Indira Zen, who had for two decades nursed a dream to make a feature film, died without making one. But the short fiction she made, Catharsis, about the victim of a political attack meeting his assaulter, got picked up at festivals and won awards. She would be the absent filmmaker among eight others, at a curiously titled film festival called ‘9 Pen Cinemakal’, which has been touring many cities since last August.
Archana Padmini, the curator of the festival that’s just had a hosting in Bengaluru, with the help of actor-producer Prakash Bare, quietly picked nine Malayalam short films made by women and had a screening in Kozhikode on August 15 last year. “I have been working with film societies for years. And through that work, I began to watch films seriously. For one whole year, I travelled to the various film festivals across the country – the documentary fest in Delhi, MAMI in Mumbai, IFFI in Goa and so on. It is there that I realised there are so many films made by women that should be watched,” says Archana, actor, film society worker, assistant director, film student and teacher.
Right now, she speaks as a curator and she wants it known that there are these women – talented women – out there, making great cinema. When she discovered such talents at film festivals, Archana wanted to find more of them. She could see there was a language to women filmmakers. “All this while, the films including the classics that we have been watching were made mostly by men. It’s that perspective we see, that ideology. When women express, it is a different language you see in form, in medium, each different and genuine in content and craft.”
Most of the films she found come from women who have been to film schools. Some films are made as part of their course, diploma projects. But most of it had not been easy. The visibility is very little, the support is nearly nil. “One of the films in this package was very hard to find. The woman who directed it had deleted it in frustration, after she could not get any visibility for her work. Luckily her dad had a copy of it,” Archana says.
Archana Padmini speaks at the Bengaluru event
Even funding is difficult to find for women filmmakers because of the obvious prejudice. Archana says the problem starts at a more basic stage – that of viewing cinema. “Even now, you see very few women going alone to the theatre. It’s not been an encouraging environment for women to go out and watch cinema. You need to watch films to study them. That’s where film schools play a role. They give an open space for women to work at.”
She speaks of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) that had formed after the actor assault case of 2017. The women who are part of it have been facing a lot of backlash. It is a very hostile environment, she says. Forget funding, women are even losing opportunities to act because they chose to speak out. It is the WCC that took up the festival after the Kozhikode screening and hosted it in Kochi.
At Bengaluru, Prakash Bare had been more than willing to support the cause. “I had heard about it and invited them here. It would open people’s eyes to the novelty, to a new point of view, and appreciate the women behind it,” Prakash says. It’s all short films in the package, and Prakash asks how many feature films do we have by women, barring a few like Anjali Menon or Vidhu Vincent.
Archana chose short films so the package has a focus, and she does not believe short fiction should only be a step towards making feature films. It has a place of its own. Among these short films, you will find that even the politics of these nine filmmakers are different, like it would be for any two individuals. “They come from nine different backgrounds. There is Kunjila Mascilamani, a young and brilliant filmmaker who has constantly been making films, there is Sudha who did her PG from Reading. More than slogans, more than long dialogues, their politics come in subtle, organic forms. Their politics come in their choice of having women protagonists. That needn’t be a deliberate choice, it comes naturally to them, because of the way they perceive.”
The fest is next going to Madurai, Ottappalam and then to the UK-Asian film festival in London.