Artists’ Debut In Cinemas

Artists Films Section,a new category at MFF,takes a bunch of films out of the gallery space in a bid to reach new audiences

Written by Kevin Lobo | Published:October 5, 2013 5:34 am

Sahej Rahal’s Forerunner has had one of the best responses to an art show in the city this year. One of the elements at his exhibition that explores time and space through found objects was his video,which shares its name with the exhibition. It does not have any plot to speak of,but has a fictional narrative that is based on an observatory built by Ferozshah Tughlaq and reference pieces by poet Jorge Borges. In a gallery setting,Rahal’s video works beautifully because it continues the narrative of the exhibition. But it will be interesting to see how people react to it when it is taken out of a gallery,and shown at the 15th edition of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF),which debuts a new category,called Artists Films Section.

Curated by Deepika Sorabjee,who has been on the selection panel for films at MFF for the past two years,this section will have five films which range from six to 43 minutes. It features works by artists Neha Choksi,Pallavi Paul,Hetain Patel,Kiran Subbaiah and Rahal. “This idea came about pretty close to the festival so we haven’t had much time to select films. I had a chat with festival director Srinivasan Narayanan about videos being used by artists. He thought it would be a good addition to the festival,” says Sorabjee. They initially wanted to select only those films that were made post November 2012,but time has not been on their side.

But is there a difference between art-house films and artists’ films? Sorabjee feels that art house cinema tries to push the boundaries of the cinematic language as opposed to films made for a gallery setting,which explore more of the personal self. Choksi,whose film Iceboat will be screened at MFF and is currently showing at Project 88,says,“It’s exactly what performance art is to theatre. In film and theatre,you have a director and actors who act out the vision of the director. In artists’ films,other than not having the budget,it is a personal expression,and is often tied into other parts of an exhibition.”

There are various challenges of showing artists’ films in a cinema hall. And Sorabjee is not oblivious to this. In galleries,films are shown in a loop and a viewer can enter and exit the film whenever he or she wishes and most films are made to factor this in. Artist films are also avant-garde,so these films are an acquired taste. Also,videos are part of an exhibition as opposed to being standalone pieces. Sorabjee says,“I had to restrict myself when choosing films. When you are showing in a gallery,you have a lot more freedom. I could have had Tejal Shah,but her videos need five screens running at the same time. There are limits to what you can show to a cinema audience.”

But that does not mean it can’t be done. The ongoing New York Film Festival has 17 features and 185 short films,as part of Views from the Avant-Garde section which started in 1997. All these films are dedicated to experimental cinema,and among them are mini-retrospectives of artists Aura Satz and Jean-Paul Kelly. For the artists,coming out of the gallery space could be an opportunity to reach new audiences. Sorabjee says,“We could do so much with this. Have a retrospective of one artist,or artists who share themes. Get artists to come in for interactions,source international films. I hope to broaden the horizons of this section,if it works this year.”

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