Friday, December 19, 2008

Anecdotes from a Film Festival

Anecdotes from a Film Festival
Fighting the forces of darkness – with Delegate Cards

By Cecil Pinto

My friend, movie critic Ervell E Menezes, recently wrote that the IFFI
campus should establish itself as "an oasis of movie buffs; a floating
population that eats, drinks, talks and regurgitates films like
zombies and that is, as it should be - 10 days of total film bliss!"
How very true. I unapologetically admit to being one of those zombies,
now recovering from three to four movies a day since the 23rd of November.

Of course some of the movies were brilliant and some absolute turkeys.
But despite everything at nearly midnight on the 2nd of December,
following the screening of the last movie Song of the Sparrows - from
Iran, the mood was despondent. The Film Festival was over and we
zombies would meet again only a year from now for another film feeding

Through the course of my young adulthood I used to go to Margao maybe
just once or twice in a year. While on these rare visits I noticed
that the Margao people seemed more attractive than those of Panjim or
Mapusa, towns I used to frequent. The girls prettier, the women
sexier, the men smarter, the vendors more colourful - what have you.
At one time I had reason to spend two weeks in Margao. At the end of
the two weeks I found the people less fascinating. Was it due to some
unfortunate encounters? Not at all.

I have a theory. Quite simply I feel that when one spends many days in
a particular place the mind unconsciously registers all the faces at
some subliminal level over a period of time. Even the faces of
hundreds of people in passing who you have not actually closely
encountered. They then become familiar faces in your unconscious - and
hence no longer fascinating.

After spending ten days relatively cloistered at a Film Festival, in
and out of dark auditoriums with a floating population of strangers, a
much closer bonding occurs. You are unconsciously part of a sort of
temporary community of a few thousands who share a common love for
movies. You have occupied the same physical spaces. The seat I occupy
on Day 10 has been previously and recently occupied by at least 30 odd
other people over the past few days. All delegates, and hence my
unconscious friends!

The fantastic movie 'Blindness' was in a class apart. The theme about
how unrelated humans, cloistered in a group with a common enemy and
circumstances, rewrite the rules of society is also explored quite
differently in 'Famly Rules'. To an extent all of us 3000 odd
dedicated delegates, the rest are just there to be seen, have gone
through a similar transition.

And when I say odd people and delegates I mean odd.

This one spectacled thirty-something woman was wearing a sleeveless
cotton nightie over blue denim jeans. I kid you not. And these two
decent ladies from Guwahati condemned the group rape scene in
'Blindness' but were ok with the gratuitous and excessive sex in
'Cumbia Connection'.

Speaking of which a story doing the rounds is that a young man had
this relatively harmless fat Swiss multi-blade penknife in his pocket.
Fearing he might be caught at the security check-point he slipped it
into his underpants. The security guard patting him down found a
rather abnormal protuberance in his groin. The young man explained in
Hindi, "I've just come from Cumbia Connection. What did you expect?"
He was let through with a knowing smile.

One elderly Goan Portuguese speaking woman had made 'gussao-ing' in
queues into an art form. She would pick up a conversation with just
anyone standing at the front of the line and manage to shove herself
in the queue without anyone complaining or even noticing. Another
woman, constantly wearing sports sneakers, used to converse loudly on
her mobile, in the silent theatre before the movie started, forcing
all of us to listen to the mundane details of her pedestrian
existence. Fortunately someone complained and the management piped in
sufficiently neutralizing music for subsequent screenings.

Cellphone behavior itself, in theatres, could make for a series of
columns. Some people have the most inappropriate and jarring ring
tones. But those at least can be overlooked if they are shut off fast
enough. It is the indignant 'shut-uppers' who cause even more of a
disturbance. 'PLEASE SHUT OFF THAT BLOODY CELLPHONE", a loud British
accented voice will boom from one end of the auditorium, antagonizing
the whole audience, 96% of who had not even heard the initial ring
tone that attracted that disproportionate response.

And what is it about women, mostly, that they can have an SMS text
conversation throughout a film? Why can't they just walk out the
theatre, go the whole hog and talk to their friend? Agreed SMS texting
is not as irritating as someone who speaks on a cellphone while a
movie is going on. but a bright LCD glowing a few feet away from you
can be quite difficult to ignore in a darkened theatre.

Seating at the Kala Academy is the worst. It is an auditorium designed
for stage performances and not film screenings and hence the gradient
of the rows is much too gradual. Let one tall person in front move his
head slightly and a zig-zag effect extends to four or five rows back.
Of course the Kala Academy's auditorium being so vast, sleepers can
choose unoccupied areas for a snooze. Which I have no problem with,
but what irritates me are the folks who sleep in the seat next to me
and then start snoring.

