On Cannes Creativity & Cultural Continuum

By Pickle  May 13, 2024
On Cannes Creativity & Cultural Continuum, Pickle Media

SHAJI N. KARUN

Navigate Cannes’ Legacy, Technological Resurgence, and Cinematic Vision with Shaji N. Karun, the filmmaker from Kerala, who made a strong impression in Cannes with his films like Piravi (1989) and Swaham, which competed for the Palme d’Or in 1994. By Vivek Ratnakar

In an exclusive interview with Shaji N. Karun, the acclaimed filmmaker reflects on the cultural significance of Cannes, creativity, and the evolving landscape of Indian cinema. Delving into his thoughts on the three-decade hiatus since his film “Swaham” competed at Cannes, Karun shares a mix of pride and contemplation. As the head of Kerala State Film Development Corporation (KSFDC), he provides insights into the changing face of filmmaking and the studio being constructed by KSFDC. Karun also discusses the resurgence of shooting on film, technological advancements in filmmaking, and the role of cinema in exploring themes of culture, spirituality, and nationalism. Finally, he shares his vision for the future of Indian cinema, emphasizing diversity, innovation, and global influence.

REFLECTING ON THE THREE-DECADE GAP SINCE YOUR FILM, ‘SWAHAM,’ COMPETED AT CANNES, WHAT THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS COME TO MIND GIVEN THAT THIS YEAR WE HAVE AN INDIAN FILM IN COMPETITION AT CANNES?

Contemplating this, I’m filled with a blend of emotions, ranging from pride to introspection. There’s certainly a sense of pride in having contributed to the earlier films that graced the Cannes stage. However, the realization that it took three decades for India to reclaim a spot in the competition is sobering. It underscores the hurdles Indian cinema faces on the global platform. These past thirty years serve as a poignant reminder of the opportunities India missed to showcase its rich cinematic heritage and culture on the world stage, especially in comparison to the strides made by countries like China and Korea.

WHAT SIGNIFICANCE DOES THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL HOLD FOR YOU, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING YOUR NOTABLE PRESENCE WITH FILMS LIKE “SWAHAM,” “PIRAVI,” AND “VANAPRASTAM,” AND YOUR CINEMATOGRAPHY WORK ON “THAMPU”? HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE THE FESTIVAL’S IMPACT ON THE WORLD OF CINEMA THROUGHOUT THE YEARS?

Cannes is a cornerstone of the global film industry, offering filmmakers a profound platform for more than just presenting their works. It stands as a beacon of artistic expression and cultural interchange, where cinematic boundaries are continually redefined. Throughout its history, Cannes has been instrumental in unearthing fresh talent, facilitating cross-cultural collaborations, and propelling the evolution of cinematic craftsmanship to new heights. In essence, Cannes embodies a dynamic nexus where creativity flourishes, ideas converge, and the language of cinema transcends borders.

WHAT MAKES THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL SIGNIFICANT FOR FILMMAKERS? DO WE DWELL MORE ON THE THREE DECADES WITHOUT A FILM IN COMPETITION, OR DO WE ENVISION BRIGHTER PROSPECTS WITH MORE FILMS PARTICIPATING IN THE WORLD’S LARGEST FILM FESTIVAL?

Cannes serves as a prestigious platform where filmmakers from around the world can present their work to a global audience, fostering cultural exchange and artistic dialogue. While the lack of Indian representation at Cannes over the past three decades is disappointing, it’s essential to shift our focus towards future opportunities. This moment calls for introspection and collective action to elevate Indian cinema on the international stage. We should aspire to transform platforms like the India International Film Festival in Goa into truly global events that showcase the diverse cinematic voices of Asia and beyond. Additionally, we must move beyond viewing such events solely as tourism opportunities and instead cultivate a deeper appreciation for cinema as a powerful medium of artistic expression and cultural exchange. This requires nurturing a community of individuals who are passionate about cinema not just as entertainment but as a philosophy that reflects the human experience and shapes societal values.

On Cannes Creativity & Cultural Continuum, Pickle Media

AS THE HEAD OF THE KERALA STATE FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION (KSFDC), WHAT ARE YOUR KEY INSIGHTS INTO THE EVOLVING FILMMAKING ECOSYSTEM AND THE SHIFTING LANDSCAPE OF INDIAN CINEMA? ADDITIONALLY, COULD YOU ELABORATE ON THE STUDIO BEING CONSTRUCTED BY KSFDC?

