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In 2015, she faced disciplinary action & FIR at FTII. Now, Payal Kapadia is a Cannes winner

Payal Kapadia's 'A Night of Knowing Nothing' won the best documentary award at Cannes. In 2017, her short film 'Afternoon Clouds' was India's only official entry to the festival.

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New Delhi: Filmmaker Payal Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing won the best documentary award at the 74th Cannes Film Festival Saturday. Her film was selected among 27 other entries that were screened across sections at the festival.

Other films on the list included Mark Cousins’s The Story of Film: A New Generation, Oliver Stone’s JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground, and Andrea Arnold’s Cow, among others.

Congratulating her in a tweet, the official Twitter handle of the Director’s Fortnight wrote: “The Oeil d’Or, the award for best documentary presented at the Cannes Film Festival all sections combined, goes to A NIGHT OF KNOWING NOTHING by Payal Kapadia, a film selected at the Directors’ Fortnight. Our warmest congratulations to Payal Kapadia and the entire film crew!”.

The Indian Embassy in France also posted a congratulatory message, crediting both Kapadia and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) for the win.

“Indian film A Night of Knowing Nothing, highlighting life of university students wins prestigious Oeil d’or(Golden Eye) award for best documentary @Festival_Cannes;Congratulations to Payal Kapadia& FTII; more vigour India-France & @FTIIOfficial- @lafemisparis cooperation in Films (sic),” the tweet read.

The documentary tells the story of a woman who gets separated from her lover at college and how the couple sends each other love letters as a way of staying together.

“Through these letters, we get a glimpse into the drastic changes taking place around her (the woman). Merging reality with fiction, dreams, memories, fantasies and anxieties, an amorphous narrative unfolds,” the official website of Director’s Fortnight stated.

The jury was headed by American documentary producer Ezra Edelman and had four other members including French filmmaker Julie Bertuccelli, French actor Deborah Francois, Franco-American film critic Iris Brey, and Orwa Nyrabia, artistic director of the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) Amsterdam.

The Oeil d’Or award was instituted in 2015 by LaScam, a French-Speaking Writers’ Society, and Bertuccelli, in collaboration with the Cannes Film Festival and its general delegate Thierry Fremaux.

Also read: Kristen Stewart shedding her heels on the Cannes red carpet was a tall act

Life at FTII 

When Kapadia was a student at FTII in 2015, she was charged with disciplinary action after she boycotted classes and spearheaded a four-month-long protest against the appointment of television-actor-turned politician Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s chairman. The institute had also cut her scholarship following this incident.

An FIR was also registered against her for allegedly “holding then director Prashant Pathrabe captive” in his office as students challenged his decision to go ahead with the assessment of incomplete projects of students from the 2008 batch.

Later, however, the institute decided to support Kapadia and agreed to bear her travel expenses when her short film Afternoon Clouds was shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, India’s only official entry to the festival that year.

Afternoon Clouds, a 13-minute film, was made when Kapadia was a third-year student at FTII.

Speaking to ThePrint, she Kapadia said, “I’m very grateful that I could study at FTII because I had this opportunity to make this film (Afternoon Cloud) which would otherwise not have been easy to fund.”

Making A Night of Knowing Nothing

On why her award-winning film was titled so, Kapadia said, “The film involves a young woman who writes letters to her estranged lover. The title comes from a graffiti poem written on the walls of our university (FTII) by an unknown poet.”

Asked if it drew inspiration from her days at FTII and the tensions that erupted between students and faculty, Kapadia said, “The film is a love letter to public education in India. I think it is the youth in our country that understand the need for public education and many are determined to retain it. With the inequality that exists in our country, public education is one way that we can work towards equality in opportunities.”

The documentary is a co-production between French company Petit Chaos and Another Birth in India. “It was the beginning of A Night of Knowing Nothing one year and a half ago! The funding went quite quickly with French and international funds,” said Thomas Hakim, founder of Petit Chaos.

Talking about the Cannes win, Hakim added, “It’s such a great feeling and even more as it was unexpected! We presented the film really late to Cannes with a rough cut, so getting the main documentary prize is fantastic.”

Not the first award

Kapadia’s filmography includes And What is the Summer Saying (2018), Afternoon Clouds (2017) and The Last Mango Before the Monsoon (2015).

And What Was the Summer Saying, an experimental short film, had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2018. It won the Special Jury Prize at the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam IDFA that year and the Pramod Pati Best Experimental Film Prize at the Mumbai International Film festival in 2020.

The Last Mango Before Monsoon premiered at the Oberhausen International Film Festival in 2015, where she was awarded the FIPRESCI award and Special Jury Prize.

Berlinale Talents, a Berlin-based talent development programme that explores the how and why of movie-making, describes Kapadia as a filmmaker whose work often revolves around subjects “which is not easily visible, hidden somewhere in the folds of memory and dreams”.

This report has been updated with quotes from Payal Kapadia, the director of the movie, and Thomas Hakim, the producer.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: FTII alumna, whose CatDog was only Indian film at Cannes 2020, now unsure of its future

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