Why come for a movie if you're going to snore right through it? Go and
sleep somewhere else. Actually I don't have a problem with the light
and rhythmic snorers. The human mind accommodates and can soon filter
away the regular snores. It's the loud and un-rhythmic snorers who
cause irritation. One well endowed woman was always carrying a huge
bag that appeared designed for sleeping. Half way into the movie you
could look in her direction and see that she had used the gigantic bag
as a pillow cum sleeping bag and was fast asleep. Fortunately she did
not snore, but did open her mouth extremely wide when asleep.

Whereas from a movie viewer's point of view the back seats at the Inox
theatre would seem more desirable, half way through the festival
delegates starting avoiding them because of slight odours. Many
theories are doing the rounds to explain this (1) Since these seats
are much in demand they have a higher turnover and hence more human
residual odour is natural (2) These prime seats are reserved for Press
and Special Delegates who can watch more movies than normal delegates.
Naturally they try to use this advantage to see maximum number of
films. The running between theatre to theatre, with no time to freshen
up, causes them and consequentially the seats to smell more (3) Hot
air rises, hence smelly air will naturally move upwards in the
direction of the higher seats.

As expected the only Konkani movie at the festival, Rajendra Talak's
'' was house-full well in advance. Apparently tickets for
the movie had been given to hundreds of non-delegate friends and
relatives of the producers. The queue for the movie at Kala Academy
interestingly was formed on the red carpet instead of snaking in the
direction of the Art Gallery like usual. There were security concerns
as the many silk sarees in contact with the carpet were causing static
electricity sparks.

One delegate, a rather short chap, had this 'kit bag' from which an
astonishing array of items would appear before the movie started. One
small and one big mineral water bottle which both he would plunk into
his and the neighbour's armrest glass holders. Then would emerge his
Film Guide, Film Schedule, pen, anti-acid tablets, mobile, tickets and
what not. Following this started a running discussion over the phone
with his friend about what movies to watch in the next few days.
Fortunately he shuts up when the movie starts, and removes his bottle
from my armrest glass holder when asked.

I of course meet my good friend, movie reviewer Sachin Chatte, every
day for his recommendations on what to watch and what not to.

Then there are the folks who laugh too loud. Which by itself is
tolerable, but rather irritating when the laughter is at the wrong
time or not in keeping with the mood and moment in the film. Maybe
these folks are a subset of the sleepers, and are laughing in their
dreams at some incident which has no connection with the movie the
rest of us are watching.

While we are discussing reactions I must say that sexual content
evokes the most and strongest reactions from both ends of the
spectrum. I was present for the repeat showing of 'Cumbia Connection'
at Kala Academy. More shocking than the blatant sex on the screen,
with accompanying frenzied music, were the reactions from the
audience. While many 'decent' people walked out in disgust, many
others were struck immobile and pretended they didn't see what they
just saw. Many males arrived in groups, slightly drunk, and all in
anticipation of the sex scenes they had heard about. Their loud bawdy
remarks could be quite unnerving to a single female sitting nearby.

On the other hand I wonder if I am being prudish in my criticism of
their remarks. They are after all reacting to what they see on screen.
Some scenes may evoke laughter, some tears and well some, bawdy
remarks! Who is to decide where a line has been crossed in a response?
Are we delegates taking ourselves and the Film Festival too seriously?

There was this delightful pair of sexy European women dressed in tight
fitting semi-opaque sheaths that masqueraded as dresses. From all
externally visible appearance their undergarments had been lost in
transit at the airport. Somebody told me they were lesbians. I think
he labeled them thus because they didn't return his smile!

There are three types of quitters, those who walk out halfway through
a movie, because (1) it does not meet their expectations or (2) they
have foolishly booked their next movie for a time before the current
one ends or (3) because they feel the need for urination as the Air
Conditioning is too cold.

I always do justice to a movie by waiting till the end, however bad it
may be. The only movie I desperately wanted to walk out from was
'Autistic Disco' because it was going nowhere but then I was seated
next to the young German director, who I had previously conversed
with, and it would be rather impolite.

There are also the dumbfounding Film Festival moments that everyone
encounters. You will be discussing with a fellow delegate about how
great a movie was, for example 'Lust Caution', and another delegate
will walk up and make a blatant statement like "Lust Caution sucked
and dragged on forever!" Or a movie you considered an absolute turkey
is the toast of the town. While many people were angry with 'Cumbia
Connection' nobody was angry with Ang Lee! Ha! Just had to get that
horrible pun out of my head!

At the end of the festival though, one feels quite sad. Not just that
the great movies have ended but also that your fellow zombies will go
back to being absolute strangers. The sleepers and snorers, the
queuers and quitters, the talkers and laughers – all of them, the
floating population that made up your community for a while, are gone.
We shall congregate again in a year to fight the forces of darkness –
with light and shadows. And Delegate Passes!

The column above appeared in two parts on 4th and 5th Dec 2008 in Gomantak Times.

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