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Amid NRC tensions, a film festival held by the Brahmaputra helps build bridges

Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, which has had seven editions so far, seeks to give the northeast a platform to showcase its talent.

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Guwahati: “There is a certain innocence and honesty to this festival that keeps bringing me back. I think this innocence is extremely important in cinema – to make movies and to encourage people to make them. Not to mention the food as well, which is delicious,” said director Imtiaz Ali at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival (BVFF) in Assam.

Ali and actor Sobhita Dhulipala were special guests at the seventh edition of the film festival that was hosted in an auditorium on the banks of the Brahmaputra river from 26-29 September.

Festival director Tanushree Hazarika told ThePrint that the idea for the event was born when she realised there was no platform to showcase talent from the northeast. It was with the assistance of film director Reema Kagti, who is now an adviser to the festival, that the BVFF first came into being.

A poster at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival
A showcase of posters at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival | ThePrint | Revathi Krishnan

In a state where the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has caused much turmoil and which has always battled with the idea of ‘foreigners’, this festival allowed people to build bridges and facilitated local talent to come forward and engage with mainstream names.

“I always believed that cinema is the best way to portray communities and their cultures. When we saw the movie Widow of Silence, which was based on Pulwama, many people who have not been there were exposed to that life and culture. The same applies to Assamese and Manipuri movies,” said Hazarika.

The four-day festival featured documentaries on coral conservation, short films on sexual abuse, panel discussions on the social impact of short films and whether OTT (over-the-top) platforms are the future. There was also a master class with director Nicholas Khargonkar, workshops on filmmaking, and a range of feature films shown. Each session was packed with young people, particularly aspiring actors and directors, curious about opportunities in Bollywood, about the progress and struggles of filmmaking in general.

Also read: Why Imtiaz Ali is sure Netflix and Amazon Prime Video won’t kill cinema

Window to northeast

Hazarika said that the three main objectives of the BVFF were to curate a good line-up of content, promote local and regional talent and create a platform for aspiring filmmakers to come together.

“We really want to promote talent from the northeast which is why we have a specific short-film competition for filmmakers from the region or films based on any of the northeastern states,” Hazarika added.

The master class with director Nicholas Khargonkar, who is from a small town in Nagaland, focused on the representation of northeastern people in mainstream cinema and the struggles he faced while making his movie Axone. The film is about a group of friends in Delhi who make the Naga delicacy axone, which is known for its strong smell.

Khargonkar spoke about how one of his characters was based on Nido Tania (a student from Arunachal Pradesh who was beaten to death in an alleged case of racism in New Delhi in 2014) and talked about transcending appearances, identity as well as breaking stereotypes.

A panel on nurturing talent in the northeast had Prabal Baruah, a writer-cum-director from Guwahati, who talked about his struggles while trying to make it big in Bollywood. He spoke on how it was only after 10 years that he got the chance to direct a movie. The session was moderated by senior journalist Karma Paljor, who also talked about his own struggles while charting his career path.

Also read: Bengali Hindu women not on NRC pin hopes on BJP promise of another list, citizenship bill

‘Want to create hub of culture and talent’

In its seven editions, the BVFF has had a number of noted Bollywood filmmakers such as Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Rahul Bose, Anurag Kashyap, Shoojit Sircar, Rajkumar Hirani, Gauri Shinde, Shakun Batra, Prakash Jha and Vishal Bhardwaj participate in various panel discussions and conduct workshops.

Hazarika is already busy mapping out a roadmap for the upcoming festivals. “The plan for future editions of BVFF is to get more venues and have parallel screenings, expand our growth organically. The ultimate idea is to essentially create a cultural hub of talent and art and be the most prominent film festival in India.”

Also read: As panic over NRC rules Assam, 2018 video of detained man chained to bed adds to fear

Revathi Krishnan was a guest at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival 2019. 

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