"When multiplexes opened, we thought it was a great opportunity to show the best of cinema, in those small cinemas. It did not happen. Instead, they were showing the worst kind of films — there is no choice. This is our misfortune: when things look like clearing, it gets enshrouded."
Namaste Andrew, Harry, Kevin, Edwin and Alex. Thanks for the invitation people. Looking forward to gain a lot from this experience.
The year brought in hope for cinephiles across the country. Since distribution of foreign films finally kicked-off in style through theatrical screening in few metros and one could purchase original foreign films through major retail outlets. And to top it all, two major satellite channels were launched showcasing foreign films in the country. Sadly, this did not help or increase the growth for our own auteurs in the country. Their films are still part of film festivals abroad or shown in their respective home states, and are shown in few film festivals across the country. The year was still heavily dominated by mainstream cinema. Even the foreign releases were shown at odd hours and had just one screenings in most cities. And it's mainly the popular films at festivals or that are not avant-garde are shown or will be distributed for some time.
Luckily, I managed to watch two of the finest Indian films of 2008 that came from veteran auteurs of Indian cinema at a film festival in Delhi. The rest of the movies in my list had a limited theatrical release here. And I saw most of them at Press- screenings on behalf of a publication.
Theatrical release/film screenings:
1) Three Monkeys - Nuri Bilge Ceylan - The film is acquired by NDTV Lumiere for distribution in India. The movie was first screened at the Osian Film Festival 2008. The film later had a limited theatrical and DVD release in the country. Beside most of Cyelan works are out on DVD here. This is definitely a good thing for cinephiles in the country.
2) Naalu Pennungal (Four women) - Adoor Gopalakrishnan - It's rare to see a film of an Indian auteur to be screened outside his own home state. This movie never had a release outside Kerala (the director state) and might not see a DVD release here in India.
3) Gulabi Talkies - Girish Kasaravalli - Just like Adoor, his films are part of film festivals across the world and only released in his home state of Karnataka and barely shown outside the state. It was awarded the best Indian film at the Osian film Festival 2008, but had a limited release even in his home state. Only one multiplex was showing the film and that too just one show! Girish Kasaravalli is one of the veteran auteur of Indian cinema.
4) Tokyo Sonata - Kiyoshi Kurosawa - The screening of this movie was special: it was supposed to be the Asian premiere at the Osian Film Festival in 2008. The movie is unlikely to see a release in the country or the DVD because people are still not familiar with his works.
5) The Secret of the Grain - Adellatif Kechiche - The movie got positive reviews when it was released here in select cities and did fairly well at the box-office. Since it’s distributed by a major company NDTV Lumiere it will have a DVD release here.
6) Still Life - Jia Zhangke - I remember reading Kevin Lee's Director Profile (Senses of Cinema) on him for the first time, and went on to hunt for his films. And when I finally did manage to get my hands on Platform, the movie left an everlasting impression. Still Life, like most foreign releases is first shown to the press, however, this time most journalist were bored watching the film, as they found it difficult to follow his style. I, for one, loved this film and with a whole bunch of cinephiles went ahead to watch the film in theaters. I’m hoping for a DVD release here.
7) United Red Army - Koji Wakamatsu - I saw this again at the Osian film festival 2008. Wakamatsu and his cinematographer were there in person to talk about the film. So it was quite special, but like Kiyoshi Kurosawa people are not very familiar of his films, so no chance for a theatrical or a DVD release.
Few notes on distribution in 2008:
1) The DVD market is populated by established auteurs of world cinema. So there are hardly any variety, but similar faces pop-up from distributors of foreign films. Most of the DVDs are fairly priced but do not carry any value added 'extra' that helps a consumer go for the product other than purchasing a cheap pirated DVD.
2) Theatrical screening of foreign film is held at very odd timings with just one show in selected theaters. This does not help towards the cause of promotion of good cinema. Since with no option of shows, timings and places most people find it difficult to attend the screenings. And settle for downloading the movie or purchasing the illegal DVD.
3) Twenty-four hour movie channels continue to popularize contemporary foreign films (mainly mainstream/ few off-beats of established auteurs) that are not difficult for the audience and have a narrative or popular filmmaker. These channels have taken similar paths like popular movie channels of having interviews with celebrities and stars that does not build or popularize any understanding of the medium. So what we mainly see are the favorite films of the celebrities.
4) Mainstream films from Mumbai, Chennai, and Karnataka dominate more than 90% of market with few major Hollywood blockbusters. There are hardly any buyers for fresh ideas or new directors on horizon. Films without stars still find no takers. Warner Bros, Fox and Sony have started distributing and producing films in India but have stuck with mainstream fare. A distributor will release Non- Hindi/English mainstream film in other part of the country but will not do the same for an established auteur or an upcoming director. As the saying goes, ‘ A distributor will pick a someone's second film, but not the first one.’
5) The distribution within the country—the regional cinema is mostly confined to their own respective districts, since the low distribution system does not permit them to reach the eyes of the larger audience. Hence the lack of theatrical as well as DVD releases in our city keeps us deprived of some of the great work that are produced in other part of the country. These are the films that usually win National or International Awards but sadly are hardly seen in the country.
The movies mentioned in Harry and Andrew’s list would definitely never reach us on any format. Perhaps, like every other city in the world, film festivals are the only solution. Night and Day (Hong Sang Soo), and Sparrow (Johnnie To) were screened at the Osian film festival 2008. Sadly, I missed them at the festival. The rest on the list, I'm hoping some film festival brings to us works of Pedro Costa, Bela Tarr and definitely Hong Sang Soo. However, last year I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Greed and Edward Yang retrospective so it made up for most things I missed at the festival.
Looking forward to read what was in store in UK and Philippines.