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

Ashmita Guha Neogi's short film CatDog was chosen from more than 1,900 submissions for Cinéfondation Selection at Cannes that did not have a physical edition this year due to Covid.

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New Delhi: The only Indian movie to be selected for screening at the 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival this year was a Hindi short film called CatDog by Ashmita Guha Neogi, an alumna of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. But the prestigious film festival, which usually takes place in May, was not held in its original form this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

And now, Guha Neogi tells ThePrint, there is no clarity on the future of how her film will be showcased, whether the Cannes festival will opt for online screenings or if there will be physical screenings at all.

A statement by Cannes Guide Thursday said, “The 2020 Cannes Film Festival was cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. In early June, the Festival de Cannes decided to release the ‘official selection’ for 2020 and promised to support these films during their general release and at other film festivals.”

Guha Neogi received an email in early March from the organisers of the festival, saying her film had been chosen as part of the Cinéfondation Selection. Set up in 1998, this arm of the festival showcases short films produced by film schools from across the world.

CatDog, about 20 minutes long, was among the 13 narrative films and four animated films chosen for Cinéfondation 2020, from 1,952 works submitted by film schools from all over the world.

But now, given the coronavirus pandemic that continues to rage around the world, Guha Neogi says there is no clarity on the future of her film’s showcase at the much-vaunted festival. “I am yet to hear back from Cannes,” she says.

Initially she did resent the fact that she would not be able to go to Cannes, also because it would have been a great place to network, but as the pandemic progressed, that resentment has numbed.

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The making of CatDog

Guha Neogi is also the writer of CatDog, which is about the relationship between a brother and sister who face imminent separation. They are in a world of their own, hidden from the eyes of their mother. The movie also deals with the subject of incest.

The filmmaker recalls that she came up with the idea in her second year at FTII in 2016, which she thought about a lot and which eventually evolved and took the shape of this short film that she submitted as her final-year project.

“The film essentially deals with a fractured family unit and is about a pair of siblings. I look at the film through the older sibling (that is the sister) and the games she plays with her brother and how she views the relationship of her mother and her [the mother’s] colleague,” she explains.

“We shot the movie in Pune and wrapped up shooting in 10 days in August 2018. While most of the cast were professional actors, the main protagonist (the sister) was a psychology student I chanced upon.”

Also read: Covid halted film productions, closed cinemas. But movies were in trouble long before

‘Filmmaking cannot be a self-indulgent act’

Guha Neogi graduated from FTII in October 2019 in direction and screenplay. It was during her time there that the protests against the I&B ministry’s appointment of television actor-turned-politician Gajendra Chauhan as chairman raged across the campus. “While we were all politically aware, it does not shake you up until it is really close to home,” she recalls.

“That period made all of us question whether art was just a tool for self-expression and helped us realise that studying and making films cannot be a self-indulgent act. It enabled us to put things into perspective.”

Perspective is all the more important now, given how the pandemic has changed things and will continue to. Guha Neogi even moved to Mumbai in March to make her mark in the film industry, but very soon after that, the lockdown was imposed and she is now reconsidering the move.

Speaking about the future of films in the post-Covid era, she anticipates that it will impact the writing process and could possibly lead to Zoom and video call shoots. “If this is something we pursue, a very interesting form could emerge.”

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