Is it time to reform the IFFK?

The Kerala International Film Festival (IFFK) and controversies seem to go hand in hand. Each year, IFFK's film selection, especially in the Malayalam film section, is scrutinized and discussions and debates abound on the list. This year has not been different. Shortly after, the selection committee headed by filmmaker T V Chandran announced the 14 Malayalam films that will be screened in several categories in IFFK 2019 , which will take place from December 6 to 13, several important parallel filmmakers expressed concern.

While director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan withdrew his film Chola from the Kaleidoscope section, citing the outdated selection of films in the Malayalam Cinemas Today category, a group of filmmakers joined together to launch an initiative called Reform the IFFK. They will present a judicial petition in the Superior Court of Kerala demanding an ‘independent and competent selection committee that is not related to the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy (KSCA).

Academician and filmmaker Sunil S, whose moral nights were among the failed entries in this year's Malayalam Cinemas Today section, notes that for a few years, KSCA has been operating arbitrarily and unfairly against filmmakers. The number of tickets for IFFK 2019 was 607, of which there were 307 films in the World Cinema competition, 207 in Indian Cinema Today and 93 films in Malayalam Cinemas Today. According to the record book, it seems that the screening committee took 40 days to see 307 movies in the World Cinema competition, 18 days for 207 movies in Indian Cinema Today and 12 days for 93 movies in Malayalam Cinema Today. It is humanly impossible for them to have seen all the films to assess their artistic value within this short duration. Therefore, it is clear that there has been no real thought process on the part of the selection committee when pre-selecting the films, ”he says.

As per IFFK rules and regulations, Sunil explains that the members of the KSCA cannot be part of the selection committee. “The member of the selection committee, including V K Joseph, Sibi Malayil, Sajitha Madathil and Pradeep Chokli, who are all members of the KSCA general council. This is illegal and against regulation, which resulted in bias and prejudices in the selection, ”he says.

The 14 Malayalam films selected for screening at the festival include Jallikattu and Vrithakrithyilulla Chathuram in the International and Unda Competition section, Kumbalangi Nights, Uyare, Virus, Roudram, Veyilmarangal and Oru Njayarazhcha.

Filmmaker Sunil Nath, whose movie Murivukal Puzhayakunnu was left out of this IFFK, says that earlier, the rule was that the films selected should have their premiere in the fest.

“Most of the Malayalam films, especially eight films selected this year are commercial films which have had theater releases and are available over the Internet. IFFK, since its inception, had been a platform to showcase parallel, offbeat or art films rather than mainstream films. At almost every international film festival, one among the primary conditions is that the applied film should not have been screened publicly anywhere. If so, how can KSCA justify the screening of films such as Kumbalangi Nights and Unda, ”he asks, adding that it is unfortunate to see that the KSCA is now headed by people like Kamal who endorse commercial films.

Sunil S seconds what Sunil Nath says. “There was a strict rule that the films selected under the Malayalam Cinema section should have its Kerala premiere at IFFK. This year, that rule has been conveniently removed. However, they have maintained it in the regulations for the World Cinema Competition and Indian Cinema Today categories. It is the first time in its history that the IFFK will be showcasing so many commercial films, ”he says.

Article 7.1 of the regulation establishes the payment of '2 lakh each to all the shortlisted films of Malayalam Cinema Today, which is a concession of' 1 lakh to the producer and director of each one. “Commercial movies like Virus and Kumbalangi Nights have been screened on all platforms and have collected millions of dollars in theaters and have also taken over the rights of satellites. Now, the government provides them with 2 lakh too, says Sunil Nath.

The Reform the IFFK group is demanding a thorough investigation on this. “We strongly believe that the committee had decided the films in advance and in the 12 days, all the committee did was go through some namesake procedures. If not, let them show the CCTV visuals. All we need is a new unbiased committee and a fresh list of films for Malayalam Cinema, ”he says.

Sanal feels that IFFK has been deviating from its fundamental objective and is now a biased platform. “The aim of IFFK was to enhance film sensibilities by bringing in films from different parts and creating a consciousness about cinema. There are many filmmakers who were inspired by the fest and are now leading the independent film sector. However, the standard of not only IFFK, but also every other activity of the KSCA, including the awards, is now declining as it is ruled by a set of people with a certain agenda or outlook, ”he says. He feels that the KSCA is ignoring innovative filmmakers with novel ideas and sensibilities and promoting mediocre cinemas. “By this they are causing a huge damage to film culture,” he says.

T V Chandran says that some of the 93 films presented were well below average, but the committee saw all the films, with the aim of improving the cinema. “While we watch the movies, we only watch the movies and their quality, not if they were commercial or parallel, and we chose the best 14 of them. The top two were out of these were sent to the competition section. The rejected films were definitely inferior. Matters as if it was launched or not were our concern. There are no groups involved or any previous political agenda. We consider the movies genuinely. We only think about film improvement. Those who are raising their voice should think again about the quality of Malayalam cinema now, ”he says.

Sunil Nath responds: How could you compare a large budget commercial movie with movies that are made with a shoe string budget and our love for cinema?