Satyajit Ray: The Feel of Festivals (IFFI - 1975)

This article dates back to 3 January, 1975.was published in 'Festival News' column in 5th International Film Festival of India, written by Shri Satyajit Ray. The article is a part of Indian Film Institute's Archives.

-Satyajit Ray

My first film Pather Panchali, found its way to the Cannes Film Festival through the efforts of some sympathetic friends. I had no means of going, so I stayed back and held my breath. As I learnt later, the official screening of the film took place around midnight. The jury had already on the same day, sat through four long features and decided to skip the Indian entry. Among the handful who attended were some critics, apparently with insatiable appetites, who sat through the film and liked it enough to insist on a second screening for the jurors. This was arranged, and the film went on win a special prize as the “best human document.”

The next year, my second film, Aparajito went tot the Venice festival and won the Golden Lion. This time I was present and experienced the rising tension that marks the occasion for a competing director.

Between Venice in 1957 and now, I have participated in more than a dozen film festivals, either as a juror, or with a film in competition. The two experiences have nothing in common. As a juror one submits to the onslaught of films-8 to 10 hours of screening a day on an average-as well as to the endless round of parties. Some festivals have more of these than others. At any rate, there is little time left for the jury, or anything except these two obligatory occupations. At parties the jurors talk of everything except films, lest the conversation should veer inadvertently toward “what one has seen so far”. All festivals insist on secrecy, with the jurors told unequivocally to wear masks of inscutability. The is because the awards are meant to come as a surprise to the public. They never do. For instance, in Venice one evening, two days before the prizes were announced, I was sitting in pavement café when a stout, middleaged man, presumably a journalist, sidled up to me, bent down to whisper dramatically into my ears; “I can hear the lion’s roar!”, and melted away into the gathering darkness.

Having served on the jury a number of times I find that I look forward less to the films than to notion of being part of a group of people all connected with the cinema in various ways converging from all parts of the world and engaging in a common pursuit.

With a film in competition one is less trammelled. Those who, like me, do not suffer from nerves too much, can use their time most profitably. It is true that most festivals have lost or have been forced to shed, some of their glamour. The opening star parade is a thing of the past. But there is no doubt that with the introducing of parallel festivals with their stress on off beat, meaningful cinema, along with the inevitable tributes and revivals of classics, the choice of films in wider than before.

Apart from the films there is delightful occupation of talking shop with fellow filmmakers. No matter how widely separated they may be geographically, some mysterious force seems to effect an instant communion between filmmakers, so that even before they know each other’s names, they may be engrossed in a discussion of latest Arriflex, or the vagaries of some new zoom lens, or the hazards of shooting location with a small crew.

Each of the four or five major film festivals in Europe where they will not only sit through almost anything without a murmur, but applaud heartily at the end. In Berlin while the rest of the audience observes decorum, a small group at the back will keep hurling invectives at whatever unfolds on the screen. In Venice, if a film is not liked, the audience will pulverize the filmmaker with their boos and catcalls.

Full Image of Satyajit Ray's Article from IFI Archives.

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