At KSFDC, our mission is to cultivate talent, celebrate diversity, and champion creativity in filmmaking. Our upcoming studio represents a significant investment in Kerala’s filmmaking infrastructure, providing cutting-edge facilities to support filmmakers at every stage of production. Situated near an international airport in Kochi, this Rs 100-crore facility will operate under a PPP model, ensuring sustainability and accessibility. Equipped with state-of- the-art technology, including advanced editing suites, Dolby Atmos recording capabilities, VFX studios, and VR facilities, the studio will serve as a hub for innovation and collaboration. Moreover, with the addition of a technician-friendly hotel and initiatives like our OTT platform, we aim to democratize access to filmmaking resources and amplify the voices of independent storytellers across the region.

WITH A SIGNIFICANT SHIFT OCCURRING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY, INCLUDING A RESURGENCE IN SHOOTING ON FILM, HOW DO YOU, AS A FILMMAKER WHO STARTED AS A CINEMATOGRAPHER, PERCEIVE THE RETURN OF FILM IN THE DIGITAL AGE? ARE YOU A BELIEVER IN THIS RESURGENCE? IT’S NOTABLE THAT KODAK IS NOW MANUFACTURING FILM AROUND THE CLOCK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS TREND?

As someone who values both the tradition and innovation in filmmaking, I see the resurgence of film as a testament to its enduring appeal. While digital technology offers convenience and flexibility, film has a timeless quality that adds depth and texture to visual storytelling. The availability of film stock from Kodak signifies a renewed interest in the craft of filmmaking and the desire to preserve its rich heritage.

THE PROLIFERATION OF TECHNOLOGY IN TODAY’S FILMMAKING LANDSCAPE IS UNDENIABLE. HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE THIS EVOLUTION?

Technological advancements have revolutionized the filmmaking process, offering new tools and techniques for creative expression. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between innovation and artistic integrity. Ultimately, technology should serve the storytelling, enhancing the audience’s experience without overshadowing the narrative itself.

On Cannes Creativity & Cultural Continuum, Pickle Media

IN THE CURRENT CINEMATIC LANDSCAPE, THE CONCEPTS OF CULTURE, SPIRITUALITY, AND NATIONALISM HOLD MULTIFACETED MEANINGS. HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THESE THEMES THROUGH THE LENS OF CONTEMPORARY CINEMA?

Cinema serves as a mirror to society, reflecting its values, beliefs, and ideologies. Through storytelling, filmmakers have the power to influence and shape societal norms by presenting narratives that challenge perspectives, evoke empathy, and inspire change.

Just as religious spirituality seeks to connect individuals with something greater than themselves, cinema too has a spiritual dimension. It taps into universal human experiences, emotions, and existential questions, offering audiences a transcendent journey beyond the physical realm. This spiritual essence of cinema often explores themes of morality, purpose, and existentialism.

Cinema is deeply rooted in culture and nationalism, as it reflects the collective identity, history, and aspirations of a society or nation. Filmmakers often use cultural motifs, symbols, and traditions to convey stories that resonate with audiences on a profound level.

Additionally, cinema plays a pivotal role in shaping national narratives, fostering patriotism, and preserving cultural heritage.

By exploring themes of culture, spirituality, and nationalism, filmmakers provoke introspection and stimulate dialogue on pressing social issues. Through thought- provoking narratives, cinema challenges prevailing norms, addresses societal inequalities, and advocates for social justice, ultimately fostering empathy, understanding, and solidarity among diverse communities.

Cinema celebrates the rich tapestry of human experiences, cultural traditions, and ethnicities, showcasing the diversity of our world. By portraying authentic representations of different cultures and identities, cinema promotes cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. Furthermore, cinema serves as a vehicle for preserving cultural heritage, immortalizing stories, rituals, and folklore for future generations.
Through the lens of cinema, we can envision a world characterized by inclusivity, empathy, and compassion. By amplifying marginalized voices, advocating for social change, and fostering empathy, cinema inspires audiences to strive for a more equitable and compassionate society.

FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE INDIAN CINEMA CAN ASPIRE TO ACHIEVE IN THE CINEMAS OF TOMORROW?

Indian cinema has a rich tapestry of stories waiting to be told. As we embrace new technologies and platforms, we must continue to champion diverse voices and perspectives. By nurturing talent, fostering collaboration, and pushing the boundaries of creativity, Indian cinema can aspire to become a global cultural force, enriching the lives of audiences worldwide.

CANNES IS A CORNERSTONE OF THE GLOBAL FILM INDUSTRY, OFFERING FILMMAKERS A PROFOUND PLATFORM FOR MORE THAN JUST PRESENTING THEIR WORKS. IT STANDS AS A BEACON OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION AND CULTURAL INTERCHANGE, WHERE CINEMATIC BOUNDARIES ARE CONTINUALLY REDEFINED. THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY, CANNES HAS BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN UNEARTHING FRESH TALENT, FACILITATING CROSS-CULTURAL COLLABORATIONS, AND PROPELLING THE EVOLUTION OF CINEMATIC CRAFTSMANSHIP TO NEW HEIGHTS.

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