Films as Science

With new-found interest and specific courses in the craft,film curation is gradually finding takers in India.

Written by Rohan Swamy | Published:April 2, 2012 1:33 am

With new-found interest and specific courses in the craft,film curation is gradually finding takers in India.

“It is important to understand how one goes about documenting a film. How does one go about understanding its cultural and visual implications? More importantly,what are the thoughts of a particular era that are represented in the film. These are hard questions that need to be asked by a film curator before selecting a film for a festival,” says film curator Italo Spinelli,on the craft of film curation.

Film curation is fast achieving the status of a precise science. With its roots in art and museum curation,its job profile deals with archiving,documenting,researching,contextualising and cataloging films. It also deals with all the work that goes behind selecting movies for a film festival. Understanding film copyright laws,convincing directors to send their movies for festivals and also balancing a festival with mainstream films and documentaries are some additional aspects of this field.

The Film and Television Institute of India became the first government institute to conduct a four-day course on the subject last week. With the course becoming a success,a plan to replicate it every year and even to have a full-fledged course in the coming few years is taking shape. In addition,the Dr Ambedkar University in Delhi is working on becoming the first college in the country to have a full-time course on the subject. Beena Paul,artistic director,International Film Festival of Kerala,who is helping design the course,says,“The course will include subjects like issues and debates in film history,the practical aspects of the curators work – research,writing and building networks – and the cultural context in film curating.” The course,which is in the final stages of the syllabus design,will be ready by next year,she adds.

While it had become a precise and disciplined study in the west almost three decades back,as Spinelli points out,there has been no fixed date in history when film curation came to be established as a science. In India,with the advent of smaller film festivals in the tier two and tier three cities,film curation,also called ‘film programming’,is now becoming an emerging field in the area of film studies and history. Spinelli illustrates another example to prove his point. Having been the curator of the 12-year-old Asiatica Festival in Rome,he explains his point through the film,Under the Hawthorn Tree,at the Common Room Theatre of the FTII. Zhang Yimou’s poignant tale of two lovers in the backdrop of the Chinese revolution was one of the films that he had selected for the festival last year. “Asian cinema is very wide and vast. A film like this,in addition to showcasing the history of a country,it also showcases the life of the people from that era. It is not just about the cinema or the story,but one needs to look beyond it. That was a reason why even a film like 3 Idiots was shown at the festival.” He adds that 3 Idiots was a commentary on the education system of India,and the rat race nature of people.

Film curation in a country like India is a lot like event management. This is a view proposed by Ashish Rajadhyakha,Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society,Bengaluru. Rajadhyaksha,who had been a part of the Guanzhou Film Festival that was held late last year,adds that film curation is also about learning the platforms and the spaces where a film is shown. “The place where a film is being shown is also important. Open spaces,closed spaces,big screens,projection theatres are all important elements of the festival. For instance,I remember in Seoul they were showing documentaries on giant 40 ft LCDs and the effect that they had on the people was phenomenal. The public was free to walk away but the effect was strong to keep them captivated,” he says.

Paul mentions that India has been slow to adapt to this change because of various reasons. “It is only in the last one decade that the west has opened up to Indian films. Indians who have visited film festivals abroad in the recent past have liked the idea of the discipline that goes into film programming and selection. Hence,it is slowly becoming organised here,now,” she says. On an average,India produces over 900 films a year. She says,“How do we look for what is relevant? For a theme like migration,how do we pull up films to showcase the issue? Hence for a film curator,it becomes even more important to study art history and film studies. Their knowledge base has to be very vast.”

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