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Sunday, January 24, 2021

An international film festival on urban living makes us confront issues of death, separation and loss

The annual Urban Lens Film Festival, organised by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, presents a week-long exploration into landscapes of the city and the mind

Written by Shiny Varghese | New Delhi | December 1, 2020 8:00:25 pm
A still from the film The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger

“I’ve never been able to fall in love, always, always acting,” says Olivia, protagonist in the film Olmo and the Seagull. A free-spirited theatre actor, she is in the wings for a lead role in Chekhov’s The Seagull. But life has other plans. She meets her boyfriend, Serge, and she’s pregnant. That’s when she is in the blind alley of her life. The impending thought of motherhood for whom the stage was her life has to confront her days of staying home and being ‘role-less’. Directors Petro Costa and Lea Glob bring in multiple realities through the couple’s stage scenes and Olivia’s journal reading. At some point, the audience wonders where the real and the temporal merge, and one can’t tell where the stage ends and life begins.

This film is part of the Urban Lens Film Festival, organised by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), where filmmakers and urban theorists come together to talk about urban living and cinema. It’s time again to look at our cities, and maybe through them, take a closer look at ourselves. And in these Covid-19 times, how they have formed us, how we have been shaped by them, how our homes have become shrines where we offer penance for years of neglect, and deeper still, those inner spaces in our lives, where we wrestle with the good, bad and the ugly.

In its seventh edition this year, the festival is being held online on December 1-6, in association with the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Danish Cultural Centre, and brings together various genres of films in nearly 30 languages.

Filmmaker Bina Paul

Filmmaker-editor Bina Paul will be curating a special segment called ‘Works of Art are Landscapes of the Mind’. The festival also has masterclasses with filmmakers Anjali Menon and Dibakar Banerjee. While Menon will speak about carving spaces for spaces in the industry, Banerjee will discuss cinematic urbanism.

About curating her segment, Paul — who sees the “human condition as a kind of landscape” — says: “I have been involved with the Urban Lens Film Festival for some years as a viewer and a participant. This is the first year I am curating for the festival. I thought the idea of the landscape of the mind as something to excavate was interesting and how films do it. After all, the mind is what finally gives us our sense of belonging.”

A still from the film Felicite

In the opening film, Felicite, by French director of Bissau Guinean and Senegalese origins Alain Gomis, it’s this landscape of the mind that’s opening up. We see Felicite, a strong woman, a bar singer on the streets of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gomis presents the city with all its brute force that seems to overpower this single mother. Through the beauty of music and the rough edges of the unforgiving streets, the film presents life in all its intensity.

The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger is a look at the life of the well-known English art critic and artist after he “abandons the metropolis to live in the tiny alpine village of Quincy”. Like all of Berger’s documentaries, the film offers insights into his work and his thinking. For one who always reminds us to be mindful of how we are “surrounded by alternative images of life, through the images we see, the books we read and the streets we walk”, it’s about the language of words and visuals, seen through Berger’s eyes.

The general category has a selection of some of the best films that cinema has to offer on urban life. Be it debutant filmmaker Prateek Vats’s Eeb Allay Ooo!, which looks at migrant life and issues of unemployment; Sanjiv Shah’s satirical Gujarati film Hun, Hunshi, Hunshilal; The Human Scale based on Danish architect Jan Gehl’s treatise on cities or an ex-prisoner’s return to the real world in Berlin is in Germany – each comes with a message of the everyday. It’s this interplay of form and life that influence our cities.

The film is set against backdrop of the refugee crisis in Lebanon

Finally, Soufra, set against the backdrop of the refugee crisis in Lebanon, is a story of hope and perseverance. It’s the inspirational story of intrepid social entrepreneur, Mariam Shaar, who grew up in a refugee camp in Beirut. Mariam starts a catering company, Soufra, and soon, it transforms into a food truck business for fellow refugee women. She becomes the anchor of a stateless group of people. “As millions struggle with the basics of living, I wonder if it is finally art and culture which will help maintain an element of faith and sanity,” says Paul.

For details, visit: https://iihsurbanlens.in. The screenings are free.

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