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A2FF: Goutam Ghose, Bauddhayan Mukherji hail collective experience of cinema

They said the big-screen experience wouldn’t have worked out without the audience’s participation.

Roushni Sarkar

The fifth edition of the Arthouse Asia Film Festival was inaugurated on Sunday in the presence of festival director Shapath Das, filmmaker and festival mentor Bauddhayan Mukherji, and National Award-winning filmmaker Goutam Ghose, who was the chief guest.

While the distinguished jury members of the festival, including Anna Huth, Rahul Desai, Laurence Kardish, Anthony Chen, Rada Šešić, and Chipo Zhou, sent their greetings via video clips and expressed their regret about not being physically present due to the pandemic, Mukherji shed light on how the festival came to have a physical edition.

“Till one month ago, we were not sure about hosting the physical edition of the festival,” he said. However, the director was seeking a big-screen experience for the selected movies. “While on the one hand, we have seen all the prestigious film festivals cancel their editions, we kept on hoping for a better opportunity. And, thanks to Shapath’s dream and all the volunteers’ relentless dedication, today we are able to host this film festival,” said the renowned ad filmmaker.

Mukherji recounted how Das would call him and express his anxiety when the digital cinema package (DCP) was yet to reach them, or when he had trouble opening the DCP when he had finally got hold of it. “Sometimes he would call me and tell me that the DCP finally had been opened but there were no subtitles, and then when he managed to get the subtitles he had trouble running the film in Basusree Cinema Hall. All I want to say is that I am proud of the battle Shapath and his team has fought in the last 10 days,” said Mukherji.

The maker of Teenkahon (2015), The Violin Player (2016), and Marichjhapi (2020), expressed his gratitude to Ghose for making it to the festival on short notice and added that the entire idea of having a big-screen experience wouldn’t have worked out without the audience’s participation, saying, “What’s the fun if we cannot share the joy of watching films together in this dark time.”

Ghose echoed Mukherji’s thoughts on the struggles behind organizing a full-fledged film festival. “I have experienced a sea change, in terms of the evolution of technology in cinema. In the earliest days, we used to get prints that did not require a remote or KDM. At the New York Film Festival, 2013, while the audience was waiting at the theatre, the carrier of the DCP had not yet arrived. I had no choice but to run to my hotel room and bring the DVD and then start the screening of the film. It was not the right thing to do but I had no choice,” said Ghose. He also hailed the organizers as true cinema lovers who refuse to give up despite the hurdles.

“I am happy that this film festival is still using the term ‘arthouse’ as these days people want to discard all these categories,” said Ghosh, reflecting on the growing consumerist tendency of labelling films as if they were products.

Speaking on the experience of watching films in theatres, Ghose recalled an encounter with the legendary filmmaker Mrinal Sen a few days before his death. “He was having a bit of trouble with his speech but as soon as the topic shifted to the cinema, the 90-year-old auteur would speak effortlessly without any confusion,” recalled the filmmaker.

Ghose informed Sen that he had just finished making Raahgir (2020) and would send him the DVD as soon as it was ready. “Mrinal Da almost screamed, 'No, I will watch the film in the theatre. Arrange for a screening at Nandan as soon as you finish your film and I will be there.' Such was his passion for watching a film in a cinema hall that he was then hardly aware of his physical constraints and ailment,” said the director.

According to the acclaimed filmmaker, cinema is meant for collective viewing. “However, technology has turned watching cinema into an individual experience. It is imperative that technology evolves with new mediums and creative filmmakers avail themselves of it as well. But there is a market between technology and creativity, that often determines the content and form of cinema. At the same time, this technological advance has given me the delight of watching some of the films that have inspired me with a new perspective in the lockdown,” said Ghose.

The filmmaker recalled the moment from his childhood when his parents took him along to watch Pather Panchali (1955) in Basusree Cinema Hall. “While the mediums of watching films are continuously going through a transformation, one factor remains constant: the time and space of cinema. We can manipulate our spatial and temporal existence through the medium of cinema and we will continue to learn through great movies — nothing should be discarded, we cannot discard history," said Ghose and declared the commencement of the festival.

"I congratulate all the efforts put by all the artistes and technicians to weave collective memories through films and also, the festival organizers for bringing those memories together on a single platform,” he said.

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Arthouse Asia Film Festival