‘Masked kissing can’t be much fun’ – Meenakshi Shedde | Sunday Observer

‘Masked kissing can’t be much fun’ – Meenakshi Shedde

Who would have thought, we’d ever be so lucky as to watch a collection of films freshly premiered at world’s ‘A’ grade film festivals on YouTube, sitting comfortably in pyjamas in our own favourite spot in the house?

Due to the Covid – 19 pandemic, for the first time ever, 20 of the world’s biggest film festivals went online for the past 10 days and concluded last Sunday in high note reaching out to 3,399,704 viewers globally.

Spearheaded by the Robert De Niro-founded, Manhattan-based Tribeca Film Festival, which was meant to be held earlier this month together with another 20 international films,  ‘We are One: A Global Film Festival’ is the world film festival that assembled some of the world’s most talented filmmakers, storytellers and curators in a central effort to provide entertainment by offering an opportunity for the worldwide isolated audiences to experience different cultures through an artistic lens.

Mission

True to its mission, the Film Festival’s main intention was to provide not only solace and entertainment for audiences during a time when it’s needed most, but also opportunities for these individuals to give back through donations to the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Leket Israel, GO Foundation and Give2Asia, among others. During the festival the audiences were able to donate to the Covid-19 relief.

Starting from May 29 to June 7, the festival ran exclusively on Youtube with a free program of films, shorts, documentaries, music and conversations. It joined in the online cinematic celebration by other top festivals including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Sundance and San Sebastian, as well as Australia’s biggest international film festival, the Sydney Film Festival in co-curating the festival and featured over 100 films that consisted of 23 narrative and eight documentary features, 57 narratives, 15 documentary short films and also 15 archived talks along with four festival exclusives and five VR programming pieces.  

The Sunday Observer, got the opportunity to e-interview  Meenakshi Shedde, Independent film curator, India and South Asia delegate, Berlin Film Festival, based in Mumbai who has been actively involved with, We are One: A Global Film Festival as one of the curators.

“We are One: A Global Film Festival is a free 10-day online festival, exclusively on YouTube, born out of the idea that the film community can come together in times of crises - both in celebration of films and in support, providing the much needed relief for the battle against Covid-19.  It showed that even if the Coronavirus put film festivals and the film industry in crisis, filmmakers and festivals could still rise above it and together do something extraordinary to keep our love for the cinema going. Despite competition between film festivals, they all came together for the common cause of screening good films with about 127 videos, while raising money for charity to fight Covid-19,” Shedde said.

Speaking about the magnificent outreach of online audiences Shedde explained that reaching out to 3,399,704 online viewers is about 10 times the record of a top film festival like the Berlin Film Festival which no single festival can ever dream of.

“This festival was vital because of its superb programming: the films were not easy crowd-pleasers: they were strong, mostly thought-provoking indie films, politically aware, or that stretched the limits of conventional cinema in some way, and included women directors.

“From India the Mumbai Film Festival, for which I was earlier International Film Programmer, contributed four strong Indian films, Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo!, Arun Karthick’s Nasir, Atul Mongia’s Awake and Shaan Vyas’ Natkhat (The Brat), the last two being shorts. In both cases, the festivals chose the program.

“Personally, apart from the Indian films, I greatly enjoyed On/Off, a remarkable French VR documentary short by Isabelle Foucrier and Camille Duvelleroy, that explores how hospital staff deal with death on a daily basis. Spanish director Isaki Lacuesta’s Los Pasos Dobles (The Double Steps), on painter François Augiéras, shot in Africa, was stunning. There were marvelously insightful interviews between Ang Lee and Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Korean director Bong Joon-ho and Korean actor Song Kang-ho, among others. Ang Lee spoke, for instance, of how space was a defining element of a ‘Western’ for him — not only shooting space and vast landscapes, but also spaces in the editing and pauses in music. And in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s charming short 24 Frames Per Century, two film projectors discuss their impending obsolescence. So altogether, a lot of food for thought! It will help us appreciate our own filmmakers better, and also raise our expectations of them,” she said.

