief that the seminars and films were providing an important space for sharing. She said it has taken us 15 long years to bring about the representation of women in Parliament. The struggle to do so reflects the polity and beliefs that dominate us so forcefully. She hoped that while tracing the stories of extraordinary women whose courage and vision transcended the extreme conditions of their times, the different papers would provide inspiration and strength for the audience.

In all, eight papers were presented by academics, journalists and activists.

Dr.Taisha Abraham’s Sathin Bhanwari Revisited reminded us that, eighteen years after the rape of Sathin Bhanwari, the case is still with the Supreme Court. Bhanwari continues to live in the same village with the rapists. Dr.Abraham analysed the rape case through the lens of the judiciary and citizenship, both of which, through their universalizing tendencies, were found wanting when it came to women’s issues.

Krishna Menon’s paper on Caste and Gender elaborated on some of the issues relating to Dalit women and their resistance to being absorbed by mainstream feminism. Dr. Menon stated that Dalit women were advocating a separate space in which they could negotiate the complex intersections of caste, class and gender for self-definition. This would enable them to locate themselves in the larger feminist movement.

In Women and Disability, Anita Ghai defined public space as catering only to able-bodied people. What does democracy mean for a disabled woman, she queried. Her paper highlighted the patriarchal nature of society and its hostile attitude towards disabled people. She reminded her audience that in fact disability itself is a social construct and even ablebodied people could be disabled due to illness, accidents etc.

Smita Gupta presented Deve: A Profile In Courage in which she recounted her recent visit to the Dantewada district of Chattisgarh as a journalist. In this region, where the state has abdicated its responsibility a long time ago, the tribals are caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the security forces. She narrated the story of Deve, a schoolteacher living in the village with her two daughters and facing up to the daily challenges of a conflict-ridden scenario. Her husband and son have moved to the relative safety of the nearby town but Deve has chosen to continue living in the village in order to help her fellow villagers. Truly a profile in courage.

Karen Gabriel’s paper on the Iconography of Bharat Mata showed through images how the emergent nation, while presenting itself as secular, was in fact projecting a Hindu, upper caste image. In some of the images shown, Bharat Mata is portrayed as a Hindu bride, safely enclosed by prominent political and religious leaders.

Sheeba Aslam’s Muslim Women and Public Space: Entry Denied? revealed how Muslim women in India are deliberately kept out of public spaces such as the mosque, in order to deny them even the most basic liberties. On the other hand, Ashish Koul’s paper on Jahanara Shahnawaz and the Muslim League showed how a woman in the 1930s and 1940s made some very independent political choices. Through this biographical sketch, Koul explored the dynamics of women in the Muslim League in the pre-Independence period.

Visalakshi Menon’s paper on Two Pioneering Women of the Twentieth Century:
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Durgabai Deshmukh
traced the remarkable lives of
these two women who broke out of the confines of early matrimony and devoted
themselves to politics and public service. Both were great institution builders as is evinced by the Central Cottage Industries Emporium and the Blind Relief Association in New Delhi. Both were also closely associated with the India International Centre and hence it was befitting that they should have been remembered in these precincts.

We had a full house of active and vocal listeners. Media students and people from different walks of life participated in the discussions during the seminar and all the papers were very well received.

While the morning session was quiet and thought provoking, the afternoon seminar CAUGHT IN A MADDING MASS MEDIA was fiery and generated a great deal of interest in how viewers respond to serials and reality shows. In the first part of the session Changing Representation: Are We Confronting ''Real'' Issues? moderated by Poonam Saxena, many panelists expressed dissatisfaction over representations of the characters and narratives which are largely traditional, stereotypical and unrealistic. They said this impacts on the aspirations, self esteem and negotiating space of the viewers, particularly women.

However, the channel representatives from BAG Films and Colours claimed thay do not have much control over the storyline stating that it is the TRPs which influence and determine the narratives and representations in the soaps.

The second half Viewers Speak: What We Think About TV? was moderated by Sevanti Ninan. The panel comprised a child psychologist, women from middle class families, women residing in bastis, people with disability and students of journalism. They emphasised how television soaps perpetuate stereotypes despite pretensions of bringing about social change. They said the focus, themes and situations were not only repetitive, but far removed from authenticity as real people neither dress, speak nor behave in the manner depicted in the programmes.

The session ended with plans of setting up an informal body to monitor and address some of the issues raised. The body would have a diverse representation from CFAR members, representatives of television channels, viewers groups, psychologists and academics.
The film festival was formally inaugurated by Mrinal Pande, Chairperson of Prasar Bharati, on Sunday, March 7, 2010. Mrinal recalled her childhood experiences of viewing Hindi feature films in Almora, a small town in the UP hills. The heightened expressions of those black and white images reflected yearnings and fantasies which she, as a child, could not have articulated because of societal constraints.

The festival showcased the work of Asian women filmmakers in a range of genres - fiction, non-fiction, television reportage and animation - representing diversity in country, content and form. 24 films selected from over 160 entries were finally screened. The countries represented were Australia, Bangladesh, France, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Norway, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Sri Lanka.

The festival had two world premieres. The first was the inaugural film The Stitches
by Nina Sabnani which recounts stories of partition, of loss and resilience. Nina enjoys transposing folk art traditions into animation and this film celebrates the art and passion of the Kutch artisans associated with Kala Raksha. Unfortunately Nina could not attend the festival because of her doctoral research, but it was a privilege to have the producer, Judy Frater, attend the festival.

The second world premiere was Anoma Rajakaruna's Our Story: Women who Love
which was revealing in its examination of banned relationships. Due to censorship in Sri Lanka, the film is unlikely to be screened in public. Anoma was also present at the festival and both films were followed by animated discussions.

