Venue: Prasad IMAX
Theme: Women & Children's Films: Lady Actors, directors, writers, and women in children's cinema: Status Today, Possibilities Tomorrow.
Moderator: Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury (Media & Education Consultant; Former Dean, Symbiosis & Amity Universities)
“There is no such thing as ‘writing down’ or coming down to the level of a child. In fact, you need to be extra sensitive to understand a child’s thinking”, said Sannette, festival director and producer. “When you write a character of a child for a story, seen from his perspective, it should do truth to all social worlds” she added. This kind of sensitivity, she said, will “encompass gender sensitivity.”
Talking about the role of cinema in the representation of women, Amala Akkineni, actor and educationalist said: “If there is anything certain, it is change. Cinema has to respond to change.”
“As more and more success stories of women come out in real life, cinema will naturally reflect that.” she added.
Amala Akkineni, who is also the Director of Education at Annapurna International School of Film and Media, quoted the college as an example and said that: “The number of young girls who join AISFM to pursue filmmaking is increasing every year. Cinema is directly connected to the society. As we grow, cinema grows.”
Film producer Madhu Chopra, offered a different perspective to the issue. “Society should be a reflection of what we show in films.” She hopes that films start to fully harness their potential and grow to be “a powerful storytelling medium that can influence change.”
Quoting the example of Chatrapati Shivaji’s mother and how she played an instrumental role in shaping him into the leader we all look upto, Mukesh Khanna said: “Mother is the first guru of a child.” “The future of the nation rests on the shoulders of children and women play an important role in making them better humans”, he added.
Dr. Shravan Kumar, CEO and festival director, CFSI, expressed that:” ‘Gender’ is one of the themes we wish to explore in the films made by little directors.” Because children provide an unbiased and pure reflection of the society, he added that: “In addition to making the films, we also want to show the films to the respective communities the children belong to and observe if there are any differences in the gender constructs before and after the creative process.” He concluded the discussion saying that: “One of our priorities to bring about gender sensitization, without which, there can not be real empowerment.” As a takeaway from the discussion, Dr. Shravan announced that CFSI shall undertake a data analysis of past 3 years to assess female participation in CFSI film’s initiatives.
Theme: Environment, Sustainability, Animal-kind & Children's Films: What is done? What can be done? Possible role of film bodies.
Moderator: Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Liset Cotera, social communicator from Mexico, shared some of her observations while conducting a filmmaking workshop for children. “The children are worried and the pollution levels are rising,” she said. The films made by the children talked about pollution and how to take care of the environment. One particularly interesting film, she said, dealt with the idea of “what will happen if mountains catch fire.” Following the workshop, the films were shown at various schools in Mexico to sensitise children about environmental crisis.
Sharing his insights as a psychologist, Joy Chowdary said: “Our actions are directly connected to our belief systems, which are shaped during the formative years of growing up.” He added that this is why children’s cinema plays an instrumental role in a child’s development because behaviour cannot be changed. “You have to start working from the belief system level.”
Amala Akkineni, chairperson of Blue Cross animal welfare society, said that: “We don’t have time to wait for another generation to talk about climate change.” Talking about how it took almost a decade to get the animal protection laws for films in place, she said: “It is imperative that cinema catches up with the issue of environmental crisis with seriousness.” She added that animals should be portrayed not dressed up as humans but as animals, doing natural things, in order to bring in respect and appreciation for the amazing role they play in this beautiful planet.
Russell Miller, scholar and film activist, said that: “One of the most popular channels in the U.S is Animal Planet.” While telling stories, he said, “we should be authentic and give the complete ecological picture.” However, he expressed that he prefers to keep the messaging in films “subliminal, which otherwise, can become propaganda.”
Producer Pierre Assouline, who among many other accomplishments has also translated Holy Indian scriptures into French, said that its very peculiar how a separation has been created between welfare of pets and welfare of other animals. He expressed his happiness that France, which is one of the largest meat consuming countries, has “acknowledged animals as sensitive beings in the previous year.” He noted that the number of vegetarian restaurants in France have gone up from three to seventy-five following this act.
Dr Shravan Kumar, CEO and festival director, CFSI, said that: “Connect with animals and children is natural to children.” Appreciating the efforts of the noted film producer Manish Mundra, he talked about his latest film ‘Kadvi Hawa’ which stirred a discussion about environmental crisis in India. Stressing the need to inform and educate about the environmental crisis, he added: “Schools are being closed down because of smog.”
