At the movies in Madurai

Launced as an anti-nuclear film festival in 1998 to protest against the Pokhran Nuclear test in Madurai, the Madurai Film Festival has come a long way. It is celebrated from December 6 to 9 every year.

The festival is organised by 40 year-old Amudhan RP, a documentary filmmaker. Amudhan is also the founder of the event. The festival serves as a meeting place for not only cinema lovers but also for those who enjoy watching documentaries. “We intend to screen all kinds of short films, documentaries, animation films and music videos, like we do every year. We screen films from across the world and are open to any style, theme or length.”

 A still from the film Scorpions by Finnish director Simo Hakalisto

This year, the festival also includes retrospectives of senior filmmakers such as Anand Patwardhan, Sanjay Kak, Amar Kanwar, RV Ramani, Rahul Roy, Saba Dewan, Madhusree Dutta, Sehjo Singh, Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar, which makes the festival appealing to the mass audience.

This non-profit festival is envisioned as a platform for filmmakers to showcase their works on themes that concern the development of society. One such film is Amudhan’s documentary, titled Shit, which is about the evils of manual scavenging, which is rampant in India.

A still from the film Yuban  by Mexican director Yaasib Vasquez

Another film, Yuban, is a 29-minute documentary made by Mexican director, Yaasib Vasquez. It is a visual essay on the life of the Mexican ethnic Zapotecan community and talks about the survival of their nature, culture and community. Finnish filmmaker Simo Hakalisto’s 74-minute documentary titled Scorpions, which throws light on the struggle of disabled volleyball players in Cambodia, will also be screened at the festival.

“The documentaries and short films are different, unique, political, sensitive and responsible. They narrate stories of issues such as communalism, casteism, gender inequality, and people’s struggles, which are taboo in the mainstream media. They are made in the interest of the public and not popularity,” says Amudhan.

Regional cinema in India is thriving but the regional documentary scenario is still at a very nascent stage. This could be due to lack of funds or media coverage. “Documentary as a medium has not spread across the country. It is still considered a serious and boring medium exclusive to intellectuals.

To some extent, activists or issue-based films are reaching out to wider audiences. After the arrival of ‘stylish’ cum ‘multi-layered’ cerebral documentaries, I think documentaries are reaching out to multiplex audiences,” explains Amudhan.

Ask him about his future plans and he says, “We are old-fashioned activists who believe in doing things the humble way. I will be more happy if my films are screened at small film clubs, colleges and activist circles across the country and the world.”  

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