Interview Gujarati Hindi Marathi

Non-feature films are not even talked about by the media: Filmmaker Vinod Ganatra

The editor-director, who chairs the jury for the Indian Panorama (Non-feature) section at the 49th International Film Festival of India, feels non-feature films are treated like poor cousins of features, but also believes the genre is growing.

Vinod Ganatra

Mayur Lookhar

Feature films are the preferred choice for most cinephiles, but non-feature content (documentaries and shorts) have their own flavours. The infotainment channels and digital platforms have helped these types of films to grow in India.

Film festivals are an ideal place to showcase documentaries. Delegates and media personnel will get to see 21 promising non-feature films under the Indian Panorama (Non-feature) section at the 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), to be held in Goa from 20–28 November.

Of the 21 films, eight are in Marathi with director Aditya Suhas Jambhale’s Kharvas being the opening film. 

Veteran editor and director Vinod Ganatra heads the jury for the section. Other members of the jury are Uday Shankar Pani, Parvati Menon, Mandar Talaulikar, Padmaraj Nair, Ashok Sharan and Suneel Puranik.

Ganatra has been on the jury for 74 film festivals. He has edited and directed about 400 documentaries and newsreels. Ganatra has also won The Liv Ullman Peace Prize for his Gujarati film Harun Arun (2009).

In a brief interview with Cinestaan.com before leaving for Goa, Ganatra shared his delight at being chosen to chair the non-feature-film jury, recommended a few films to watch at the festival, and observed that documentaries are still looked down upon in this country, though digital platforms and infotainment channels have helped the segment to grow. Excerpts:

You have been part of the jury at many festivals across the globe, but being chairman of the Indian Panorama (Non-feature) jury, is that a first? Do you feel honoured?

Yes, being chairman of the Indian Panorama (Non-feature) jury, that is a first. Three years ago, I was chairman, non-feature jury, at the National awards. It is a big responsibility, but it is definitely a matter of great honour. This [IFFI 2018] is my 74th film festival as a jury member. I have been chairman eight times. In my country when I get this kind of respect, it is a matter of great honour.

Non-feature content obviously has its own taste and experience. What can one expect from the line-up this year? 

Short films are doing fantastically well. This genre is now taking over all spaces and making its own space. This is a pleasant surprise. Short films are coming up in a big way. Thanks to video technology, digital [platforms]. Short films should be monitored, encouraged, and the audience can look forward to some fantastic short films this year.

Any personal recommendations for delegates? 

Our opening film, Kharvas, is a brilliant film. It is such a simple film but very smartly done. It's perfect. I am a technician myself, I am an editor. So, for me, perfection in all aspects, all departments of cinema is important.

There is also Monitor [a Hindi film directed by Hari Vishwanath]. One should not miss this film. What a film! What an idea! Perfect. 

Then we have an [English] documentary on Shankar Mahadevan, Decoding Shankar, by Deepti Sivan. It’s fantastic entertainment. The Marathi film Pamphlet [by Shekhar Bapu Rankhambe] has just a one-line story. A simple 14-15 minute film, but very nicely done.

Every film is so good, I really enjoyed all of them.

Given India’s cultural diversity, its many languages, how tough a challenge is it to shortlist 21 non-feature films, when I’m sure each year there must be many entries? 

Out of 109 films, we had to select 21. There were many good films that we had to keep aside because of the limitation of numbers.

Can you talk about the process of shortlisting films? How long before the festival does this process begin? As chairman, were you required to see all the films?

We come together two months before the festival. It is not possible for each jury member to watch 109 films. It is not possible for all to see 109 films in 10 days. We had to divide [the jury] in two groups. And the two groups would then recommend the films. There will be disagreements, differences of opinion, but we are friends. It’s a wonderful occasion for friends to come together and watch so many different films, in different languages and cultures.

I love watching films. I can easily watch 4-5 films in a day. 

So, when the word is divided among the jury members, is it the chairman who takes the final call?

Yes. The final call is taken by the chairman. That’s the additional work a chairman has. He plays a key role. We think in terms of perfection. This is a premier festival. We have to think in terms of justifying all languages, all cultures, and good cinema. My tagline is good cinema. There are no compromises. You have to be blown away by the content. Content alone, though, is not the deciding factor. Your film needs to be sound technically, too. 

In a country that thrives on popular, mainstream cinema, how is non-feature content shaping up?

Non-feature has always been treated like a poor cousin of feature films. Not just films, but non-feature films are not talked about much by the media. How often do we find at press conferences that there is not a single question for a non-feature film? 

Most people are interested in stars, mainstream films, controversies. Here there is no controversy. I checked in news about the opening feature film at the festival, but I didn’t find news on which is the opening film in the non-feature section. Sometimes, you do feel neglected. We [non-feature filmmakers] are made to feel like second-grade citizens.

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It is not that our people don't want to watch documentaries, but when propaganda films took over, people started to sidestep documentary films. 

A documentary is not a propaganda film. You will see a fantastic, beautiful film on tigers, snow leopards, but how many of us would see a documentary on weavers and their problems? A documentary is to inform people, with entertainment. Channels like National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet have respected documentaries.

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