The film world descends on Bradford to celebrate a century of Indian cinema among other cinematic gems
When you think of Bradford, what probably doesn’t come to mind is that it is the world’s first City of Film, an honour bestowed on the West Yorkshire city by UNESCO for its accomplished film heritage.
Bradford also lays claim to one of the most anticipated events on the UK film calendar – The Bradford International Film Festival. April saw the 19th instalment of the annual event and its second year in partnership with Virgin Media.
Over the years the festival has brought in special guest speakers, notable industry members and screened a special selection of hundreds of new and classic films.
Festival Co-Directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young commented in their invite to the festival this year: “Much of ‘modern’ culture, indeed much of the modern world, was taking shape in 1913 – and we hope the films and events which the BIFF team have assembled over the past year provide a multi-faceted reflection of that world: geographically and artistically eclectic, with one foot in the past and one striding into the future.”
As 2013 marks the centenary of Indian cinema, the host venue, The National Media Museum, made a special investment in exhibiting classic Indian film posters and including distinguished Indian films within its screenings.
This included rare screenings of the only twelve minutes that are known to remain of the first Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra (1913) and the recently restored Kalpana (1948) which is revered in the history of Indian filmmaking for its innovative dance sequences.
There were a good handful of Indian classics shown including the Oscar short-listed Mother India (1957), which stars the luminous Nargis as a mother fighting for peasant’s land rights and can never to be overlooked. Also shown was Mughal-E-Azam (1960), an epic in the true sense of the word it was the most expensive Indian film of its era. A costume drama released when Technicolor film was gaining momentum, it became the most successful film of the time until Sholay took the mantel 15 years later becoming a true phenomenon.
The contemporary classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) also featured. Megastar Shah Rukh Khan leads the genre-hopping ‘masala movie’ which is without doubt a modern block buster having played continuously at the Maratha Mandir cinema in Mumbai for an incredible 900 weeks.
Other highlights from Indian cinema included the UK premieres of The Sound of Old Rooms (2011), a documentary on the life of struggling Kolkata poet, Sarthak Roychowdhury, and Mumbai’s King (2012), an engaging debut from writer-director Manjeet Singh exposing what goes on behind the scenes of India’s world-famous film industry.
In the spirit of championing diverse talent, the festival celebrated film efforts from the local, national and foreign industries. The event opened with The Look of Love from one of England’s finest directors Michael Winterbottom. Sir Tom Courtenay was honoured for his contribution to the film industry (co-incidentally, his film Billy Liar was filmed in Bradford 50 years ago) and championed the overlooked Russian filmmaker, Alexy Balabanov, by screening three of his controversial films including his black-comedy Cargo 200 (2007).
The event also served up the UK premiere of Cursed be the Phosphate (2012) from up and coming Tunisian director Sami Tlili. Interestingly, his documentary covers a harrowing period for striking miners in 2008 – two years before the uprising of the Arab spring made an inkling of news.
Another notable documentary in terms of variety and depth was Beware of Mr Baker. With appearances from Femi Kuti, Eric Clapton, John Lydon and Lars Ulrich, it follows extraordinary percussionist Ginger Baker’s musical journey from his jazz-obsessed origins to his time with Cream in the ‘60s, and then to his years in Africa.
The festival’s Twitter feed has been inundated with compliments for it being chock-full of mid-length films and shorts which gave exposure to wonderful directors in the genre such as Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu. Many of these films were an hour in length and were screened together in succession for a fun movie-buff experience.
The festival closed with the hotly anticipated The Reluctant Fundamentalist, an adaptation of Mohsin Hamed’s 2007 bestselling novel, directed by Mira Nair and starring the excellent Riz Ahmed of Four Lions fame.
There was such a fantastic selection on offer and overall the festival, like its resident city, continues to celebrate a rich history in a diversity of cultures year after year.
Featured Image: Kalpana (1948)
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