Shawn Sebastian, whose documentary “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar” has been denied censorship exemption by the Central government, said they would approach the Kerala High Court on Monday for an interim relief with an aim to screen the film at the tenth edition of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).
“There has been a concerted effort from the government’s side to curtail freedom of expression of artistes in diverse spheres over the last three years,” Shawn Sebastian told indianexpress.com in an exclusive interview. On Saturday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had sparked off a controversy after denying Censor exemption to three documentaries based on recent national controversies, for screening at the upcoming festival.
Interestingly, the documentaries which have come under the government’s scanner deal with controversial topics like the Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ agitation (March, March, March), the unrest in Kashmir Valley (In the Shade of Fallen Chinar) and the Rohith Vemula issue (The Unbearable Being of Lightness).
Responding to the development, Sebastian, who co-directed the film with NC Fazil, said: “Normally, the approval of judges is considered as the criteria for screening. The government’s decision was not expected at all.” He said they are yet to receive any official response from the Ministry in connection with this decision.
Films showcased at film festivals do not require a certificate from the Censor Board but are required to get a censor exemption certificate from the Ministry in order to get them screened at a festival.
Sebastian also believes the government has made a conscious decision to not allow these films to be screened as it dealt with issues which pose uncomfortable questions. “It clearly reflects in this decision. Personally, I don’t think there should be any objections as my film doesn’t promote violence,” he insists.
In the Shade of Fallen Chinar was shot a month before the turmoil in the Valley had triggered off. The 16-minute short-film casts a glance at how students in Kashmir University are telling their stories, through art, music and photography, in the strife-torn Valley.
Beginning on June 16, the festival is organised by the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy, a body under the state government’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
Expressing his disappointment over denial of permission, Academy chairman and Festival Director Kamal said there is a ‘cultural emergency’ prevailing in the country. “We are going through an undeclared emergency in the country. What we should eat, what we should wear, what we should talk all this is being decided by the ruling dispensation,” he had said while addressing a press conference on Saturday.
“All the films, except these three, got an exemption. The Ministry hasn’t cited any reason for denying Censor exemption for these films, which are based on socially relevant themes. I think these films were denied screening permission because they deal with intolerance in the country. We have moved an appeal, asking the Ministry to consider the plea seeking censor exemption again. We are yet to get a reply,” Kamal said.
Echoing similar views, Sebastian said, “Yes, I completely agree with Kamal’s remarks. The latest attack on documentary follows a pattern over the last three years wherein freedom of expression of artists in diverse spheres is being curtailed.”
Insisting that documentaries and censorship do not go hand in hand, Sebastian said documentary as a genre has never toed the line of government with regards to its themes and story lines. “If such pre-festival permissions by the government become the norm of the day, documentary as a genre and documentary film festivals as a space for freedom of expression will lose its relevance,” he said.