It is true that the country is spilling over with film festivals, big and small, local, national and international so much that the significance of these festivals tend to get somewhat diluted by the frequency with which they occur.

But many of them come with their own flavour, touched by the organizational efficiency and selection of films and the huge number of film buffs they can attract. One of these is the Bengaluru International Film Festival which entered into its 9th edition this year. For the first few years, this festival, founded by journalist, film scholar and curator N. VIdyashankar who ran the festival for the first few years, was taken over by the Karnataka Chalachitra Academy and Vidyashankar became the artistic director of the festival for the third consecutive year.

BIFFES is now one of the biggest film festivals in the county and the only festival to hold screenings in two cities, Bengaluru and Mysuru. It ran between February 2 and February 9 this year. Around 240 films from 60 countries were screened through the week at 11 screens in PVR Cinemas, Rajajinagar as well as in four screens at Inox Cinemas and Mall of Mysuru.

“Cinemas with independent, personal expressions critique the modern society in the present state and as contrast to this are films which draw heavily on individual memory and its collective manifestations. In either of its forms, cinema moves from the general to the particular and other arts from particular experience to a general one.

In this scenario, what is the role of international film festivals? What films are to be chosen from the thousands that are made with various interests? How do we distinguish between a constructed film and a creative expression? BIFFES tries to address all these challenges. Access to technology, awareness of human rights, horrors of sexual predators, desire to reach people beyond their geographical boundaries are themes that pervade the kaleidoscope in this edition’s BIFFES,” said Vidyashankar, associated with the film society movement since 1977.

The highlights of the festival were – (a) Country Focus with films from Luxemburg, Vietnam and Egypt, (b) Director’s Retrospectives with films by Zoltan Fabri of Hungary, Haskell Wexler of the USA and Buddhadeb Dasgupta of India, (c) Artist’s Retrospectives with films of veteran Kannada actor Harini and classic cult comedies from France, (d) Critics’ Award-winning Films thathave won awards at other film festivals under Fipresci Juries all of them directed by women, alongwith award-winning films under NETPAC Juries, (e) Women Power that selected 25 films from International Cinema directed by women, (f) Unsung, Incredible India that showcased films from little-known Indian dialects like Tulu, Kodava, Banjara, Khasi, Wancho and Sikkimese, (g) Bio-pics on poet Pablo Neruda, filmmaker Fritz Lang, artist Van Gogh, philosopher Louis Andrea Salome, scholar MM Kalburgi and singer Mohammed Rafi, (h) Centenary Tributes to G.V. Iyer, B.S. Ranga, M.K. Indira and Kempraj Urs and a special 125th Birth anniversary tribute to Dr. B.R. Amebdkar, (i) Homages to J. Jayalalitha, Balamuralikrishna, Om Puri, Dr. Ashok Pai, Andrzej Wajda of Poland, Abbas Kiarostami of Iran, Jacquies Rivette and Raoul Cottard of France and Paul Cox of Australia, and (j) a tribute to 50 Years of Kannada Cinema thorugh films of Pranaya Raja Srinath.

One of the outstanding features of the festival was the constantly monitored queues at the eleven-screen PVR Cinemas where senior citizens had a separate queue and though there were some minor cancellations and replacements, the volunteers were ever ready to help anyone who approached them. S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu, Festival Director and Chairman of the Karnataka Chalachitra Academy along with Vidyashankar were always present at the screening venue to oversee things. Several stalls at the food court called “film fest menu” offered items at special discounts because of the festival.

A Father’s Will from Kyrgyzstan jointly directed by Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar who made their directorial debut with this film won the Prize in the Asian Cinema section. It is the story of a young man who has lived in the US for 15 years but comes back to Kyrgyzstan to fulfil the promise he made to his dying father in the US to return the money the latter had taken from the villagers. He meets his uncle Choro who has been jailed for his missing brother’s sins. What happens then? The film offers a rare look at questions of displacement, homecoming with a twist and changes our perceptions of the little-known land called Kyrgyzstan.

Harikatha Prasanga (Chronicles of Hari) in Kannada directed by the young Ananya Kasaravalli bagged the award for the Best Film in the Indian Cinema Section. It unfolds the story of Hari, a famous Yakshagana performer of female roles and his life unfolds in the film through interviews taken by two filmmakers who wish to document his life and experiences in different ways. The film tackles issues of the transgender personality from a sociological and cultural perspective that zeroes in on a micro-level to explore the psyche of Hari, realised on screen by the strikingly original portrayal of Shrunga Vasudevan.

Lathe Joshi in Marathi, directed by Mangesh Joshi based on his own story, won the Jury Special Award in Indian Cinema. It is a moving and humane unfolding of how technological revolution and evolution that wreak havoc in the life of a skilled lathe machine operator whose entire world collapses, economically, socially and even within the family when the lathe machine threatens to become obsolete. Does this render Lathe Joshi obsolete as well?

Lady of the Lake, a Manipuri film directed by Haobam Paban Kumar that is on award-winning spree across the country and beyond and one of the two Indian films featured at the Berlinale Forum this year bagged the FIPRESCI Prize of Rs. 1 lakh. It won the NETPAC Jury award at the Kolkata International Film Festival in 2016. Set against the backdrop Manipur’s Loktak Lake, the film follows the real-life plight of the local fishermen, who are being driven from their homes on the floating biomass that covers the lake by local authorities who claim they are causing pollution. The story zeroes in on a single fisherman who, threatened by the imminent danger of being thrown out of his lake home, tries to use a gun. The surrealism the director uses to tackle a very real story based on real life circumstances enhances the aesthetic beauty of the film. The challenge the director took to cinematograph the film must be seen to be believed.

Rama Rama Re in Kannada directed by Satya Prakash won the Best Film Award within the Kannada Cinema category that had a considerable number of jury members. It is framed within a mainstream template, it very diabolically shifts between the philosophical and the real through the story of a death row convict who finds himself trapped between questions of freedom through escape and questions of death if he were to remain imprisoned. It adopts the structure of a road movie and ends differently from routine mainstream fare where the landscape becomes a character of the story.

(Cover Photograph:Still from Manipuri Lady of the Lake movie at the festival)