The festival had another first – a presentation by a filmmaker on the expanding content and aesthetics of her work. Past editions of the IAWRT festival have screened the works of Nilita Vachani, but it was a joy to walk through her work with her. She took ''ordinary'' persons and revealed the ''extraordinary'' in them through her empathetic treatment. Her film Eyes of Stone (1990) continues to be a path breaker, inspiring large numbers of media students in understanding gender. We hope to make this first person lecture a continuing tradition at the festival.

Last year, a beginning had been made to include works by non-Asian women filmmakers
who have focused on Asia or how ''others see us'' so as to widen the perspective of the festival. This year the programme included Rock Heart Beijing by Karen Winther, a Norwegian filmmaker. The film provided a rare glimpse into the life of a rock star in China, a society where rock music is silenced by censorship.

French director, Fatma-Zohra Zamoum, was another visitor to the festival. She plays herself in a highly original and intriguing debut, Z’har (Un-Lucky) which interweaves a documentary-style account of her return to Algeria to shoot a film with a mysterious, artfully-shot, fictional narrative. Z'har was viewed with interest as it pushed the boundaries of documentary and fiction.

Fereshteh Joghataei's How Green was our Valley was a lyrical look at a similar situation as the Narmada displacement in India, gentle in the power of telling the story differently. This award winning film is a deeply original and personal take on a collective drama, with a nod in the title to a 1941 film that tells a similar story in a Welsh accent. Fereshteh captures the shift from pastoral to industrial values as experienced by people with no organized response to “progress”. Fereshteh was to attend the festival along with her family. Her husband is the producer and cameraman of the film. Unfortunately, their visas were denied.

Anupama Sirinivasan's film I Wonder is a journey with children from rural parts of Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu as they traverse through school, home and life. What does school mean to children? What kind of learning takes place within the school and outside it? It looks at their everyday experiences, inviting the audience to ponder on what education is, what it could be. Anupama's presence enlivened the discussion following the screening.

Resilience and Escape were two films set in family situations that moved the audience with their quiet story telling. The first is a documentary about a Korean birth mother and her American son who re-unite after thirty years. It is a story about loss, separation and building broken ties. The second explores the relationship between an orphaned nine year old boy and his grandfather.

The festival also featured films by students who are capturing vivid fragments of realities in animation, fiction and non-fiction forms. Three of the films – In Transit, Tran Eka Tran, Pech - received Certificates of Merit.

On the whole, the festival was very well attended with packed houses for Supermen of Malegaon, Rock Heart Beijing, Afghan Girls Can Kick, A Small Dream, Virgin and Had Anhad. In their different styles, but with tremendous impact, the films drew enthusiastic applause and responses which indicated the programme was a huge success... unusual for an event-packed week in Delhi which had a theatre festival and a tribute to the legendary poet, Amir Khusro, at the same time.

On the sidelines of these events, were three photo exhibitions 'I' Celebrate 'Me' on the transgender community of Tamilnadu, I Am – Women of India : from Vedic times to the Present, and a selection of posters of the women’s movement from the Zubaan collection also drew appreciation.

The three days wrapped up with a wonderful open air Closing Night Dinner on March 8 which was co-hosted by the Asian Academy of Film and Television, Noida. This was a relaxed evening with seminar panelists, journalists, visiting filmmakers and their guests, the local IAWRT members and film making community chatting away under the stars despite an unexpectedly chilly night.

There's more good news. Sohaila Kapur of Lok Sabha TV conducted interviews with Fatma Zohra Zamoum and Anoma Rajakaruna for her programme In Transit which features visiting artists. Fatma's interview was aired on Sunday, March 21 and Anoma's on Sunday, March 28. Jai Chandiram was also interviewed for State of Culture on the same channel.

Time Out Delhi did a feature on the festival with an interview of Jai and synopses of some must-see films. First City, Dear Cinema, The Hindu, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Outlook also made mentions of the festival.

Some follow-ups are of considerable interest. NDTV is negotiating with the respective producers for the telecast of Fereshteh Joghataei's How Green was our Valley and Rock Heart Beijing by Karen Winther.

Magic Lantern Foundation has also expressed interest in distributing some films from the festival - Z'har, Our Story: Women Who Love Women, Virgin, How Green was our Valley. The contracts are being finalised.

Sophy Sivaraman, an independent distributor based in Mumbai, is interested in Rock Heart Beijing, Afghan Girls can Kick, Escape and Resilience.

It is great to know that some of the festival films might be aired/ distributed so that they can reach a larger Indian audience. The festival package has already travelled to Hyderabad in March and we have received enquiries from Pune, Mumbai and Trivandrum as well.

As ever, none of this would have been possible without the constant support and encouragement of our friends and well wishers in and outside Delhi. A very special thanks is due to our visiting filmmakers who came from Kutch, France and Sri Lanka... to Nilita Vachani who re-scheduled a family vacation... to Aruna Vasudev, Sandeep Marwah, Dr.Visalakshi Menon, Dr.Taisha Abraham, Akhila Sivadas, Shailaja Bajpai, Purnima Rao, Akshata Udiaver, Naveen Gautam, Yousuf Saeed, Ranjana Mohan, Nirmal Chander and the IAWRT volunteers who handled various challenges of designing, planning and logistics... to our audiences whose enthusiasm and excitement kept us going, to our families for whose support we are truly blessed... to the India International Centre and Teteii, in particular, for her humour, patience and painstaking attention to detail... to the Film & Television Institute of India, the National Institute of Design, Whistling Woods, Public Service Broadcasting Trust and the Magic Lantern Foundation... we are indeed fortunate to have the good wishes of such a diverse and amazing group of people... we thank you all for helping us celebrate International Women's Day with the true spirit of BREAKING BOUNDARIES, SHARED SPACES.