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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Q&A | Shai Heredia

Image conscious

Experimenta, the only Indian festival dedicated to the practice of experimental cinema, has undergone several changes since it was first launched in 2003. It went from being an annual event to a biannual occurrence, and then changed venue from Mumbai to Bangalore after its founder and artistic director, Shai Heredia, moved there. Mumbai’s loss has emphatically been Bangalore’s gain. The latest edition of Experimenta will kick off on 27 November with a rare screening of Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s celebrated 1970 film Samskara, based on the story of the same name by U.R. Ananthamurthy (who will be present for the screening).

Also, at Experimenta this year are sections by guest curators on well-known practitioners of non-conventional explorations of form, image and sound, including Margaret Tait, Ludwig Schönherr and Jack Chambers. Heredia will also introduce audiences to the creations of Canadian artist Panchal Mansaram, whose films explore Mumbai and his encounters with philosopher Marshall McLuhan. There will also be a focus on Japanese animation, as well as a selection of new Indian films, including Blood Earth, Kush Badhwar’s examination of mining and development in an Oriya village, Nayi Kheti, Pallavi Paul’s poetic exploration of creative expression, and Desh Vidhesh, Karl Mendonca’s Super 8 video diary of family vacations. Edited excerpts from an interview with Heredia.

‘Samskara’ is a blast from the past—what made you open the festival with the Pattabhi Rama Reddy film?

I did a residency at the Arsenal—Institute For Film and Video Art in Berlin in the summer, where I found a lot of regional cinema in their archive. Apart from the Rays and Ghataks and Mani Kauls, they also had Samskara. I had seen a bad DVD of the film, and the print they had was really good. There was an interesting narrative behind the film—it is an individual and artistic endeavour. It’s very personal and made by a collective in very meagre circumstances. Its content is super-radical in terms of being critical of caste. It’s also been shot in this very raw way—it isn’t very composed and structured and the camera is very loose. I came back and spoke to the family, and they were amazed to learn that there was a print in good condition. The National Film Archive of India has a print, but it cannot be taken out of the archive.

So the idea of a film archive is one of this year’s themes?

The trajectory of Experimenta has always been about unearthing films from archives– in the past, we have shown such films as Om-Dar-Ba-Dar, Chhatrabhang, Kaal Abhirati, Hun Hunshi Hunshilal and a lot of D.G. Phalke’s stuff. This year’s programming is based on my work at the archives, and is about talking of a living archive, about access. By showing older films and putting them out there, you are also looking at an alternative history of film-making in one sense. The festival is also about taking the moment of the Indian film centenary and asking questions about why we are celebrating only particular kinds of narratives.

We will also be having a discussion about the moving image that falls between the cracks, and about the potential of distribution of such work, not as a money-making thing but also in terms of exhibition spaces. We usually have a focus on artists, but this is only the second time we have an international competition section, as a way of getting people to know about what is happening in the contemporary word. We have always have stuff on sound and image work.

What was unique this year was crowd-funding the festival. We put out appeals and raised 5.5 lakh through about a hundred people. There has never been this kind of money for the festival. This shows that there is a community that wants to support the festival for whatever it is.

What are the entries from India like?

There is a lot of stuff out there, lots of it from people studying design. Several very young film-makers might not necessarily have a sense of cinema history, but their work is amazing. What they are exposed to is enough to produce that raw piece of something that is really poetic. Also, a lot of people are not into narrative, and that is great. You have audiences who are bored by straight-forward narrative, and it is from such spaces that you can see radical work emerge.

Do you still get asked about what experimental film, and the festival, are all about?

Oh, I always get that question. And I always have the same answer—if we were to define experimental cinema, then it wouldn’t be experimental. I kind of say that I still don’t know, it’s a process of figuring it out. The notion of experimentation is undefinable. It is an art practice that is about creating a syntax of the moving image that is personal and isn’t following genre conventions. There is a certain expression of form that is not over determined by the market or academic structures or visual arts structures.

Experimenta will be on from 27 November-1 December in Bangalore. For schedules and venue details, visit

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Updated: 23 Nov 2013, 12:07 AM IST
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