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IFFI 2017: We should reclaim spaces like JNU, FTII, IFFI, says filmmaker Prateek Vats

Voicing his support for Sanal K Sadidharan, the filmmaker expressed concerns over the increasing censorship and control by the government over art and artistes.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

At the felicitation ceremony preceding the screening of his documentary film, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, director Prateek Vats thanked the Films Division (FD) for producing his film and said that it was a matter of great pride and honour for him, that his film was being screened at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), a festival that he used to attend and look forward to as a student. 

Speaking about the controversy around Sanal K Sasidharan’s film S Durga, Vats said, “This is a difficult time for independent cinema where a young filmmaker has to go to court for the screening of his film.” Expressing his solidarity with Sasidharan, he added, “We are all with him.” 

At the ongoing festival, several filmmakers contemplated pulling out their films from the festival as a sign of protest when Sasidharan’s film was unceremoniously removed from the Indian Panorama section.

When asked about this Vats said that this was where the ownership of the film is important as even if a director wants to take a certain action, it needs to be in sync with the producer’s intentions.

He said, “My film is produced by the Films Division so can I really withdraw? We expect FD and NFDC (National Film Development Corporation of India) to be autonomous bodies producing films that can still critique the government…any government. This government feels that we are particularly harsh on them, but filmmakers have always critiqued the State despite taking money from them!”

Emphasizing on the need to protest against the current state of affairs, he said, “At such times, if we don’t even talk about all this, then what’s the point. Even if one cannot withdraw the film, we should at least speak about it and say that this is not okay.” 

The filmmaker expressed dismay at the state of affairs and drew attention to the declining number of attendees at the festival, saying, “Who is important for the festival — is it bureaucrats or is it filmmakers and audience? That decision IFFI needs to take very quickly because it is just going down.”

Vats also pointed out that FTII student films have been excluded from the festival for their protests two years back. He emphasized on the centrality of such spaces for students, saying, “This is the place where students will come, watch films…they have access to filmmakers …that kind of space is being squeezed out and this has been steadily happening… You cannot have a festival without young people. That (youth) is the spirit of a festival.”

Film festivals provide a platform for filmmakers to present their works on an international level. Vats, however, feels these spaces are steadily shrinking within the country, “This is a reality that we are facing as artistes every day, and the fear is that most of it is translating into an auto-censorship.”

According to him, several producers at the Film Bazaar also expressed their reluctance in accepting scripts that might get in conflict with the government, therefore, automatically constraining creative work and expression.

Speaking of the government and its attitude to both Padmavati and S Durga, Vats said, “They [the State] don’t understand cinema or art because any good cinema or art talks about ambiguity and multiple interpretations. They want a straight jacketed meaning and that will never happen…They want clear meanings.”

Talking about the necessity of spaces allowing an exchange of ideas and creative expression he said, “We should reclaim these spaces. If we lose these spaces like JNU (Jawarharlal Nehru University), FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), or a film festival like IFFI, we are letting go of too many things. These should all be independent so these are larger fights, it’s not just about the BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) or the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) but part of a larger struggle.”

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