Film has a way of conveying itself like no other medium can, and when it comes to human rights issues, there’s nothing like the raw humanity of a well-told story. Engendered – a transnational arts and human rights organization – is bringing to the city of New Delhi the unique I View World film festival. With a focus on human rights, gender, and marginalities, some of the most thought-provoking, stimulating and beautifully told films will be screened during this 6-day long festival, so clear your calendar, because you’re in for a real treat! Here’s a quick look at some must-watch selections from:
Starring acting stalwarts like Nawaazuddin Siddiqui and Shweta Tripathi, this is a film that explores sexuality in complex, warped ways. It looks at the relationship between a schoolteacher and his teenage pupil, which evolves into one of twisted desire and obsession, and tackles themes of consent, sexual taboos, and small-town violence. It boasts of some harrowing performances and some important reality checks.
A Sinner in Mecca
This film documents the bold and brave journey undertaken by director Parvez Sharma as he travels to Mecca, a place which is steeped in conservative ideology, as a Muslim gay man. Recorded on just an iPhone, his journey is ultimately internal—an exploration of both religious and sexual identity. The film ran into controversy recently with some Muslim factions, but still remains an important reminder of the structures that suppress us.
A biopic on the legendary writer, Saadat Hassan Manto, this film explores the last seven years of his life, in which he wrote some of his most controversial works. It deals with him grappling with the Partition, with his career in the film industry and his evolution as a writer. This is a story that needs to be told, and this film tells it.
Jacques Audiard’s 2015 drama film tells the story of three Sri Lankans who have been relocated to France to build their lives anew. Dheepan, a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, must work with a young woman named Yalini, and a little girl called Illayaal, to pose as a ‘family’. PTSD, pretense, and a local drug ring come to define their lives in an unfamiliar French township, and Audiard’s film promises a powerful story, delivered expertly.
The Dream of Shahrazad
The Vancouver International Film Festival described this film as a “paean to art and democracy.” South African director François Verster has a background in documentary, which loans itself to the way he traces the build-up, explosion and aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon. But his form here combines recorded footage, animation, and puppetry as a true tribute to Shahrazad – the storyteller from The Arabian Nights. In the face of oppressive systems of power, the film asks a question that will be forever relevant – “what is the real value of stories in inspiring a better world?”
The Backward Class
Caste in India is an issue that isn’t going away any time soon, no matter how often those with caste-privilege insist on invisibilising it. But there are those working hard to annihilate caste differences in a highly stratified society. Madeleine Grant and her team from Canada follow the stories of 15 Dalit school students in this moving film, as they prepare for the biggest exam of their life, and strive to break out of the mould society has disadvantaged them with.
The Trials of Spring
‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ director Gini Reticker is back with a powerful film about what happened to the women of Egypt immediately after the Arab Spring. In 2011, when Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell, the shackles of the patriarchy did not. The film follows the trials of “nine women across Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen,” many of them falsely implicated and imprisoned. The point Reticker puts across is that the revolution has only just begun. “I don’t think enough stories are told about the women who are the mortar, who are holding things together,” says producer Beth Levison. And it’s these women’s stories you simply should not miss.
The grim history of the Partition is something that none of us can forget or ignore—and this film explores it with a unique perspective. Drawing heavily from the stories of Saadat Hassan Manto and Ismat Chughtai, director Srijit Mukherjee takes us back to newly Partitioned India, which finds a group of female sex workers facing eviction because the brothel they lived in fell in between the borders of West Bengal and erstwhile East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh). These women—who have already lost their familes, or been survivors of abuse in the past—have nowhere else to go, and hence, they band together to fight the twin forces of State oppression and patriarchy. A definite must-watch.
In the chaotic old city of Hyderabad, 16-year old Raisa hatches a dangerous and improbable plan to save her younger sister from an unhappy and potentially abusive marriage. She then embarks on a remarkable journey of fighting against social structures and trying to find happiness in a world that suppresses your individuality.
Shorts To Watch Out For
Pakistani director Harune Massey’s 2013 documentary glimpses into the mostly unknown world of male child sex workers. We are greeted first by the sight of two young boys waiting on an unidentified street corner of Lahore. Trafficking of young boys happens far too frequently, as Dawn reports, and this film makes us pause and really think about sexual exploitation. Massey also made an interesting comment about the film as “a self-critique, questioning exploitation and artistic work.”
I Am Omar
‘Omar’ is part of director Onir’s ‘I Am’ series which focuses on different people battling with social injustices. ‘I Am Omar’ follows the story of a gay man who has to deal with significant homophobia and violence, as he is brutally persecuted for having sex with another man in a car. The film exposes the harsh reality of anti-LGBTQ prejudice in India and is extremely thought-provoking.
This documentary takes us deep into the heart of the American South—where homophobia runs rampant (along with racism and sexism) and LGBTQ people are ostracised and are faced with horrifying violence. The films ventures into the lives of the queer youth who live in such an environment and explores their struggles with sexual identity in the face of orthodox religious and family structures.
‘Jellyfish’ is a coming-of-age short film set in a tiny Muslim fishing village in Borneo. Danica, a fourteen-year-old fisherwoman, and her family’s sole breadwinner tastes first love with Riya–a mysterious transgender woman who arrives in the village one day. However, things become complicated when she finds out that Riya is actually attracted to Danica’s father. This is a story of sexuality, desire, and the religious and social stigma surrounding the same.
And this is not all. Other films, which recently have been subject to a lot of public discussion — such as ‘Suffragette’ and ‘Aligarh’ — are also being screened as part of the festival, followed by interesting interactive sessions surrounding these films.
Note: Apart from these, the festival will have a slam poetry event and exhibitions of art works by Anindita Bhattacharya, Puneet Kaushik, Balbir Krishan, Adil Khan and Waswo X. Waswo. You can also look forward to a special session on Mira Nair’s cinema, which the director herself is chairing.
Youth Ki Awaaz is the media partner for I View World 2016. For more details, and the screening schedule, click here.