Indian Filmmaker Beena Paul: ‘Banning Films About Nations in Conflict is No Solution to a Problem’
At a time when tensions between certain countries are at breaking point and the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, stories of human conflict from all around the world take have taken centre stage at India's 26th International Film Festival of Kerala which ends on 25 March.
The International Film Festival
of Kerala (IFFK) this year brought together international filmmakers from Russia, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
The IFFK's artistic director, and renowned film editor Beena Paul talks to Sputnik and examines the theme of conflict through films and the power films have in bringing about a change to society.
Sputnik: What sort of reception has the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) been given?
Beena Paul: It has been overwhelming to see so many - both young and old - turning up to the festival. I wonder how great a longing there must have been for this. Filmmakers from around the world are in awe, seeing such large audiences at screenings for their films and talking about it.
The IFFK opened with great fanfare with Bangladeshi movie ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’. Its lead actress, Azmeri Haque Badhon, who received a standing ovation for her performance in the film at the 74th Cannes Film Festival in France, was present.
Sputnik: What was the idea behind giving this year’s film festival the theme of 'conflict'?
Beena Paul: While we were curating the festival, the world was gripped by the Afghan crisis and the war situation, and various other conflicts around the world. It was all playing on my mind.
Through this theme, we have tried to show that conflict is not only territorial but also an attitude to women and towards money, and people considering filmmaking as simply a money-making venture.
There are a whole lot of other things that we tried to explore with this idea.
Sputnik: What are the IFFK's biggest highlights?
Beena Paul: We have some really interesting films from all over the place: from Russia there are 'Captain Volkonogov Escaped', 'House Arrest' and 'Compartment No 6' to Afghani films such as 'Hava Maryam Ayesha', 'Drowning in Holy Water' and 'Opium War'.
Kurdish films such as 'Kilometer Zero' and 'Marooned in Iraq' and 'Strangers House' have been stealing the limelight.
Moreover, we have a special guest, Kurdish filmmaker Lisa Calan, who lost her legs when she was bombed by Daesh* (ISIS), acclaimed Portuguese director Miguel Gomez, and Bangladeshi actress Azmeri Haque Badhon.
There was a master class with Bollywood filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and an interesting session titled ‘Who’s Archive Is It Anyway’ where we are talking about the restoration of old movies.
Sputnik: A lot of film festivals have gone virtual because of the COVID-induced lockdown. Did you also think of following suit?
Beena Paul: I was not at all keen to hold the IFFK virtually which is why we postponed the festival in December during the third wave of Omicron, and waited for things to get better and open up.
I believe films are best watched with an audience sitting together in a theatre. The combined viewing of films that sparks a conversation among moviegoers is a different feeling altogether.
There are hundreds of opportunities to see a film online but you don’t have seven days in your life to come together and watch the film.
It has been tough and dangerous but we took the risk and I think filmmakers and the audience are in a state where they need this kind of social interaction.
It was tough for filmmakers as well because, for two years, they were not able to showcase their films in which so much has been invested and the need to see and talk to the audience becomes unbearable.
Sputnik: Although Russian artists have been banned in other countries because of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the IFFK has extended support to artists from Russia to screen their films and compete with other movies. Did you face any backlash because of this?
Beena Paul: Not so far. One can’t deny that the war has caused a lot of bloodshed, and there is certainly a lot of pain and hurt in people, but who is to blame is not the point. We are showing films and we believe that films are the way to bridge other cultures.
Sputnik: Because of international conflicts between countries such as Russia and Ukraine, or the Taliban** (in Afghanistan), several artists bear the brunt as they get banned from showcasing their art, be it film, music, or their book. Do you think it’s fair?
Beena Paul: No! I truly believe that the artist and his or her work is above conflict between countries because of war or any other reason.
I think banning a film or an artist is not a solution to a bigger problem. The artist takes the risk of reaching out to the masses and solving or bridging gaps rather than creating conflict.
In every independent country, no matter whose government it is, the state has to respect that the artist needs its space to speak their mind freely and nobody should be fearful of being trolled or attacked.
International film festivals have always given a chance to filmmakers worldwide to screen their films which might have been banned elsewhere for whatever reason.
* Daesh is a terror group banned in Russia and many other states
**The Taliban are a group under United Nations sanctions for terrorist activities