Cinemas may be open again, but 2021 remains a difficult time for the film industry as it reconnects with audiences. For many film festivals, this means taking a hybrid approach that welcomes back the magic of the big screen while still providing an online presence for those still out of reach. The 12th Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) runs from the 14 June to 4 July, and takes this approach in mind as it comes back to a changed cinematic landscape.
With support from The National Lottery and BFI, The LIFF, along with its sister festivals in Birmingham and Manchester, has thrown the spotlight on the best of British Asian filmmaking talent for a series of talks that will be taking place in person and via their online portal.
These talks include Oscar winning documentarian Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy), and Gurinder Chadha OBE reflecting on twenty years since the filming of her hit Bend It Like Beckham, and lauded feminist filmmaker Pratibha Parmar (The Colour of Britain, Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth).
Festival director, Cary Rajinder Sawhney MBE, admits the prospect of hosting the festival both online and in person for the first is a huge undertaking, but one worth pursuing.
“Last year in the middle of the lockdown we were able to triple our audiences by going online” he says, before emphasising that the theatrical presentation is still at the heart of the festival’s ethos. “This year we are back on the big screen as well, where all cinema lovers want to be. What does it matter if you have to wear a mask and social distance for safety, when you see movies as they are meant to be seen – 50 feet wide, in some of our cities greatest venues like the cathedral of cinema – The BFI Southbank, the much adored Cinema Lumiere in South Ken, super cool Barbican Cinema, Rich Mix and Genesis cinemas out East and Watermans in the West. Of course, we are doing our part to support these great cultural icons to stay functioning as our city recovers”.
While the return to auditoriums is exciting, filmmaker Pratibha Parmar sees the advantages of this new blending of platforms. “As a filmmaker I am all for making films as widely available as possible but I also enjoy in person cinema experiences both to show my own films and as well as to watch with other breathing bodies in that darkened space of the theatre” she says. “I think one of the positive fallouts of the pandemic is how many film festivals around the world have had to pivot to finding innovative ways to continue to screen films. For instance, this year’s Sundance Film festival was online and as a result was accessible to thousands more people”.
As an artist, Parmar has been doing some pivoting of her own while working on her highly anticipated new film I Am Andrea. “Us indie filmmakers are always having to think outside the box” she says of the challenges of creating in Lockdown. “I had to revise the script to accommodate the restricted constraints but it made me think in a more inventive way about the storytelling”.
Inventive storytelling is at the core of the rest of the LIFF programme, broken into strands that tackle such thought-provoking topics as climate change, discrimination, and LGBTQ+ experience. “We are excited, in this year of Brexit realities, to also consider what it is to be British and Asian and how we, as a people, have contributed and changed British society” Swahney adds. “This includes celebrating the Great British Asian filmmakers are artists from the greatest British writers and screenwriters of the 20th Century through to a powerful range of films about British Asian youth experience and music docs from the 1980s to today and of course new British emerging talent”.
As well as taking to the stage herself, Parmar is also a film fan excited for the films ahead. “I am excited to see the opening night film, W.O.M.B (Women Of My Billion)” she reveals. The documentary follows Srishti Bakshi’s journey walking the length of India over the course of 240 days to discover the experiences of other women in India’s population. Ajitesh Sharma’s film is one of many that highlights the need for film festivals to tell unique stories that don’t always make it to your local multiplex.
“London Indian Film Festival does a brilliant job of finding films that are not always easily available” Parmar says, while Sawhney adds “I think it’s (W.O.M.B.) a movie that all guys should see. It really makes you think about male privilege and how 50 per cent of humanity really experiences their lives differently, even our mothers and sisters in the UK. it’s not preachy, just insightful”.