The 7th Osian's CineFan Asian Film Festival in New Delhi last month was a colourful Asian film bazaar that championed Arab cinema and kept its idealism in a sea of film festivals that are increasingly becoming market-oriented. Philip Cheah reports.

We all used to think that John Lennon was a dreamer. After all, how can you "imagine there's no countries"? Well, it's not that far-fetched. In the last months before he died in Sept 2003, Palestinian academic and commentator, Edward Said, gave an extensive interview which resulted in the film, Selves and Others: A Portrait of Edward Said. In it, Said argues that one should stop thinking about borders and nationalism. He points to himself, born a Palestinian, lived a lot of his childhood in Egypt and who made his home in America. His view of the world is that everyone is still arriving, migrating and crossing borders. So imagine humanity instead of countries.

Edward Said revealed that he stopped
giving TV interviews after 9/11.
He said that the longest TV interviews
lasted three minutes and you always
only had less than a minute
to answer some stereotypical,
nonsensical question.

I have been tracking this film for the last two years and kept missing it everywhere I went. At the 7th Osian's CineFan Asian Film Festival (July 15-24) in New Delhi, the audience felt that way as well. The first screening took place half-an-hour before the scheduled time (due to a misprint). Yet the cinema was packed. Then it was repeated the next day in a larger hall to accommodate the fans and it was packed yet again. Cinema-goers were taking notes as if they were attending a lecture.

Oussame Fawzi's I Love Cinema

Said was definitely one of the great minds before his untimely death and his warnings about the world today resonate even in this film. Director Emmanuel Hamon spent several weeks with Said and covered his nomadic childhood, his groundbreaking book, Orientalism, and the ongoing Middle-eastern crisis. Interestingly, Said revealed that he stopped giving TV interviews after 9/11. He said that the longest TV interviews lasted three minutes and you always only had less than a minute to answer some stereotypical, nonsensical question. He also had this reminder for the mass media: "The role of the intellectual is never to justify power. The intellectual's role is to challenge power with alternative models and perspective."

Jahar Kanungo's Reaching Silence


The Said film was only one in a larger sidebar on Arab Cinema called Arabesque, which this festival has championed. Others included Oussame Fawzi's brilliant I Love Cinema, which through the eyes of a boy growing up in '60s Cairo, humorously tells us the changing attitudes towards freedom of expression and religion. Yasmine Kassari's The Sleeping Child, looks at an archaic Morroccan Muslim practice of keeping a pregnancy from reaching its full cycle. It's a challenging look at the price women pay in a patriarchal society.

CineFan also had a very large selection of new Indian films, both in and out of competition. In fact, many of the 23 titles were premieres. The Best Indian Film went to Jahar Kanungo's Reaching Silence, about a yuppie who suddenly cannot tolerate noise and then begins a search for silence. Among the interesting non-winners were Rajkumar Bhan's Behind the Mirror, which looks at a grandmother's influence on a young boy to become a traditional painter and Santosh Sivan's eye-opening Nine Emotions which reveals a traditional festival for transsexuals.

Rajkumar Bhan's Behind The Mirror

Indian cinema also dominated through a Tribute to the master filmmaker, Satyajit Ray with a handful of restored prints. What is striking is that even today, Pather Panchali drew a massive crowd with fans sitting along the aisles and blocking exits. The Closing Film was Buddhadeb Das Gupta's Memories in the Mist, which again extends the director's humanist world view and mankind's capacity to love, but looks like it will benefit from a re-edit. The film was completed just in time for the festival's closing.

Santosh Sivan's Nine Emotions

With over 120 features covering the length and breadth of Asian cinema including a retrospective of Taiwanese master, Hou Hsiao-hsien, a focus on Asian Martial Arts film (extending into even Indonesia), a tribute to the European-Asian distributor, Fortissimo and a spotlight on the Fonds Sud film fund for filmmakers in the South; the festival also had time for a daily seminar series. Called IBM2 (Infrastructure Building for Minds and Markets), the four-day panel series is the brainchild of festival chairman, Neville Tuli, who wants to explore the different cycles and processes that make up the film industry.

Meanwhile, the festival had its highest number of films shown and increased its audience size. But its idealism remained intact. On the final night, Festival Director Aruna Vasudev repeated her call that film festivals in India should not be subjected to censorship. The Chief Minister, who was in the audience, immediately offered a meeting on the issue. It was a moment that Edward Said would have been happy about.

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