For the fourth year in a row, Magic Lantern Foundation (MLF) in collaboration with the India International Centre (IIC) presents Persistence Resistance: Edge of Visual Narrative, a festival of documentary cinema from India and the world, from February 7-10, 2011.
At 10:30 or so Monday morning, a group of students from Amity University crowded around the registration desk, awaiting their turn to register for the seminar on 'Film Festivals as Public Culture: Role of the State, the Market and Cultural Organisations'. It was the first day of Persistence Resistance 2011: Edge of Visual Narrative and the excitement was palpable at Max Mueller Bhavan where a number of people had gathered to participate in a seminar which included some of the most well-known festival curators and academics from India and the world over.
In her opening remarks, Gargi Sen, curator and festival director of Persistence Resistance 2011, said the choice to begin the festival with a seminar on film festivals was a deliberate one to stress on the unique nature of this festival to do things differently. By bringing together the various film festival curators, directors and academic, Sen wanted to create a dialogue between the two varied experiences of the festival, one driven by market logic and another by the role of the government, and try to arrive at some sort of a middle ground.
The seminar hall was full by the time Kaushik Bhaumik began to introduce the first panel for the seminar. In his introductory remarks, he pointed towards some important questions and issues and then began to invite the panelists to speak. The morning session began with a a presentation by Charlie Phillips, Marketplace Director of Sheffield Doc Fest, who introduced his festival and stressed on the philosophy behind his festival which was that all events were open events and everyone could talk to everyone. According to him, the festival had a greater role than just a singular annual event, and involved a year around engagement with the same.
He was followed by Nikos Nicolaidis of the Rodos International Film and Visual Arts Festival, Greece who through his presentation raised some important questions about the film festival as a place that produced culture and not a market place that sold films. According to him, the public was not a given audience but had to be defined by the vision of the curator. V Packirisamy, in his double role as Films Division Director and Coordinator of the Mumbai International Film Festival, spoke about how his festival was designed keeping in mind the masses and not only the intelligentsia. He also gave a perspective about the role of the government in the organising of festivals.
Bina Paul Venugopal of Kerala International Film Festival also spoke of the role of government funding and support. She also stressed on the need to create an impact beyond and outside of the festival. Talking particularly about her festival, Venugopal also spoke about the gendered space of the festival and curatorial decisions. The last speaker in this session was Dr Nicole Wolf from Goldsmith College, UK who brought in the perspective of an academician and researcher. She said that it would be useful to discuss role of the spectators and the participants. She then went on to speak about how film festivals allowed makers and viewers to come into the same space, thus bringing together a temporary community. According to her, the choice of location for the festival was also important as films are viewed with different degrees of urgency in different spaces.
The second session was convened after a hearty lunch and animated conversations at the Café Goethe. Beginning with Ilo Von Seckendorff from Leipzig Documentary Festival, one of the oldest in the world, who showed a film about Leipzig Doc Fest long history and a presentation about the sources of funding for the festival. Von Seckendorff in her presentation stressed on the non-profit model of the festival which gets almost half of its funds from the city itself. This was followed by a presentation by Rathi Jafar of Samsung Women’s International Film Festival which is mainly the brainchild of an organisation created to promote cultural understanding between India and Korea. The festival, fully supported by corporate sponsors has full “curatorial” authority and showcases all sorts of films made by both men and women.
On the other hand, Lucia Rikaki, of the Kos Health film Festival of Greece, stressed on the thematic specificity and the importance of her festival, the only one of its kind in the world focusing on health films. Robin Mallick, ex-director Dresden Short Film Festival spoke about the short film festival format. The seminar ended with Peter Wintonick's tongue-in-cheek presentation of what he called the “Fest-O-Fools: Confessions of a Festoholic” where he said that the most important thing about a festival was the film and the celebration of the cinematic medium. He spoke in detail about Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival.
Both the sessions included some very exciting questions which led to lively debates among panelists and the audience. Some of these included questions about funding, censorship-both official and self, as well as changing nature of the film festival with the introduction of social media and a culture of consumption, etc. The seminar ended at 5:30 in the evening but the discussions around it continued outside in the lawn and the café, as more people joined the registered participants to watch the two inaugural films at 6:30 on the Max Mueller lawns.