Talking about how behavioral change can be achieved through creative process of filmmaking, Dr Shravan Kumar mentioned about an experiment being conducted by CFSI in rural Bihar. The children from the remote villages of Bihar, who may not even have seen a film in a theatre till now, were trained and supported to make films on the theme of ‘open defecation’. One of the films named ‘Kacharapur’ is selected and will be screened in the closing ceremony of the festival. Dr. Shravan Kumar said that he plans to show these films in villages they were made and conduct an impact evaluation of the project.
Theme: Market Creation & Festivals to Promote Children's Films.
Moderator: Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Renowned festival director Elizabeth Muskala said that there is a change in how some producers are positioning children’s films. "They say that the films are not just for children but for everyone."
She said that until the essence of the films remains unaffected, it is a good way to tackle the stigma usually attached with children's films that making a film for children limits the number of audience.
Educator and Festival Director Michael Harbauer shared his story about why he started a children’s film festival in his home country. “No cinema exists to screen children's films” he said. Twenty years ago, with a small collection of sixty films, the film festival was founded as an attempt to give his child the same childhood he had. The festival has an attendance of more than 23,000 audience today, which is almost 10% of the country’s population.
Prof. Raghunath, IIM, Bangalore said that strong characterisation and a gripping screenplay is half the marketing done. He added that "word of mouth is more powerful than ever today and character is the cause of the viral."
Producer Madhu Chopra, who has produced three children’s films this year, said that marketing a children's film is a challenge and a producer’s nightmare. “However, when you see the children enjoying these films, you know that you have reached your target.” She stressed that more people should take this bold step and give wings to let a child’s imagination fly.
Festival Director Floortje Van Spaendock said that the role of film festivals is very important in children film’s marketing. “It attracts a lot of professionals from across the world who get to watch the film with the children and take note of their responses.”
Director Manish Tiwary said that if a film does well, the theatres will expand irrespective of the marketing. Stressing that ‘content’ is the hero, he added that if the content fails, no marketing strategy can save the film.
Dr. Shravan Kumar, CEO and Festival director, CFSI, said that taking a film to a theatre itself is an art. He added that marketing should be customized according to the objective of the film i.e. whether it is planned for a theatrical release or to be sent to film festivals.
To widen the outreach of children’s films in India, a mobile app named ‘CFSI’ was launched by Dr Shravar Kumar at the previous edition of ICFFI. Through the app, people from all parts of India can place a request to CFSI to organise film screenings of children’s films that they desire to watch.
As a part of the conclusion, Dr Shravan Kumar said: “The genre of children's films is more privileged than other genres. Despite linguistic barriers, the children connect to the visuals more effortlessly.” On the business front Dr. Shravan Kumar said that building synergies is extremely important as they lead to collaboration and co-productions that reduce the “burden” of marketing.
Theme: Animation-Gaming-Special Effects in Children's Films.
Moderator: Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Quoting the example of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, a 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet based on a novel by Agatha Christie, Biren Ghose, country head of Technicolor India, said that “stories never change; it is the packaging that changes.” He added that it is essential for storytelling to air for timeless watching and that animation is the most durable film genre.
Neha Hooda, PhD scholar (children’s film), Hungary, said that technology makes impossible possible. “It gives language to imagination.” Talking about media literacy, she stressed that audience should voice their opinions about what kind of content they are willing to accept.
Director-producer Ashok Kaul said that there is an ocean of talent in India and loaded how the animation industry has grown in the past twenty years. “Hollywood work happens here”, he added.
Animation filmmaker Dhvani Desai reaffirmed the idea that animation films have more shelf life. Quoting an experience form the animation workshops that she conducts for children, she that when the children were asked about what films they enjoyed the most, the mentioned films that were almost 50yrs old. She added that the focus of animation storytelling should also be infotainment and offer a takeaway for the children.
Scholar-Film activist, Russel Miller said that animation is the truest form of moving images. “It takes you out of the world.” He added that the quality of voice (tone) and dialog is very essential for an animation film.
Hyderabad’s very own big talent, Rajeev Chilaka, Founder, Greengold Animation (producers of Chota Bheem), talking about the origins of Greengold said that: “it started with the idea of how to create content when there is no market.” The character of Bheem, who borrows his name from Mahabaratha, was an attempt to gain recognition amongst audience. “Naming you character right is very critical” he added.
