Treat for thinking film goers

By Ramesh Raja
In Art & Culture
October 15, 2015
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The third edition of the Woodpecker film festival brought powerful issues in the limelight

Thin Red Ribbon

Still from the ‘Thin Red Ribbon’

Delhiites had a rare opportunity to catch an engaging mix of Indian and international films and documentaries on diverse themes in the recently concluded Woodpecker International Film Festival (WFF). The festival, in its third edition, showcased a wide variety of films focusing on critical social, ecological and development issues like environment and wildlife, health and sanitation, livelihoods, gender, children etc. In addition, films on religion and spirituality, art and culture, and CSR were also a part of the festival this year. The festival is unique in the sense that on one hand it showcases films and documentaries on powerful contemporary issues and, on the other, it also strives to bring lesser known cinema to India.

The festival opened on September 16 amidst filmmakers and film enthusiasts while discussing about future of issue-based cinema. The inaugural film of the festival was “The Thin Red Ribbon” by Delhi- based filmmaker Ishani K Dutta. The film is about HIV positive children in Tabitha Children’s home at Imphal, Manipur. The festival continued till September 20 at Siri Fort Auditorium. Prominent films that were screened during the festival included “India’s Wandering Lions” by Praveen Singh and Martin Dohrn, “The Forgotten Tigers” by Krishnendu Bose, “Nagaland is Changing…But” by Gurmeet Sapal, “Black Pepper White Pepper” by Ishani K Dutta, “Santhara (A challenge to Indian Secularism?)” by Shekhar Hattangadi, “Modhikhane Char” by Sourav Sarangi, to name a few. According to Narender Yadav, founder director of the festival, “It’s quite encouraging to see that every year WFF gets wonderful stories of change and hope in the form of hundreds of documentaries and short films.

The objective of the festival is to promote issue-based cinema. Our festival’s vision is to showcase films that promote discussions, expand expectations, challenge attitudes and change lives. In fact, we look at the festival as a mission to promote issue-based cinema globally and explore the power of storytelling through films to create a better world.” According to renowned actor Avijit Dutt, who was the chair of the festival jury, “Filmmakers who work in this segment are always looking for a platform to showcase their work and I think Woodpecker Film Festival has done a commendable work in providing this platform.”

Ishani K Dutta, director of “Black Pepper White Pepper”, is of the view that “Woodpecker Film Festival is unique – that’s what makes it attractive and stand out in the crowd. There’s a clear out-of-the-box thinking at work here – you will see it in the way they select and organize their films. It’s quite encouraging for filmmakers of every hue and shade – all this festival is concerned about is the strength of the content and the quality of the production. Woodpeckers of the same feather get an opportunity to flock together here, and some of them fly really high.”

Talking about her film, Dutta says, “It was a real challenge making a film about people whom history has somewhat forgotten and about events that happened over 100 years ago. Whatsoever, we took the task upon ourselves, started speaking to experts, tried re-creating the era and understand the emotions of those soldiers – and here’s the result. Black Pepper White Pepper reveals a more or less untold chapter in India’s history – and I believe this is a story that everyone should know.”

According to Gurmeet Sappal, director of “Nagaland is Changing…But”, “Woodpecker Film Festival has emerged as a great platform to showcase our own films, watch the work of other directors and interact with the peers.”

As per Ashish Chopra, festival advisor, “India is a nation of diversity with many stories and stories within stories. Some stories are happy and some are sad. Each of these stories have some message to convey. The festival and forum in its third edition portrayed such short films and documentaries. This year we had a special focus on the northeastern part of India – a land with diverse culture, traditions, music, cuisines, beliefs, myths, biodiversity and home to almost 100 tribes and sub-tribes. The filmmakers from the North East are highly talented and WFF is a fantastic platform to watch and appreciate their work.”

A major attraction of the festival was Nigerian cinema. Four Nigerian feature films were screened during the festival this year. These were “Doll House”, “Brothers”, “Knocking on Heaven’s Doors” and “Chamagne”. Several filmmakers from Nigeria were also present in the festival including Emem Isong, Onyeka Nwelue and Azubuike Erinugha. This year 14 awards were presented in 12 different categories. The award jury was headed by veteran actor Avijit Dutt. In addition, three senior filmmakers were awarded with Woodpecker Achiever Awards. These were Shekhar Hattangadi, Anil Yadav and Praveen Singh.

The Woodpecker Film Festival and Forum was started in 2013 by Narender Yadav, a former journalist and development communication expert. It was an extremely important year for the Indian Film Industry as it marked the completion of 100 years of Indian cinema. There were a lot of festivals and events that were being organized on this occasion in India as well as abroad. However, almost all these events were focusing only on Bollywood. None of these were celebrating the diversity of cinema that India has produced in the last 100 years, which includes short films, documentaries and experimental cinema. The WFF was thus a tribute to the Indian cinema for its ability to nurture diverse genres of films and filmmaking traditions in the country.

Today, the India cinema is at an important crossroad. While the distinction between mainstream and parallel cinema is almost getting blurred, a new breed of alternative filmmakers, successfully blending entertainment and meaningful cinema, is taking ground. The WFF aims to showcase this rich mélange of visual creativity in the country and also to promote films, documentaries focusing on socially pertinent themes like environment and wildlife, livelihoods, gender, children, tribals etc. through this festival. It’s quite a challenging task to organize a festival that focuses on alternative cinema. Says Narender Yadav, “Firstly, it’s extremely difficult to find funders/sponsors for this kind of initiatives. We organize this festival with extremely tight budgets and with some in-kind support from organizations. Secondly, it’s difficult to find committed audience for documentary and short films. In fact, through our festival we are creating a new set of audience who can enjoy as well as understand the relevance and importance of independent cinema.” In the last three years, Yadav says, there have been several memorable incidents. For instance, renowned filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who was kind enough to give us his National Award winning film “Celluloid Man’ for screening, as the inaugural film, in the very first edition of the festival. We have been getting incredible response from filmmakers since the first edition itself.