Sridhar Rangayan: Filmmakers are a very resilient community, and they will stop at nothing
The entertainment industry has gone through a sea change during the pandemic and going digital remains one of the biggest changes, not just for films, but even for film festivals, who had to take the virtual route. KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, too, had opted for the same, and festival director, Sridhar Rangayan feels that adapting to the changing times is key.
He talks about the upcoming 12th edition of the film festival, which will be held virtually from August 19 to September 5, spread over three weekends. Excerpts from a chat:
How different will be KASHISH this year?
This year, it will be the biggest ever celebration of LGBTQIA+ stories from around the world, with 221 films from 53 countries. The festival will showcase films online, accessible across India and also most of the programs are accessible across the world. KASHISH is the first ever film festival with such a huge range of programs that are accessible across the world. Whether you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or a family member, a colleague or an ally — you will find a film that will speak to each one of you, whoever you are, wherever in the world you are.
What are the main highlights of the festival this year, which is the second digital edition?
Among the 221 films being screened, 80 are made by female filmmakers and 10 are made by transgender, two-spirited or non-binary identifying filmmakers. It fills us with great joy to bring such diversity into our programming. KASHISH 2021, being South Asia’s biggest LGBTQIA+ film festival, puts the Spotlight on Asia, with 39 films from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and Indonesia.
Also this year, it boasts of the largest number of filmmaker Q&As that will be available for audiences to view after they have seen the films. We have almost 40 Q&A sessions with filmmakers from across the world, both of feature films, as well as documentaries and short films, including films made by students.
The festival will open and close with two beautiful youth focused LGBTQIA+ films — while the opening film No Hard Feelings is about a gay romance between a second generation and a first generation Iranian migrant in Germany, the closing film Unsound is a heartwarming film about a romance between a deaf trans man and a musician. The film Unsound stars a real life hearing impaired actress in the lead. This is diversity in its true spirit!
What do you have to say about the kind of support creative filmmakers have got from KASHISH?
KASHISH was the first ever LGBTQIA+ film festival in India to institute cash awards in competition section, and the award bounty has only grown with the current tally close to rupees two lakhs. It also from the very first year, been promoting Indian LGBTQIA+ films by facilitating its programming at various festivals across the world and also at community screenings across India. We have also done screenings for corporate houses. We try to get some screening fees which is shared with the filmmakers, who have made these films mostly with their own personal resources. Apart from having your films seen by audiences across the world, getting some money in return is a joy that knows no bound. Many of the Indian LGBTQIA+ films are also distributed by KASHISH on the Taiwanese LGBTQ focused OTT platform GagaOoLala. This has also brought revenue for the filmmakers.
Apart from exhibition and distribution, KASHISH is also involved in developing new LGBTQIA+ content, in partnership with Lotus Visual Productions, a UK/India based production company. The initiative is called KASHISH QDrishti Film Grant and has produced several notable LGBTQIA+ films – Physicality, Languages, Catch The Light and the latest My Mother’s Girlfriend, which will have its world premiere at KASHISH 2021.
This year the KASHISH QDrishti Fim Grant opened call for submissions of LGBTQIA+ short films, and is open ONLY to LGBTQIA+ filmmakers. A well-known pre-jury panel of screenwriters and film personalities will shortlist 5 scripts which will be pitched to an eminent jury panel, and one script will be chosen for the grant. The filmmaker will receive Rs.2,00,000, sponsored by Lotus Visual Productions, alongwith mentorship and additional resources, to make this film. KASHISH has emerged as a strong force that is building the foundation of the Indian LGBTQIA+ cinema movement, to create visibility among mainstream audiences.
How do you look at the way the entertainment industry has shaped up during the pandemic?
Filmmakers are a very resilient community, and they will stop at nothing to realise their dreams. Of course the pandemic has brought all of us down to our heels, but remember the queer filmmakers wear glittery heels!! So the number of submissions this year too hasn’t come down and we had 800+ submissions to view and shortlist the 221 films we are screenings.
We also have a large number of films that has been made under lockdown, showcasing the situation of the LGBTQIA+ community during the lockdown. Some are stories of anguish and pain, but most of them offer hope, with a few romantic stories during lockdown. But we sincerely hope the situation returns to normalcy, because how long can anyone be resilient?!
Is digital a boon or a bane in the long run?
The cinema world went digital decades ago and we are seeing a digital explosion of late, where every common man can realize their potential of telling their own stories, their own way. Of course only if the story is told with a good narrative arc, and with good technical finesse, can the film float up from millions of other stories, and fly high.
The OTT boom is really welcome as it offers content creators an opportunity to showcase their work to a large audience at less cost. The huge cost of theatrical hire and the huge marketing budget that was needed to propel the film to mass audiences is over now. The OTT platforms offer diverse stories that are tooted in reality, and your best promotion is word of mouth. The OTT platforms offers of ease of discovery of marginalized voices, and that is definitely a boon for the future of LGBTQIA+ films.
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