This year’s IDFA, which starts today, will present a new program called East Side Stories; a series of Indian documentaries which coincides with the Amsterdam India Festival. The program consists of 17 documentaries reflecting contemporary India and opens on November 23 with Anand Patwardhans’ Father, Son and Holy War. Rada Sesic, IDFA programmer and filmmaker, is a researcher and teacher of Indian cinema and she gives her insight into the East Side Stories program.
What were you looking for when you selected the film for the East Side stories program?>
I was looking for progressive, cinematically appealing, vibrant films that are widely produced from New Delhi and Kolkata to Chennai and Bangalore, not to forget numerous Mumbai-based productions. The directors and producers of these independently made films have fought for many decades to express themselves, to comment on the society in a provocative, bold and appealing manner.
How did you get involved?
I had a warm and powerful encounter with Indian cinema in 1989 while making three documentaries in India myself, with a small film crew from the former Yugoslavia where I lived at that time. Being in the profession for years, I knew how difficult it must be to keep making films without any support, to keep exhibiting your work, traveling with a projector, discussing your films in cities and villages, and keeping hope that the films you make would made a difference.
But to achieve the position that some filmmakers today have, Indian independent documentary makers had to climb a very tough, challenging and lonely path. They have been struggling for decades before being accepted, respected and considered relevant in the social and cultural milieu of their homeland.
Therefore, I have a deep respect for them and wanted to bring their lesser known, or very new, work to the attention of the IDFA audience.
Why do you think this program is important?
For decades in India, documentary film has been making plays for a pivotal role, stirring a lot of commotion and leaving a significant imprint. Unlike many European documentary makers, who are hunting for good stories around the world, Indian directors are deeply concerned with their own subjects and want to participate in changing the reality at home. They consider their films as a vehicle to investigate, understand and expose their personal search for the reality. Now, when video cameras are cheap, easy to handle and widely available, documentaries become a very accessible part of the activists’ struggle within Indian society. With this new means of struggle, issues like domestic violence, state bureaucracy, police corruption, child abuse, as well as the caste system or gender injustice are even more present and intriguing to discuss. Documentary making thus becomes a sort of organized collective cinema of resistance in India.
How did this program begin?
In celebration of 60 years of the Indian State, the whole city of Amsterdam is bringing Indian art, culture and social/cultural issues to the attention of the Dutch citizen. Working for IDFA as one of the selection/viewers and a Jan Vrijman fund member for many years, I came up with an idea to make a program that would feature Indian documentaries in a different light then what we know as Indian documentary cinema. We have socially and politically strong films in our selection of 17 works, and most of them are powerful personal authors’ works, cinematically superb and inspiring documentaries. We have versatile, creative documentaries that intriguingly observe, comment, contemplate, question and celebrate the India of today, India that is at the crossroads, having one foot in the 21st century, the other rooted in tradition and conservatism.
What are your hopes for the films?
I simply hope that they will have good audience, great reactions and maybe some of the films will happen to be bought for broadcasting. All films are at IDFA Docs for Sale. I also hope that some prejudices made earlier about Indian documentaries as very narrative, activist films will be broken since we are presenting some essayist, poetic, lyrical but strong docs.