In my 17 years of affiliation with IAWRT, I had never expected to end up standing for elections. Being elected Managing Trustee was not something I had envisaged for myself. So when eventually that moment came, and I was elected Managing Trustee, IAWRT India Chapter, I must confess that I had no inkling of my responsibilities. The truth began to sink in gradually. There were new names on the Board. Very few of us had worked together, and the annual IAWRT Asian Film Festival was just a few weeks away. IAWRT Asian Film Festival, as we all know, is the most important activity undertaken by the IAWRT India Chapter. I had attended quite a few but had little idea of the sheer amount of work it involved. Thankfully, though, we had a great festival team already in place – Uma Tanuku, as festival director and Aaradhana Kohli as Co-director; Smriti Nevatia, (having experience of curating 5 film festivals), Anupama Chandra and Priyanka Chabra as curators; and Samina Misra and Iram Ghufran (also now Treasurer) as Soundphiles curators. Volume 5, Issue 1 19 We took over in January 2016 and soon began a series of meetings to actualise the takeover process.
The earlier office bearers, Reena Mohan, Anupama Srinivasan and Uma Tanuku (who was then Treasurer), patiently shared all the information at their disposal. Their constant support and guidance helped us (the new board) gain in confidence and plant our feet on the ground. The festival team was already at work. We began to post on the India chapter blog the list of selected films for the festival. And as we went public, we faced a serious reservation by Palestinians. The Asian Film Festival always has a focus country and screens a special package of films from that particular country. This year’s focus country was Palestine. Believing that the spirit of creativity transcends boundaries and politics, the curators had selected a few films from Israel, too, only to learn that this was a blunder! Our festival director received a mail from Palestine saying that the filmmakers would not participate if Israel were participating, as they could not dream of sharing a platform/space with the enemy country. They were right, in their way. We had reached the end of January and did not have much time left.
I work in conflict zones and try to create platforms for dialogue and negotiation. I have always been of the view that women should be on the table to discuss peace. We started negotiations with the Palestinians, respecting their fears, politics and concerns. But we also believed in the festival, which celebrated diversity and differences without animosity. We believed that, as women filmmakers and radio producers, we had to stand up for the larger cause of women and their creativity. Our belief was respected when a consensus emerged from the negotiations: the festival would go on as planned, with a slight modification - we would have two venues. So simple!
Once this was resolved, we needed funds to fly down the Palestinian filmmakers. We approached the UNESCO India office, and Mr Al Amin, the Communications Advisor, was more than forthcoming. He spoke with his colleagues in Ramallah and promptly the approval was granted. UNESCO Ramallah sponsored the travel and stay of two young filmmakers from Palestine, and UNESCO India supported a seminar on Conflict, Gender, and Media. Nupur Basu and I curated this seminar. The Director of UNESCO, India, invited the Palestinians to his office for a meeting. The Palestinian Ambassador to India, despite the visit of a high-level delegation, met and interacted with the filmmakers. I was fortunate to have raised funds to ensure that the festival team did not face any crunch. I was able to get support from Prasar Bharti, the autonomous body that governs the national broadcasting agency, Punjab National Bank,a public sector bank, UNESCO and of course from the old partners - Sangat, Goethe Institute, and India International Center. We also got support for travel of the Korean filmmakers from the Korean Cultural Center.
I am happy to say that the festival was, of course, a huge success! We screened a total of 46 short and long films, 35 in the general category and 11 in the Voices from Palestine package. We had 25 filmmakers from across Asia staying at the India International Center, the venue of the festival. True to its voluntary spirit the IAWRT members doubled up as moderators, facilitators, audience, technical experts, and organisers. Two of our members, Radha Mishra (now Secretary) from Pune and Mausumi Bhattacharya (a board member) from Santiniketan, got their students to volunteer.
We organised another seminar on Documenting Feminism in Films in the 80s and 90s. This seminar was initiated and curated by Shikha Jhingan and Uma Chakravarti, members of IAWRT, India chapter. On the last day, when around 100 people, friends of IAWRT, filmmakers, sponsors and members came together to celebrate the success and the closing of the festival, the Gods decided to play spoilsport. It started pouring! So all arrangements that had been Volume 5, Issue 1 20 made in the beautiful lawns went for a toss, and the venue was shifted to a verandah. But the spirit of the IAWRT team is hard to dampen, so the party carried on and nearly all the invitees showed up. From organising inexpensive meals for the audience, to informing students, universities and film enthusiasts, to fundraising, hosting a closing dinner, screening 46 films, organising to pick up and drop 25 filmmakers, hosting two discussions, handling the press, and keeping an audience of over 200 daily for three days, was not an easy job.
Thanks to the diligence of the IAWRT members, the Board, the endlessly supportive, outgoing Board, the marvelous festival team and an energetic Festival Director, the 12th IAWRT Asian Film Festival was yet another successful event! But we cannot rest on our laurels, can we? This is just the first of many events. This Board’s vision is to increase our activities, to host more small festivals, to help this festival travel all over the country and to other festivals, and to participate in national and international events that share common concerns. Our aim is to keep the flag flying and the spirits of the IAWRT members soaring!
( Printed in the IAWRT newsletter)