 Online festival

However, the ceremonial nature of any international festival had to eliminate totally in this festival as its online nature. An online festival, watched on a laptop or phone, can never create the excitement of a physical film festival, when a community of film lovers comes together in joyous anticipation, with desperation for tickets, the red carpet, enthusiast film audiences, and the chance to get an autograph from favourite film stars. Equally, for young filmmakers it is a dream to be on one of the ‘A’ grade film festival red carpet and unfortunately there were a large number of young filmmakers showcased at the ‘We Are One’ film festival, and none of them got the chance for this exclusive experience.

Despite the missed glamorous experience, according to Shedde the Indian films, that showcased at the festival were all by first time or second time filmmakers, and got an astonishing number of views globally, especially for indie films. ‘Eeb Allay Ooo!’ got 1,60,000 views, Nasir got 61,000 views, Awake got 21,926 views and Natkhat got 3,500 views.

 “Shwetaabh Singh, producer of Eeb Allay Ooo! told me - It was like a global release of the film. And because the Mumbai Film Festival pushed it, top Bollywood filmmakers saw the film and praised it. Vikramaditya Motwane said it was his favourite film of 2019, Vishal Bhardwaj said it was long since he had seen such a beautiful film from India. Kabir Khan said it was like a documentary, and Zoya Akhtar said it was “fantastic, with political comment, and had an outstanding actor (Shardul Bhardwaj),” said Shedde.

 The filmmakers are hopeful the festival buzz will translate into distribution on multiple platforms, including streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+Hotstar, she said.

 As Shedde believes the real payoff of the festival is that the precedent for cooperation between international festivals has been set, and will continue to build on festival synergies in future.

“There is already some cooperation between festivals and related sections; for example, there is the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express, in which a project goes from Cinemart, Rotterdam, to the Berlinale Co-Production Market for further funding and support. Or HAF Goes to Cannes, in which the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) presents selected film projects at the Cannes Marche du Film (Market); this year India’s Film Bazaar has also been invited to present its projects at the online Cannes Market. I strongly hope this trend will continue in future and will benefit the industry as whole,” she said.

 Pandemic

Speaking about the pandemic and its adverse impact particularly in the film festivals and industry Shedde stressed that, the pandemic will leave a deep, long-term imprint on the film industry as well as film festivals and it will take longer than we imagine for the film industry to recover, due to many reasons.

“It may be a while before filmmakers feel they can safely shoot films with social distancing and hygiene standards. It will impact narratives - the stories they tell, as well as the way they tell them. There’s already been a deluge of ‘lockdown films’ in India and worldwide. With new constraints, and uncertain profitability initially, filmmakers may be forced to cut down flab in the crew, so this may call for talks between crew unions and producers, as well as producers, distributors and exhibitors.

Surely some people will yearn to go back to theatres for the big-screen experience. But it may not be as much fun if everyone must sit three seats apart. India’s multiplex chain PVR’s chairman and managing director Ajay Bijli suggested cluster booking: leaving empty seats between booking clusters. But more insidious: now that the audience is getting used to seeing films online, on laptops and phones, especially free or notionally free (there are monthly and annual subscriptions for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, but some streaming sites also allow pay-per-view), they may be more reluctant to spend Rs. 1,000-Rs. 3,000 for a family to go out to a movie, including tickets, car parking and snacks/dinner. Also, if the hero and heroine can’t hold hands, kiss or sing and dance, it will fundamentally alter what a Bollywood movie is about, and how any film tells its story. Masked kissing can’t be much fun,”

As Shedde explains in this crucial situation film festivals will continue to play a key role in creating a festival buzz for films, attracting audiences, buyers, international press, with juries and awards, and raising a film’s profile that hopefully translates into good sales and distribution deals. However, she also stressed the fact that adhering to the norms of the new normal world, many festivals, including Tribeca (New York), South by South West (SXSW, Austin, Texas), Hot Docs (Toronto), AFI Docs (Washington DC) and CPH: DOX (Copenhagen), as well as the Cannes Market, may have gone partly or fully online. “Online films are swiftly becoming an element of the new normal,” she added.

 

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