IFFK highlights: Silent films with live piano, 32 female directors, LGBTQIA+ narratives

The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) will be held between December 9 and 16, across various theatres in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram.
IFFK March 2022
IFFK March 2022
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On December 7, a Wednesday, there are just a few odd people hovering around the make-shift film festival offices at the Tagore Theatre. A vast campus placed at an enviable spot in Thiruvananthapuram, the premise will turn into a whole different place in the next two days. December 9 is the first day of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), which will be held across different venues in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. Owing to COVID-19 the last two editions suffered delayed schedules, making this the second fest to happen in a year. But going back to its routine, the IFFK is ready to welcome 12,000 and more delegates into its fold this December.

“It was not easy,” says the new artistic director of the festival, Deepika Suseelan. “We had only two and a half months in all to do the whole programme.” By that, she means everything from inviting entries to selecting movies to fixing a jury and accommodating the guests. The last IFFK, held in March this year, was handled by renowned film editor Bina Paul Venugopal, a veteran in overseeing the IFFK, having been the artistic director for most of its 27 editions.

Deepika, with her experience of handling three back-back-back IFFIs (International Film Festival of India), which happens in Goa every November, and an edition of the IFFK in 2014, says it is a misconception that all the selection is done from the movies sent in applications. “Only the Indian and Malayalam cinema sections come through applications. But the majority of the world cinema and competition films are chosen after a lot of research, scouting through previous festivals, using contacts, and convincing those who are little reachable to come,” she says.

Deepika Suseelan

She is glad that many big names could make it despite the last-minute planning. Bela Tarr, a legendary filmmaker from Hungary, is one of the people who agreed to come despite health issues. He will be receiving the lifetime achievement award this year, and six of his films have been included in a package charmingly titled, The Melancholy Worlds of Bela Tarr. This is a filmmaker who began with ordinary films for ordinary people and then fell into stories of pessimism.

Silent films with piano and Serbian masterpieces

Another promising package is the series of silent films in two different sections. One of these is coming with live piano, by Jonny Best, resident pianist at the BFI Southbank, a cinema house in the UK. It will begin with the screening of the German horror film, Nosferatu, a straight-off-the-coffin vampire film from a hundred years ago, made by the legendary FM Murnau. Murnau, who died in 1931, has a separate package, apart from Jonny's five.

Poster of Nosferato/ IFFK

It is also new to IFFK that Serbia becomes the country of focus this time. At a fest that mostly focuses on films from Latin America, Asia, and African countries each year, the newest and best works from a different nation become a highlight every year. “Serbia as a country of focus has not been done before. Neither were Serbian films chosen for any recent big film festivals. And the IFFK is a festival that always initiates things. Films like the Working Class Heroes from Serbia blow you away. We have also included four of Emir Kusturica’s movies,” Deepika says. Emir, a maestro from Serbia, is known for telling stories of people from the margins.

32 films by women filmmakers

There are 32 films by female directors in a fest that features more than 185 movies from 17 countries. That was not a planned move, Deepika says. The only consideration came in reaching out to as many women filmmakers as possible to bring their works to the decision table, she adds. “After that, there is no special consideration and no woman filmmaker demands it. They make great films. As a rule, I don’t look at the filmmaker's name while watching films and taking a call, so there is no bias. I was amazed when 32 names came to the final list. You should watch films like Night Siren, written by a woman and directed by another. It is just wonderful. On the other hand, I was surprised to see that a film like A room of my own was done by a male filmmaker,” she says.

Unruly, by Danish filmmaker Malou Reymann, is among the 32 films by women directors

Of the movies she mentions, Night Siren is a horror drama about a Slovakian woman who goes back to her hometown to solve the mysteries of her childhood, while A Room of my own is a Georgian film about a woman who rents a room from another and discovers what it is like to be free.

LGBTQIA+ centric films

As always, 14 films are in the competition category, two of these in Malayalam, and another two from other Indian languages. Lijo Jose Pellissery’s first Mammootty film, Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, will have its premiere while Mahesh Narayanan’s Ariyippu, which has already been to festivals, will feature in the competition category. A Manipuri film called Our Home and a Hindi film called A place of our own are the other Indian films in competition. The latter is about the struggle of two transgender persons in finding a home. The fest includes quite a few films on the LGBTQIA+ community. Deepika mentions Paloma, a Brazillian film about a transexual woman who decides to get married in a church, and Lord of the Ants, a biopic on Italian poet and playwright Aldo Braibanti, who was jailed in 1968 under an anti-gay law.

Lord of the Ants

Two categories celebrating golden jubilees are one for Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram, and another is a retrospective for American scriptwriter Paul Schrader. Ninety-three-year-old Alejandro Jodorowsky, making Chilean-French avant-garde films, also gets a package.

Special screenings including restored classics – last edition’s Kummatty still lingers in the mind – auteur odes, and the midnight screening of a horror film (an Indonesian one, aptly titled Satan’s Slaves), are all to look forward to.

The only thing left to decide is the guest for the opening day, December 9. Sadly, Mahnaz Mohammadi, the Iranian filmmaker who was declared the winner of IFFK’s Spirit of Cinema award, cannot make it. The opening film is however fixed – a French feature titled Tori and Lokita, from the Dardenne brothers. Deepika says it is unlike their usually slow-paced films on a big canvas. This is a shorter canvas and a more paced one. Quite a few ‘cute and fun-to-watch films’ are there, she promises.

The IFFK ends on December 16.

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