While the film society movement in Bengal dates back to the days when Satyajit Ray and some ardent lovers of cinema had taken the first step seven decades ago, Cine Central has managed to sustain the commitment over the past 50 years.
Similar outfits like the Calcutta Film Society have been trying to revive the atmosphere through related events. But the initiatives have come down to a trickle while Cine Central has managed to keep alive the spirit of cinematic awareness that allows contemporary stalwarts in countries ranging from Iran to Italy, France to Japan, Colombia to Czecholovakia to reach India once a year.
This was evident from the 31st edition of the International Forum of New Cinema that was started in 1986. It was a unique attempt to give audiences a taste of world cinema in a package that would include the high points of the year.
With its limited resources, it could be no more than a modest version of the film festivals that had been mounted by the Directorate of Film Festivals in Delhi and other parts of the country.
Kolkata was included in the cycle but had to await its turn that came after many years. It was this gap that Cine Central had filled, bringing delegates from abroad and providing the academic slant that made the experience more meaningful.
The situation changed when the state government decided to have a festival of its own. Clearly, there couldn’t be parallel events in which both festivals were looking at the same sources. It was then that the film society event was made an integral part of the main event though with a separate identity.
Now it would seem that the festival has returned to its earlier arrangement and is held on a different occasion. It has both its advantages and its anxieties.
In terms of anxieties, there is the constant search for support at a time when a bigger event comes with the trappings of attractive sections, retrospectives and the rest, apart from colourful openings and sideshows that draw sizable crowds, largely from media schools and universities.
The Cine Central festival cannot claim the same numbers both in terms of audience; number of films entered and related events. But the advantages consist of a concentration on quality and exploration of little known territories in world cinema as well as a welcome return to the classics.
On the local front, the festival has chosen to recall talents from the past — Lily Chakraborty and Supriya Devi among them — to recognise their contribution through the Satyajit Ray Lifetime Achievement award. Above all, the modest scale of the festival allows keen observers of world cinema to exchange impressions in a compact setting. It is not just the size that matters but what audiences take away.
A single venue with a continuous run of classics and contemporary works from morning till night is just the kind of experience that incurable film lovers cherish. There were new films like A Serious Game from Sweden with which the festival opened and My Big Night from Spain.
These are countries which have claimed a long line of classics but, over the years, the search has shifted — in Spain for example — from all-time favourites like Bunuel’s Viridiana, Belle de Jour and The Obscure Object of Desire to the new generation. This year’s Spanish entry brought the competitive world of television to the screen with all the cruel excesses one could think of.
On the other hand, the Swedish film is a far cry from the intensity and intellectual power of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers and Through a Glass Darkly. It has a modern couple discovering the complexities of love in a new social scenario and provided a glimpse of the new social climate.
Both films reflected contemporary trends and styles in countries that have an illustrious past. The same is true of Germany, France and Italy from where the festival had a light-hearted treatment of love in Two Friends (France), the consequences of permissiveness in Hot Hot Hot (Luxembourg) and the hazards of the security apparatus in Bodyguard (Iran).
But the contemporary section of well-known filmmaking countries needed to be examined with entries from Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Belarus, which were first experiences for many.
The film from Belarus was set against the contradictions of a war that had apparently restored peace but had left many questions to be answered for a young captain who had returned to his village. The frustrations arising from a social upheaval were evident in The Uncle from Uzbekistan while the Vietnamese film revived a chapter of the tragic war in 1968.
A festival is all about fresh discoveries like a new age social drama, Jonakir Alo, from Bangladesh. These had to be experienced along with a return to the magic realism of Kurosawa’s Dreams, the 1965 Oscar winner in the foreign language category, The Shop on the Main Street in which Jan Kadar had established a fruitful collaboration with his Slovak colleague, Elmar Klos, the Soviet landmark, The Cranes Are Flying, and Costa-Gavras’s compelling thriller, Missing. These had been seen at earlier festivals but were well worth another viewing.
Taken together, it comprised a weeklong exposure to hand-picked entries that was no less meaningful than bigger festivals.