This year I finally went to the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA). It took me 11 years of urging by my friend and former employee Carla Sanders, a festival guru, who works there and whose festival career began with “the two Garys” the founders of Filmex which was Los Angeles’ first film festival in the 70s and 80s and one of the greatest shows on earth. In its second year The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie closed Filmex ’72, and Luis Buñuel attended his first-ever public screening of one of his films. I won’t go into this piece of history except to say it spawned the American Cinemateque and AFI Fest. The two Garys (Gary Essert and Gary Abraham) passed on, both victims of the first wave of the AIDS epidemic that hit the artistic community very hard, wiping out a generation of innovative filmmakers and film curator/ historians in Los Angeles.
The opening night of IFFLA reminded me somewhat of Filmex with the glory of the filmmakers on the red carpet, beautiful young stars in glitzy clothes and skyscraper tall high heels, being stopped for interviews, flashbulbs going off and a general yet genteel excitement in the air. Even those interviewing were worth watching. It was different because all the stars were Indian which made this affair rather exotic at the same time.
The opening film, Gangs of Wasseypur, which had shown last year in the Cannes Film Festival, was truly extraordinary and the director Anurag Kashyap spent at least an hour talking to the audience about this film which is reminiscent of The Godfather and Gangs of New York though not at all derivative. Its second part showed the following evening and was equally outrageously original. Again the director spent an hour in the Q&A. He spoke to his move to Bombay as a filmmaker and the return to his own roots in telling the story of Wasseypur where he in fact grew up. The film actually is an analysis of the place’s history and evolution as a burning inferno as the fight for the coal industry fuels the feud. From digging coal to killing someone in an innocuous brawl, the tale of vengeance runs parallel to the tale of India itself.
The 5 hours and 20 minutes were riveting. The music and dancing was also outrageous. Our friend Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter called it, “A dizzying explosion of an Indian gangster film, whose epic structure and colorful, immoral killers capture the imagination for over five hours.”
David Chute, quoted in Thompson on Hollywood, says “Gangs is headlong, hand-held, violent entertainment. It manages to keep a dozen major characters and their agendas clear while rarely pausing to take a breath. It is also one of those rare movies that acknowledge the influence of movies and other forms of pop culture in shaping the values and motivations of its characters.
The story was actually based upon fact, a story of revenge over three generations of two families in a small city of India. My surprise and reaction to it reminded me of how I felt when I saw John Woo’s The Killers in Toronto in 1989 which opened the door to John Woo in the U.S. (Coincidently it was the same David Chute who brought John Woo to the U.S. as I recall). The international sales agent, Elle Driver, has not made a sale in the U.S. Which surprises me.
IFFLA concluded on Sunday evening (April 14) with a red carpet and gala fete that included the Los Angeles premiere of Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, and the presentation of the festival’s Grand Jury and Audience Choice Awards, followed by an after party.
This year the festival showcased more than 35 film features, documentaries, and short films at ArcLight Hollywood, home of IFFLA since its inception. “The awards are always bittersweet for all of us in the programming team as we truly believe in the exceptional talent and relevance of each film which has been so carefully chosen,” said Lead Programmer Terrie Samundra. “That being said, we wholeheartedly share the enthusiasm of the audience and our prestigious jury. A huge congratulations to the winners!”
Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely took home the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature, with an honorable mention for Ship of Theseus directed by Anand Gandhi. The Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary went to Sushrut Jain for Beyond All Boundaries, and for Best Short to Unravel directed by Meghna Gupta, with an honorable mention for Tatpaschat directed by Vasudev Keluskar.
AUDIENCE AWARDS BEST FEATURE: FILMISTAAN directed by Nitin Kakkar BEST DOCUMENTARY: BEYOND ALL BOUNDARIES directed by Gotham Chopra BEST SHORT: UNRAVEL directed by Meghna Gupta
The 2013 feature film jurors were International Director of the Feature Film Program at the Sundance Institute Paul Federbush, director/editor/writer Kanika Myer (HALO, HEART OF INDIA), and Assistant Curator of Film Programs at LACMA Bernardo Rondeau.The Best Documentary Award was decided by The Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times film critic Sheri Linden, Senior Programmer at Film Independent Maggie Mackay, and Producer Nadine Mundo (CHELSEA SETTLES). Judging the short films were filmmaker and IFFLA alum Prashant Bhargava (PATANG), Film Curator and Director of Industry Programming at Palm Springs ShortFest Kathleen McInnis, and actress Sheetal Sheth (ABCD, LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD).
ABOUT IFFLA Now in its 11th year, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) is a nonprofit organization devoted to a greater appreciation of Indian cinema and culture by showcasing films, honoring entertainment industry business executives, and promoting the diverse perspectives of the Indian diaspora.
The six-day festival is the premiere platform for the latest in cutting edge global Indian cinema and bridges the gap between the two largest entertainment industries in the world – Hollywood and India. The festival showcased over 35 films from the Indian filmmaking community across the globe, hosted the highly anticipated opening and closing red carpet galas, and the closing awards ceremony.