Dr. Shravan Kumar talked about CFSI’s efforts to establish connect by having local characters and develop stylised animation with a strong Indian flavour. The allure of animation is enchanting for children audiences and hence it remains a strong medium to tell children stories.
Theme: Humour & Fantasy in Children's Films.
Moderator: Neha Hooda, PhD Scholar (Children's Films), Hungary.
“Fantasy is derived from the realities of life”
The forum opened the age old pivot of fantasy as foil to realist films and its tropes. The forum also discussed the usage of humor in Children films. The results widely ranging from Chota Bheem to Harry Potter are before us to analyze.
Talking about the power of fantasy, Actor Lushin Dubey said that “fantasy lives with us.” “It takes an adult into his childhood and opens up a child’s imagination.” However, she added that an overdose of anything has its repercussions.
Actor Mukesh Khanna, Chairperson, CFSI, who is popularly known for his portrayal of Shaktiman, said that a superhero is like a super teacher to children. “Fantasy is a part of children’s dreams and is essential for their growth and development.” He added that children are filled with the treasure of imagination. Talking about the importance of humour in children’s films, he said that “humour is the most essential medicine in life.”
Actor Director Satish Kaushik said that “humour opens up the eyes of your mind and relaxes you.” He added that humour makes people alive. “When my grandma used to narrate stories to me in my childhood, I used to go into a fantasy world.” He said fantasy is essential for children as it introduces them to a “different reality.”
Bala Raj, Dean, AISFM, said that “humour transcends languages, cultures and all other barriers.” He shared his experience of watching ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ and thoroughly enjoying it despite not understanding a word of Hindi.
Director Ashok Kaul said that: “we have to trigger the imagination of children and it has to start at the school level, which is inception of their imaginative journey.” He added that “if we invest in chil-dren today, they will bring us laughter and happiness tomorrow.”
Dr Shravan Kumar, CEO and festival director, CFSI said that: “unless there are moments of joy and laughter interwoven into a story, the impact of a story will be minimal.” He said that fantasy is derived from realities of life and creates a “better and happier reality while humor is an engaging way to reach more audience and explore societal problems without being preachy.
CFSI path breaking initiative to create the future generation of filmmakers through its “Little Directors” has begun to show results.
Dr. Shravan Kumar, who interacted with the little directors at the open forum today, said that he was delighted to have them at the event and tell the world about what they learnt. Lauding the success of their films (selected and screened at ICFFI), he said: “Not everyone can become a great artist but great artists can come from everywhere.” The little directors hail from remote areas of Bihar and they are an example of how CFSI is successfully reaching out to the interiors of the country.
‘Kachrapur’ is a short film made by little directors Amit and Abhishek, both 13yrs old. Describing the idea of the film, Amit said: “Kachrapur isn’t a real place but Kachrapur exists everywhere.”
The film is a music video with lyrics written and sung by the children. It features snippets of daily life of a young boy as he goes about his routine. He finds ‘kachra’ coming out of a tap, he finds ‘kachra’ in a toothpaste container and, he finds ‘kachra’ in his water bottle from which he drinks by mistake and spits out. After every such act, we see a small boy who looks directly into the camera and sings, “Ye Kachrapur, Ye kachrapur”, to add emphasis to their message.
Raghuveer, the boy who sang the line “Ye kacharapur, Ye kacharapur”, never said ‘ra’ at the end of word ‘Kacharapur’. He would sing it as “Ye kacharapu, Ye kacharapu.” “By mistake, he said “Ye kacharapur” once and we pasted it everywhere in the edit,” said Abhishek.
Amit said that all their friends came together in developing the story and shooting the film. After finalising the story, they developed a shooting script and did the shot division. “There were difficulties in finding and finalising locations.” he said.
The shoot would commence at 5 a.m and come to an end at 6p.m everyday. Despite the long working hours, the children still looked forward to it. “It became like a duty,” said Abhishek. “One day, my mother joked about it saying that I go on a duty but come back without earning any money.”
When a member of the audience asked why they didn't include a solution to the issue of ‘kachra’ in their film, Abhishek promptly replied: “For a wise man, a small suggestion is enough.” The audience enjoyed how the little directors narrated their experiences with wit and candidness.
Aaron, the mentor of these two little directors, said that he learnt more from the children than how much he could teach them. He thanked CFSI for “giving the weapon of cinema to the children.”
The little directors said that they want to make comedy films in the future. “It’s good to bring people out of stress and make them laugh” they said.