Mychael Danna, Reha Erdem, Stephanie Zacharek, Yonfan: India Gold Jury Speak
The jury for the India Gold section at Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star comprised illustrious names like Academy award-winning composer Mychael Danna, Time magazine film critic Stephanie Zacharek, Taiwanese film director and photographer Yonfan and Turkish film director Reha Erdem, who was the Head of the Jury. We caught up with them to know more about their experience of judging the films in this category.
How familiar were you with Indian cinema before coming to MAMI, and how much has your perspective changed after this experience?
I have been very familiar with Indian filmmaking. I’ve been coming to India for 25 years now and have spent a lot of time here. What I was really delighted to find at the festival was the sheer diversity in the films, and the various voices which were now getting a platform to tell their stories. Especially given the parameters of commercial Indian cinema and the ‘format’ that Bollywood has created – which is a vast majority of filmmaking here – to sit and watch 11 films by upcoming art filmmakers with unconventional stories and techniques has been quite an experience.
If you watched 11 Bollywood films in a week, you’d probably get tired as it would be films which are all in the same rhythm. With the India Gold films, they were all so different; technically, there were documentaries, semi-documentaries, narrative features, comedies, stream of consciousness… the themes they worked with were also all over the map, from gender and caste to politics and technology, to nostalgia for cities that have been lost.
What did you think of the music score in the films that you watched as a part of the India Gold jury?
The thing about scores is that the score also needs to have an integrity with the story, and sometimes that means having no score whatsoever. Silence is sometimes the best decision, and it really depends on the theme of your story. Some scores were excellent, and there were some that were saying too much or over explaining the mood. I guess that’s something that you do as a less confident filmmaker, because you want to make sure the message is out.
Since the stories were so diverse, what were the kind of parameters the jury looked at?
Everyone in the jury had certain films that they found more to their own personal taste, but it was important to come together and take this seriously. The best way to judge a film is to look at the artistic self-integrity of the film. A film is the sum total of decisions made by many creative individuals, and while some films were more ‘messy’ as such, some really showed that there was a filmmaker at work who really knew his craft.
Besides the India Gold films, I also watched A Death in the Gunj, which I thought had a fantastic score that beautifully reflected the mood.
Having seen all the films chosen in the India Gold section, what is your impression of the level of filmmaking in the competition?
I was very happy and surprised, at the same time. Happy, because the quality of all the films was very high and all the prizes we gave were well-deserved. There was such a diversity in the selection, that was probably the most interesting part. Everyone in the jury was on the same page by the end, on who deserved to win. I never went in with any preconceived notions, especially as it was Indian films we were judging, coming from a culture that most of the jury members are not too familiar with. Each film had its own special touch; all I was looking for was originality.
Before coming down to Mumbai, how familiar were you with Indian films? Has your perception changed?
I knew about the classic Indian movies and I am leaving with many more to watch back home. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Indian Cinema.
You are one of the most distinctive voices in Turkish cinema. What is it about your films and your approach towards filmmaking that makes them unique?
The kind of movies that I try to make are those that leave some room for the viewer. Instead of spoon feeding the viewer, he likes to be able to give the viewer the space to interpret the film for themselves.
How was the process of watching the films?
We saw a total of 11 films. Generally it was two each day. There was a day when we watched three. We would start at 11 am and then break for lunch and go for another one post lunch. I wouldn’t say we had a lot of time between two screenings. But at the end of the day you would have seen two terrific films and let them process and sink in. Before you know it you’ve seen them all. It was fast.
As a film critic, how was it being bombarded with Indian Cinema for five days of regular viewing?
It was great. I don’t see Indian cinema that often. The only time that I watch them is at film festivals. For me to just be immersed in it for five days makes me think, “Oh, my god I have to see more of this. We do get them in New York. You can of course stream films or watch over DVD. But I prefer watching films on the big screen. Coming here makes me think that I have to keep up and watch more of Indian films now.
You come from a different sensibility when it comes to cinema. Is watching Indian films a visual jerk?
No, not at all. You can certainly see different styles and different traditions. It may sound cliche, but one of the major things that cinema makes you realize is that certain experiences are universal. Watching these (films) made me feel that after a point you forget that you are watching films of a different culture. For instance, two characters being awkward about expressing affection publicly. Emotions are purely human. So, that’s something which is comforting. To come to a place far from home and know that essentially everybody cares about the same thing.
What excited you more, simplistic stories or complex narratives?
That’s an interesting question because one of the things that I loved about the competition films was its range of selection. There is a story about two men who are possibly falling in love, a very urban story and on the other side there is a beautiful film like Lady of the lake, based on fisherwomen. This film is so beautifully shot that it really transports you to be a part of a world, which you can only imagine. When you see such a thing in a film, on a big screen, you are mesmerized. I wouldn’t say there was any one film better than the others, but I loved the range of films.
You’ve been on the jury of several film festivals, how is being a jury member at MAMI different?
It is both easier and difficult to choose for MAMI because you have many good films. It is easy to decide because besides the winner, you have special mentions too. In other festivals you have to pick only one and when you like two films, it becomes difficult to choose. But overall, choosing movies is always difficult.
How do film festivals promote movies that otherwise wouldn’t have found their way to the big screen?
People have become more cinematic in their vision because of the Internet and television. But at times, people start to lose a bit of their imagination as they want everything to be blatant and upfront. I hope sooner or later cinema, through such festivals, can bring back some of the imagination and subtlety.
-Aditi Dharmadhikari, Manoj Sharma & Aarti Sukhija