India is absent from the Cannes official selection but six promising new filmmakers and an up-and-coming cinematographer from the subcontinent have made their way into the world’s glitziest cinema fest
By Saibal Chatterjee
India is missing from the official selection of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. In Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, too, it has drawn a blank. So, will the festival be a washout from the subcontinental perspective? No, thanks to three promising young professionals – two directors and one cinematographer, all alumni of the Kolkata-based Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI).
Meghalaya’s Dominic Sangma, Darjeeling lad Saurav Rai (who has been inthe Cannes official selection once before) and cinematographer Modhura Palit will participate in three different segments held in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival during its 12-day run from May 14 to 25. The triodoes not represent the Indian cinema mainstream. They will instead provide the world a few glimpses of the future contours of independent films from the subcontinent.
In fact, among the 15 projects that Cinefondation has selected for L’Atelier – a platform that helps filmmakers find financing partners – are one each from Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar. Theunprecedented 20 per cent representation for South Asia promises to make the 2019 edition of the world’s premier film festival a truly fruitful outing for filmmakers from the region.
Sangma, 32, who wrapped up his debut film, the Garo-language Ma’Ama (Moan), last year and is looking for international festival openings, will be attending the Cannes Film Festival to explores co-production deals for his sophomore effort, Rapture. The under-production film is one of ten projects that are part of La Fabrique des Cinema du Monde, a programme developed by Institut Francais.
It invites ten directors working on their first or second features to the Cannes Film Festival along with their producers. Sangma, a former National Film Development Corporation employee who now teaches direction and scriptwriting at the Film and Television Institute, Itanagar, will be participating in the networking programme with Chinese co-producer Jianshang Xu, who was also involved in the making of Ma’Ama.
Rapture is the third Indian film in the La Fabrique program since it was launched in 2009. Gitanjali Rao’s Girgit (2011) and Tushar Prakash’s Liberation (2015) were the first two.
Sangma’s film alludes to the rising tide of intolerance and incidents of mob lynching that India has witnessed of late. It is set in a village that is gripped by the fear of a child-kidnapper. The church warns people of “apocalyptic darkness” for 80 days. For a 10-year-old boy, the atmosphere turns ominous like never before.
“In the film I want to explore the idea of mass reaction when people are provoked through fear, anger and confusion,” Sangma writes in his statement of intent.
The up and coming filmmaker will receive guidance from the seasoned Mira Nair, the first Indian to win the Camera d’Or in Cannes (for Salaam Bombay, 1988).She is the patron of La Fabrique 2019. Auteurs like Cristian Mungiu, Brillante Mendoza and Jia Zhangke have been patrons of the program in previous years. This year’s selection includes the Bangladeshi film, Sand City, directed by Mahde Hasan and produced by Rubaiyat Hossain’s Khona Talkies, a Dhaka-based outfit.
Another gifted SRFTI alumnus Saurav Rai, 33, will be pitching his debut work-in-progress, Nimtoh (Invitation), in the ‘HAF (Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum) Goes to Cannes’ programme in the festival’s Marche du Film (Film Market). It is among five projects selected by HAF Work-in-Progress Lab in March – to participate in a pitching session in Cannes. Co-producer Sanjay Gulati will be in attendance. The HAF winners will make their presentations in a two-hour session on May 18.
This is Rai’s second trip to the festival – he was here in 2016 with Gudh (Nest), a 28-minute short film that played in the Cinefondation Competition for works by film school students. He was India’s sole representative in the Cannes official selection that year.
Rai spent his childhood between Darjeeling and Kathmandu. Gudh was an impressionistic, evocative account of the time he spent with his parents in a village in Darjeeling district and his grandparents in Kathmandu. Nimtoh promises to be another story inspired from his own personal experiences.
In the very first year of ‘HAF Goes to Cannes’ – 2017 – Assamese filmmaker Rima Das’ Village Rockstars was one of four selected projects. The film went on to achieve great traction on the international film festival circuit, as did the three other films that were pitched in Cannes that year, including May Ashfair’s exquisitely realised Vietnamese film The Third Wife.
The synopsis of Nimtoh reads: “Little Tashi and his grandma are tenants guarding a cardamom orchard for a family. An approaching wedding at their patron’s house excites Tashi. Will he be invited?”
Elsewhere in the festival, Kolkata cinematographer Modhura Palit, 28, has been invited to what promises to be an event worth celebrating – the 7th edition of the Angenieux ExcelLens in Cinematography ceremony. She will receive the Angenieux Special Encouragement, which is given to a young professional who is beginning to make her mark. Palit, like Sangma and Rai, is an SRFTI alumnus. The ceremony is scheduled for the evening of May 24. The first winner of the Special Encouragement, introduced in 2018, was the young Chinese DOP Cecile Zhang. She was supported by Angenieux throughout the year. The recognition will entitle Palit to the use of the best Angenieux lenses on her next project.
Named after the founder of the 80-year-old French company that makes highend zoom lenses and is an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival, the tribute will be bestowed this year on the five-time Oscar-nominated French director of photography Bruno Delbonnel.
Delbonnel’s credits include films directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), Tim Burton (Dark Shadows, Big Eyes), the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Joe Wright (Darkest Hour), David Yates (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and Alexander Sokurov (Faust, Francofonia).
The six other veterans who have earned tributes as part of Angenieux ceremony in Cannes since 2013 are Philippe Rousselot, Vilmos Zsigmond, Roger A. Deakins, Peter Suschitzky, Christopher Doyle and Edward Lachman.
The subcontinental presence on Cannes’ various mentoring and networking platforms is strengthened by The Women, a film being directed by The Maw Naing, 48-year-old poet, artist and filmmaker from Myanmar; The Bone Trumpet, a work being developed by Nepalese filmmaker and visual anthropologist Fidel Devkota; and Wakhri, a film by Pakistani engineer-turned-filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal. All three films are part of Cinefondation’s Atelier selection.