When the Kolkata Film Festival started in 1995, we used to share the prints with other festivals. It was just a starter. Naturally we did not get the media publicity. In 1996 also it was not so good. We thought that if it was organized exclusively by the government, it could not earn appreciation from the media. It should have a character of its own. It should be organized by an independent body. From the successive failures we realized that the festival should not only be for the film society members or for the people of the film industry or film studies, but also it should be a festival of the people at large, for the commoners. Accordingly we tried. And from 1997, we succeeded. From that point of time it started to be accepted as a good festival. But I am not at all satisfied. Even at this 11th year of the festival, I cannot say that I am fully satisfied.
Since 1998, we are getting support from the outside world. Now we are getting appreciation from the film-buffs, people from the film industry as a whole and also from the national and international film communities. In 1998 we have got recognition from the international organization FIAPF. Since then we are getting support from the different international resources and from those people who matter. And we started getting good films. But unfortunately we are not getting support from the local media, particularly from the Kolkata press. I practically don’t know the reason for this. The press people who come to cover this festival are always welcome. But the newspapers of Kolkata generally do not send any critic to cover the festival. They send the journalists who cover the news only. The dailies generally do not provide any space for the festival. Probably they could not find any fault of ours. If there was any fault or anything negative in their eyes to report, the press obviously would not have spared us. Two or three years back when we showed Sakurov’s “Taurus” there was a big hue & cry among the press & media. Most of the Kolkata dailies criticized us quoting the half-cine-literates and some politicians who were against the film culture without any valid reason. That publicity was just for criticizing us. When they don’t find any anything to criticize they don’t write anything about the festival.
This is a peculiar characteristic of this city press that they only go for the criticism. It carries a very bad signal to the International film community. But for last 2/3 years it is seen that due to participation of the film stars some coverage are being given by the media. But interestingly, the International legendary film personalities who get very good media coverage throughout the world remain unnoticed here to the city media.
Role of electronic media is comparatively better than that of the print media. We have failed to make them realized that it is an International film festival. Sometimes we face very interesting questions from the press & media. Many important people even ask us why it is Kolkata Film Festival, why not Kolkata International Film Festival? I have a common reply to all of them. London does not say London International Film Festival, Berlin does not say Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes does not say Cannes International Film Festival, then why should we say it Kolkata International Film Festival? It should always go by the name of the city. Even when Delhi started IFFI, it used to be in different cities of India, so it was International Film Festival of India. Now when they have their fixed venue at Goa, people already started to call it as Goa Film Festival.
So as long as we don’t get the critics from the dailies to cover the festival we could not get the true reflection. After 2/3 months several journals publish good reports and reviews of the festival as those being written by the critics. May be we are not so efficient in the media management. We should be much more effective to handle the press & media so that we could also get very good publicity. In other countries media always go after the foreign delegates to get their views regarding the festival and also to get the news of film culture of the respective countries. But in our city, such a media culture is totally absent. This is mainly because most of the representatives of the press & media covering the festival are part timers and casual employees, who do not have any idea about who is who in the world cinema or about the international cine culture. So it is not possible for them to realize what to do and how to do. In other big festivals it could not even be imagined.
It could be related with the decline of the film society movement here. In sixties, when the film society movement was very strong in this city even the small festivals also used to get wide coverage as there were so many cine intellectuals there associated with the film society movement. Now the film societies hardly produce any film intellectual. Result, press & media are also lagging behind for want of true film literate people who understand cinema and know people involved with the film world. So we see that film criticism being written even in leading dailies by some actors and not by the film critics. How could an actor be a film critic without having any proper intellectual background!
Cinema is a complicated form of art. Each and every film should be studied as a serious text. How could one be so casual in approach without having any proper knowledge to write whatever he or she likes. Due to sharp decline in film society movement, number of film intellectuals in the city is declining very rapidly. I do always believe that film society movement is a very important factor to propagate film culture. I do also feel that this movement is declining very sharply, not only in Kolkata but also in other parts of the country. In Delhi there are not more than 2/3 active film societies. Same in Mumbai. In West Bengal we had a proud history of the film society movement but now the very active film societies are hardly found. Though there are several reasons for this. Neither a particular cause, nor a few people could be singled out for this decay. So many factors are there. It is very difficult to get the films today. If there is no supply of films why the members will feel interest to be a member of the film society? And if there is fall of membership, how the societies could survive?
Earlier film societies used to get films from the foreign Embassies. Now it is very difficult to get the films. And as there is scarcity of films it is difficult to get the members. Moreover, in sixties there were so many stalwarts in film society movement. Keep aside Satyajit Ray and Chidananda Dasgupta, we must remember the contribution of Paradipta Sen, Prabodh Moitra, Ajay Dey and most important Alok Chandra Chandra. They had the huge sacrifices for the film society movement. They took this job as their full time mission. They were totally devoted and committed to the movement. Now such leadership is hardly found. Globalisation and consumerism created a total crisis. A bleak hollowness is found everywhere in the filed of art & culture. As if we are completely lost after sixties. No bright prospects could be seen in literature, painting, performing art, theatre, cinema or any other field of creativity. And Bengali film industry is worst affected amongst all these. As film is people’s media the result is very much visible here.
In the midst of this drought why this festival is being continued? And why it is claimed as successful? It is true that so many people even the very busy intellectuals and elites of the city often say that they wait for the whole year only for this one week of Kolkata Film Festival. They think that their hunger for the good cinema could only be satisfied by this festival. It is a good certificate for the Kolkata Film Festival but not at all good for the city’s cultural tradition, particularly for the film culture. However, this demand increases responsibilities of the festival organizers to develop the festival further qualitatively. We try our best to make the people conscious about the world cinema. We consider it is our social responsibilities. This city is crazy about the festivals. Not only Kolkata Film Festival, this city loves all the festivals. Kolkata Book Fair is one of the glaring examples. Kolkata Film Festival also creates impetus, stimulates creative power.
I am not very sure of its impact on film industry in general but the filmmakers of middle road cinema say that they are benefited from this festival. Actors and technicians are enriched. Creative people from the different cultural fields such as poets, novelists, play writs, painters, actors, dancers, journalists …… all are being benefitted from this festival. But this festival can meet up the cultural demand of the Kolkatans related to cinema maximum for one week, but for the rest of the year it is the responsibilities of the film societies to carry it forward, to keep the cine culture alive to the city film buffs. But it is lacking tremendously. I hope, Kolkata Film Festival will help the film society movement to carry it forward.
(This article is based on an exclusive interview by filmbuff with Mr. Ansu Sur)