The Indian film industry, is recovering from the pandemic with the aid of film festivals to showcase its work. Film Festival Curator and Programmer Ankit Bagchi is the Director of Planning for the Hummingbird International Film Festival and the Calcutta International Short Film Festival, and is attached to the French Film Festival, Megacities Short Doc. He is also an Asian Consultant for various other international film festivals and competitions, an activist, co-founder of the Hummingbird Art & Culture Society, a festival strategist for independent filmmakers and a PR consultant for the award-winning Indian actress Mia Maelzer. Mr. Bagchi shares his insights into overcoming the current harsh environment for cultural events.
Mr. Bagchi, How do you describe the kind of activity you do?
As a film festival programmer, curator and consultant, I am involved with some film festivals around the globe. At the moment, I am based in Kolkata and working for the Hummingbird International Film Festival (HIFF). It takes place in mid-November and is open to all kinds of film: fiction, documentary, LGBTQ, experimental animation and video art.
There are several categories of awards, including ‘Best Fiction Film Award’, ‘Best Video Art Film Award’, ‘Best Documentary Film Award’, ‘Best Animation Film Award’, ‘Best LGBTQ + Section Award’, ‘Best Director Award’, ‘Best Script Award’, ‘Best Actor Award’, ‘Best Editor Award’ and ‘Best Cinematography Award’.
Nice! You work in a team that is well informed about contemporary film. But tell us, how have film festivals been affected by the ongoing pandemic in your region?
Film festivals have been postponed; some of them have gone completely hybrid while others have shifted entirely online. It’s a really depressing environment for all festival enthusiasts who are seeing cancellation notices every month. I have come across several issues where theatrical premieres are going online and producers are facing problems.
The pandemic and the sudden suspension of all activities have shown the dimension and impact of human activity on the planet. The IPCC report proves in figures and forecasts, based on precise data, how urgent adequate policies are now. What consequences do the ecological experience of Corona and the IPCC report have for your work?
I haven’t felt the impact of any ecological consequences on my activity. But there is a definite change in the water cycle, as we faced some very intense rainfall and flooding this season. Also, the cities are growing warmer than their surroundings.
Traveling to events has become difficult in some places. Did you have the chance to travel to events relevant to your industry?
No, the whole scenario has changed. I haven’t had a chance to travel till now and I don't feel that I will be able to go anywhere for some time.
With people now traveling less, animals have entered urban areas looking for food and leftovers that tourists used to leave. What about urban wildlife in your area?
Even now I don't see any wildlife in my area. But the environment for human life has altered, and I believe that birds and animals can feel this change.
Most people used to take selfies with friends on trips and events. What kind of pictures do your friends take now?
When we go to local events we do take selfies, but each time we are very conscious that our photographs do not look like us. It's like someone pretending for the sake of maintaining an image. There were times I felt I had lost my smile; if I made an effort, it immediately felt fake. What I am trying to say is we are now used to wearing a mask, and to an appearance which is not detectable; no one can tell if you are happy or not.
Are you familiar with the term 'Corona-emptiness' related to your activity?
Yes, I am very much aware of this term. I myself started feeling it when I tested positive for Covid. The quarantine days were really very tough and depressing. Although there were people around me, I felt like I had lost all hope and that I couldn’t do anything after what had happened to me. Friends from all over the world, however, kept encouraging me, and because of them I recovered. I began thinking that I was a loser; I even thought about leaving my work for good and trying to shift my career to some other sector. But I had some good friends who encouraged me in my work.
Finally, what are your plans for this year?
Initially, when I was planning for the HIFF, I was a little confused as to how I would manage it; but then we got clearance from the government to hold a physical festival. At the same time, though, we are also planning for an online event should the situation worsen again.
For HIFF, I plan to have a talk session online on how Corona has affected children and how they are coping after an extensive lockdown. I am also coordinating a competition titled ‘Megacities Shortdocs’ in France, where you need to show a challenge in your MegaCity; this could be about issues related to transportation, education, refugees, health, climate change and solutions, or about ideas for new initiatives tackling them. It should be a challenge that is potentially a theme with a social or environmental impact, as covered by one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.