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Carnival of Cinemas

In its 24th edition, the Kolkata International Film Festival witnessed a complete celebration of cinema – drawing across time, language, geography and genre.

The 24th Kolkata Film Festival – one of the biggest that Kolkata has ever had – was first celebrated in the year 1995. It was the culmination of a film society movement that drew its inspiration from the masters of Bengali cinema – Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen.

Earlier, the Kolkata International Film Festival, though prestigious, was a comparatively small affair catering to a limited audience. Since 2011, under the guidance of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Festival has achieved a whole new dimension in terms of profile, publicity and reach. This film festival has now become a flagship event of the Government of West Bengal. The Kolkata International Film Festival has grown into a larger and more inclusive celebration of cinema, a festival which is not just built on a grand scale, but is also accessible to the common mass.

The city, which is known for its rich history of literature and culture, and has nurtured some of the greats in the field of motion photography – Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and Rituparno Ghosh – recently hosted the 24th International Film Festival this year, from November 10 to 17. KIFF or the Kolkata International Film Festival was inaugurated at the Netaji Indoor Stadium by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee.

Apart from the entire Bengali film industry, Bollywood stalwart Amitabh Bachchan, who has been a regular at the inaugural function of KIFF for the last few years, was also invited this year, along with Shahrukh Khan. Alongside, other nationally famed film personas like Jaya Bachchan, Kajol, Wahida Rehman, Nandita Das, Mahesh Bhatt, Kamal Haasan were also present.

The festival was attended by the famous Iranian director Majid Majidi. Australian film personalities Jill Bilcock, Phillip Noyce, and Simon Baker also graced the event alongside a large contingent from Australia. The Willow Tree, Beyond The Clouds, Avaze Gonjk-ha (The Song Of Sparrows) and Mohammad Rasoolollah (Muhammad: The Messenger Of God ) of Majid Majidi and The Bone Collector, Rabbit-proof Fence, The Quiet American, Clear and Present Danger, Salt, Dead Calm, Newsfront, Patriot Games by Phillip Noyce were screened at Nandan, Nazrul Tirtha and Rabindra Sadan through the seven days of the film carnival. A centenary tribute was given to French film critic André Bazin and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

The highlight of the festival this year was 100 years of Bengali cinema – 14 restored Bengali classics and a few contemporary regional language films were screened at Nandan and Rabindra Sadan. KIFF's special focus this year was on Australian and Tunisian films. Selected contemporary and iconic Australian and Tunisian movies were screened, along with three retrospective series of films by Majid Majidi, Philip Noyce and Bimal Roy. Another category 'Unheard India' showcased eight lesser-known Indian language films from across the country – Sinjar (Jasari), Saakibaayi (Banjaara), Kittath Preeti, Boldu, Navleri, Death Certificate (Bengali), Nabon (Khasi) and Nana A Tale Of Us.

A total of 321 movies were selected to be screened from 1,700 entries that arrived from around 70 countries, 150 of which are short films and documentaries.

A Bengali film directory with movies from 1917 to 2017 was launched at the inaugural function. Antony Phiringi starring Uttam Kumar was chosen as the inaugural movie of the festival this year. A special theatre play named Hiralal Bioscope, based on Hiralal Sen, considered to be one of the country's first filmmakers, was staged on November 13.

The authorities had also increased the number of screens for the 24th year of KIFF to 16. These screens were placed across the city of Kolkata and even in Howrah. Along with the usual screening at Nandan 1, 2, 3, Rabindra Sadan, Navina, Basusree, New Empire, Mitra, Nazrul Tirtha and Carnival cinema halls – movies were also screened at PVR Diamond Plaza, PVR Avani Mall and Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Another unique feature of the festival this year was a workshop by film restorer and archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur and his team at the Film Heritage Foundation. "They have restored films like The Apu Trilogy and Kalpana. Their work in this field is commendable," said film director Arindam Sil.

A whole lot of new films made in 2018 arrived at the festival this year. A big contingent from Australia arrived and so did director Philip Nois. A Bergman retrospective happened when tickets ran out, people sat on the floor and watched the shows. Famous Iranian director Majid Majidi made his presence felt at the festival too.

Interestingly, the 24th film festival is looking forward to its 25th edition next year, with plans underway to give Kolkata a grander film carnival. "A real gala is being envisioned. Midnight movies and big stars are going to be a part of the coming year's festival. Work will begin from January," said Sil.

Unlike other years, this year's film festival witnessed a big presence of Tollywood. This might be because Bengali matinee idol Prosenjit Chatterjee was the chairman of KIFF this year. Audiences appreciated the Ektara stage, the open mancha where cine addas were held daily. Though a section of film enthusiasts said Bappi Lahiri crooning Ooh La La from The Dirty Picture didn't go down well with the ambiance, others enjoyed it. "Earlier, KIFF catered only to the elite and the serious cinephiles. Today, it has become more accessible. Those who cannot watch films or don't want to watch movies, can listen to the music and participate in the cine addas," said Arup Mitra, an IT professional. Tollywood director Kaushik Ganguly, a regular at the film fest, was impressed with the choice of films being screened but had a small concern. "We are watching the best of international cinema. But why are we using far-flung halls where audiences find it difficult to reach? Next year, when we celebrate the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival, we hope that the festival will be more compact," he said

Meanwhile, renowned director Shoojit Sircar and Bollywood actress Tabu declared the winner of The Golden Royal Bengal Tiger Award for the Best Film on Innovation in Moving Images category to the film The Third Wife at the closing ceremony of KIFF hosted at Nazrul Mancha. The finale also saw a grand performance by Dona Ganguly's troupe of dancers.

AWARDS AND ACCOLADES

(National competition on Indian language films)

Jury's Special Mention for Actor of Hiralal Sen Memorial Award on Indian Language Films Competition: Actor Kaushik Ganguly for Bengali film Kedara

Best Director of Hiralal Sen Memorial Award on Indian Language Films Competition: Director Arijit Biswas for Bengali film Surjo Prithibir Chardike Ghore

Best film of Hiralal Sen Memorial Award on Indian Language Films Competition: Director Praveen Morchhale's Widow of Silence

(International competition on innovation in moving images)

Jury Special Mention

Churni Ganguly's Bengali film Tarikh

Director Arpad Bogdan's Hungarian film Genesis

Best Director: Abu Bakr Shawky (Egypt) for Yomeddine (Judgement Day)

Best Film: The Third Wife directed by Vietnam's Ash Mayfair

(Netpac Asian Select Best film)

Directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam for The Sweet Requiem

Best Documentary Film: Director Ishani Kanjilal Dutta's Say Cheese

Best Short Film: Director Ganesh Shelar's Gadhul

Nandini Guha

Nandini Guha

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