The 24th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) has landed in a controversy with eight film directors taking the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy - the organisers of the prestigious film festival - to the Kerala High Court alleging discrepancies over movie selection.
Filmmakers Santosh Babusenan, Satish Babusenan, Sajas Rahman, Prathap Joseph, Venu Nair, Siddique Paravur, Sunil Kumar, and Vinod Krishna accused the festival's movie selection panel rejected many deserving movies without even watching them.
The High Court has admitted their petitions and sought replies from the state government and the academy. The petitions will be heard on November 17.
A committee of eminent persons, including filmmakers and others from different fields, selects the movies to be screened in various categories of the IFFK.
The protest started with a social media campaign – Reform IFFK – against the selection of commercially successful movies – Ishq, Kumbalangi Nights, Virus, Uyare, And The Oskar Goes To, Jallikattu and Unda - in the Malayalam Cinema Today category. The maximum number of movies in this category is 14, where each selected movie will get a grant of Rs 2 lakh.
"The Rs 2 lakh grant is being given to promote independent films. Incentive for box-office hits defeats the purpose of the festival. It is a misuse of funds and wastage of public money," says film director Santosh Babusesan.
The aggrieved directors have complained that the selection process lacks transparency and the panel has not watched movies properly.
"The selection panel has academy's general council members. It is the academy who decides the jury. The same body being a jury doesn't make any sense. Their personal interests may affect the selection process," says Santosh.
Campaign gains momentum
More directors joined the social media campaign after they came to know that the selection panel members had rejected their movies without watching them.
The selection panel claimed that it had watched 93 movies submitted for selection in 12 days. The aggrieved directors responded that it was a humanly impossible task. They also said they have digital evidence to prove their point.
Sample this. Director Prathap Joseph said the panel watched hardly 50 per cent of his movie Oru Ratri Oru Pakal. He had submitted the Vimeo (video-sharing platform) link. Vimeo helps users to check the status of the movie. "When I checked the status, I realised that the panel hardly watched 50 per cent of my movie. This digital evidence proves that corruption exists in the academy. The legal fight is for a bigger cause to bring transparency in the selection process," Prathap said.
Taking an indirect hit at Prathap and other directors, film critic and a selection panel member V K Joseph wrote a sarcastic Facebook post hinting that the rejected movies were of poor quality. "...If the first half of a film isn't good, we simply fast forward the rest," he wrote.
Academy secretary Mahesh Panchu refuted the directors' allegations. "Rules do not bar selection of commercial movies in Malayalam Cinema Today category. We have prepared a list of 14 films based on the suggestions by our five-member selection panel. We downloaded the films that the directors submitted," he said.
Filmmakers Rajesh Touchriver, activist Sunitha Krishnan and Bengali filmmaker Indrasis Acharya have also raised serious allegations against academy.
"The panel rejected my film without opening the link," Indrasis Acharya told Onmanorama. When Indrasis enquired it with the festival officials, he was told that they had downloaded the movie and watched it on September 19. "But how could they watch the movie when I had not enabled the download option?" he asks.
"I am beyond shocked! @IFFKerala rejects our film #Raktham without even watching it! Here is Vimeo link that we sent to festival authorities &it clearly shows nobody from Kerala has bothered even to watch the http://film. How fair is this?" tweeted Sunitha Krishnan.
Rajesh was more pointed in his criticism.
"Never in my wildest imagination I thought that a prestigious film festival treats work of art so shabbily! What is the fate of independent cinema if such is the insensitivity of festival authorities! I am ok with non-selection but to do without even seeing it shocking & disgusting!" he tweeted.
Meanwhile, director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan withdrew his new film Chola from IFFK protesting the bias of the selection panel and in support of the social media movement.
"When I had raised this issue in 2017, many said I was aiming for personal gains. Now the truth has come out with all the evidences. This is about misuse of public money. Not only the IFFK selection, all the programmes of the academy, including Kerala State Film Awards, funding for women directors are all biased and rotten due to the unfair intervention of a handful of people," he wrote on Facebook.
"It is high time for the public to raise protest," Sanal posted on Facebook.
Rejected film gets international award
The Chalachitra Academy's explanation appears to be unconvincing with Eelam – a rejected movie – winning three awards at the Aniros Film Festival in Italy on Sunday. Directed by Vinod Krishna – one of the petitioners in the High Court – the film won Grand Jury Prize for debutant producer, best debutant director and best costume design. It was also selected for the Rome Film Festival.