Interview Hindi

IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival is challenging status quo: Festival director Aradhana Kohli Kapur

The 14th edition of the festival will be held from 5-7 March 2018 at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The 14th edition of IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival will take place from 5-7 March 2018 at the India International Centre, New Delhi. The only festival in India dedicated to showcasing works made by Asian women, the festival will include discussions, workshops and sessions with film makers, in addition to the film screenings. spoke to the festival director Aradhana Kohli Kapur, to know more about this edition of the festival, its relevance in today’s times and the films to look forward to.

As the director of the festival this year, what has been your journey and association with the IAWRT festival?

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about the festival. The IAWRT film festival was started as part of Project Asia, which was started by Dr Kapila Vatsyayan who was the president, India International Centre. The need was felt for arts and culture to be showcased and together with Jai Chandiram, who was deputy director, Doordarshan at the time and also the First Asian president of IAWRT, the initiative was taken and the festival was started.

Chandiram was my teacher at Jamia [Jamia Millia Islamia] and I had volunteered for the festival when it started. At the time, it was a one-day festival and the it subsequently grew in time.

The IAWRT International contributed funds and the festival was organized. About 7-8 years ago, the festival had become well-known and there was a buzz around it. Filmmakers started to send their films as more of them wanted to be a part of the festival and the festival started to grow. We approached other organisations for funding and the PSBT [Public Service Broadcasting Trust], Action Aid, Jagori, Goethe [Institut Indien] and others came forth and supported us and have been an integral part of our journey.

This year marks the 14th edition of the festival which is being organized at another level as 10 international filmmakers and 21 Indian filmmakers will be attending the festival and be a part of the discussions post the screening of their films.

73 films are being screened from 19 countries and for the first time, we have films from Russia that will be screened. So, we’ve truly transcended boundaries this year with respect to countries and the subjects of the films as they reflect the Asian diaspora.

There are Asian filmmakers in Finland, Norway, Poland, who have sent their films, which are part of the package ‘Missing Homes and Missing People’. Farnaz Hosseini for example, is an Iranian filmmaker in Poland who will be there for her film screening When Autumn Comes, talking about her experiences as an immigrant. So these films largely reflect the reality of Asia right now in terms of the politics, culture and society.

We have also seen tremendous positive energy from young filmmakers and students this year, who have come together for the festival. It’s amazing how they have come together seamlessly this year.

We are really blessed that we have had such enthusiasm where 220 films came in from so many countries. The festival has really grown and this year we will be holding a 4-day camera workshop along with Filmy Adda where senior IAWRT members will be interacting with young students from Amity [University] and Goenka [GD Goenka Public School]. So, this is a break from tradition as this year, we really wanted to give back.

Looking back at the battles fought along gender lines, we are effectively just one generation away from our mothers who were fighting to keep their jobs, to have access to higher education or even fighting for their right to work. And in one generation we have made a huge leap as we are talking about parity in pay, gender parity in workplaces, safe workplaces for women, etc., so in the current scenario what would you say is the relevance of a festival that showcases the work of women?

We were discussing earlier that [documentary maker and Indian film scholar] Aruna Vasudev has been felicitated abroad but not here still, which the IAWRT festival will be doing this year, so there are these gaping holes that remain in recognizing the contribution of women across the arts.

Absolutely, IAWRT has not just been about creativity but about enabling, making a statement, whether a political or social one. We have done so many seminars over the years. There was one titled ‘Hum Zaleel Aurtein’ which was about the women’s movement and how they were seen.

Every edition strengthens the space for women in society because the way things are, that space is shrinking rapidly. So, we’ve come a long way but lot needs to be done. For example, if you want parity at work, there is no specific space for women as professionals. And in the field of creativity, thanks to mainstream cinema and television, which is so retrograde that regressive ideas are packaged in a certain way to make them acceptable.

So, for me, the value of the festival is that the young people get to know about a different viewpoint, they see stories of women thinking and living out of the box, living life which is a testimony to their faith in their own competence, abilities, with self-respect and dignity. Where else do the youngsters get these messages? Definitely not from social media or mainstream media, so, the festival plays a very important role in showcasing creativity, but it is the discussions, and relooking at life, which is more important. This is why we have also been taking the films to university campuses and have seen amazing reactions and interactions between students and filmmakers.

I think the value of this festival is to allow women to showcase creativity, question the status quo and discuss gender in ways that they want to discuss it. The festival does not take stands, it gives the space to different viewpoints.

We are increasingly seeing a move towards digital festivals, so how important is it to have a physical festival when films are readily accessible online?

To me it is very important and there is no alternative. One can access anything while sitting on their chairs at home but as a festival, this is what gives one the space to discuss, talk, to sit with a peer group, to have a discussion with a filmmaker and it is a completely different experience from sitting in isolation.

It’s the debate and discussion on issues of feminism and gender which follow the films which are of immense value. There are hardly any spaces for open debate and interaction left today.

Do you plan to take the festival to different cities?

The festival does travel and it has now started travelling outside India to Afghanistan and Nepal. We just sent a package to the Srinagar film festival [Kashmir International Film Festival].

Several filmmakers have given permissions for the films to travel. IAWRT is a very loose network so there are various people across the country, part of various organisations working for a change and they are very happy to do these festivals wherever they are.

What are some of the events that the audience can look forward to at this edition of the festival?

The Camera and Sound workshops and the Filmy Adda are new features that have been added this year. We are doing these for the very first time.

As every year, there will be seminars; this year we have two seminars instead of one. One is on 'Women as Peacemakers' and the other is about 'Youth and Democracy' because in the past year we have seen young India emerge and articulate their demands.

So, a group of school girls from Rewari is coming for the seminar. Rewari has the worst sex ratio in the country and these girls sat on a dharna for 6 days demanding a high school, which they got! So, the sarpanch [village head] is bringing them.

And of course, the films! We have lovely films from the diaspora as Asians have settled in different parts of the world. Ultimately, we all share the same problems and concerns — poverty, environmental degradation, no access to health facilities, so these are shared concerns which emerge through the films.

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