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A still from ‘Electric Shadows—Journeys In Image Making’. Photo: Courtesy PSBT
A still from ‘Electric Shadows—Journeys In Image Making’. Photo: Courtesy PSBT

Preview: Open Frame Film Festival

What to watch out for at the latest edition of Open Frame, one of India's top documentary festivals

The 16th edition of the annual Open Frame Film Festival started on Friday in Delhi. It’s one of a handful of Indian festivals dedicated to the art of documentary, along with the Mumbai International Film Festival, the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival and the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala. Since Open Frame only features those films that have been produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Service (PSBT), each edition is dependent on the quality of PSBT films made that year. From what we sampled, this past year appears to have been a fruitful one.

This year, the festival has 34 screenings—most of them recent titles, and some older ones that are part of a section called “Refocus"—in addition to film-maker discussions and workshops. “Reflections And Ruminations" is the overarching theme; “memory, nostalgia, history, myth, image-making, storytelling and hope" will recur throughout the programme, in films ranging from Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku’s The Books We Made (about the feminist publishing house Kali for Women) to Collin D’Cunha’s Stopover, which concerns Indian immigrants in Dubai, and Supriyo Sen’s Let There Be Light, a look at the light art industry of Chandannagar.

One wouldn’t expect a film about tea-drinking in India (especially one with the genteel title Steeped And Stirred) to be anything but placid. Yet director Shweta Ghosh—who made the wonderful disability and sexuality documentary Accsex in 2013—takes the “stirred" bit to heart. Time and again, the film thrusts the viewer into conversations—regarding women in public spaces, the shocking discrimination faced by Dalits, the “hierarchy of taste"—which are then related, intricately or by the slimmest of threads, to tea. The film takes in Irani cafés and Bengali addas, the East India Company and the Hyderabadi traditions of lab-rez (brimming cup), lab-band (lots of sugar) and lab-soz (piping hot). Though it’s only 50 minutes, it’s a wide-ranging and rather audacious piece of film-making, each scene throwing up fresh ideas about how tea unites and divides, oppresses and liberates.

Anirban Dutta’s The Tale Of Stamps squeezes a feature film’s worth of historical fact, minutiae and anecdote into 30 minutes. The film is a collection of vignettes: on the origins and development of the postal system in India, and on stamps as markers of commerce, politics and arts. It’s also, in a way, an ode to the dying practice of philately. Most of the interviewees in the film are senior citizens. One talks about meeting his future wife over stamps. Another, who has been collecting since 1958, says nobody in his family is interested in stamps, “not even my grandchildren".

One of the more charming entries is Avijit Mukul Kishore’s Electric Shadows—Journeys In Image Making. Using an Indian film festival in Beijing as a jump-off point, the director conducts interviews and makes canny juxtapositions that suggest the influence of India and its cinema in China and explore the idea of image-making as a cultural tool. If that sounds a bit dry, don’t worry: There’s also a rendition of Awara Hoon in Mandarin, and a passage in which a local suggests that Chinese films are too commercial and that Bollywood releases are “films for film’s sake". Perhaps Open Frame’s non-commercial, efficiently inspired selections are more deserving of that descriptor

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