A parallel film festival is threatening to take sheen off the 22nd edition of the state government-sponsored International Film Festival of Kerala in December in Thiruvananthapuram.

On Friday, the Kazhcha Film Forum, a film society from Thiruvnanthapuram, announced that it would organise the Kazcha Indie Film Festival to protest what it termed as the IFFK organisers’ reluctance to promote independent Indian cinema and its outmoded selection process.

The Kerala Chalachitra Academy organises IFFK every year. One of the most prestigious and well-attended such events in the country, IFFK is known for its eclectic mix of Indian and international arthouse films. This year, the festival will be held from December 8 to 15, while the parallel event will take place from December 8 to 11.

One of the key drivers of the protest event is acclaimed director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, whose latest movie Sexy Durga was not selected in IFFK’s competition category. The selection committee had instead recommended that the film, which explores sexual violence and misogyny in Kerala, be included in the less weighty Malayalam Cinema Today category.

Angered by the decision, Sasisdharan had withdrawn the movie from IFFK in September, accusing the organisers of insulting his movie. Sexy Durga won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam in February.

Sasidharan confirmed that the treatment meted out to Sexy Durga was the trigger for organising a parallel festival. “But we have been thinking about alternate screening methods when I had faced difficulties in screening my first feature film, Oral Pokkam, in 2014,” the director said. “The IFFK has been trying to corner those who bring innovation to Malayalam cinema. We wish to see IFFK officials take our protest as a creative criticism.”

‘Outdated selection’

The Kerala Chalachitra Academy has been consistently ignoring independent Indian cinema that has won accolades at international festivals, Sasidharan claimed. He cited the example of Shanavas Naranipuzha’s Karie to buttress his point. “The movie was nominated for the national award in 2015, but the jurors felt it wasn’t good enough for the festival,” Sasidharan said. “They have been dumping films that go against their movie-making concepts. Film lovers in Malayalam have missed award-winning movies like Haanduk The Hidden Corner, Sonar Baran Pakhi, Ralang Road, Turup, Ashwatthama and Kothanodi, to name a few. It is a shame that the jurors ignored such innovative movies.”

Sasidharan blamed the outdated selection procedure for the omission of these films. “A five-member jury selects the movies,” he said. “Most of the committee members do not keep abreast of the new trends in world cinema. They are either part of the mainstream or want to be part of the money-making stream. So they never favour independent movies.”

The Kerala festival’s artistic director, Bina Paul, refuted Sasidharan’s allegations. She pointed out that IFFK has been popularising internationally acclaimed movies among Keralites.

“No one can accuse us of ignoring good movies made in Malayalam or any other languages,” Paul said.

Sexy Durga hadn’t been rejected by the selection committee, Paul added. “Many reports had suggested that his film was rejected – it was a wrong piece of information,” she said. “We cannot select all films in the competition section. We offered him a good slot. But he chose not to show the film.”

As many as 12 independent movies will be screened at the parallel festival, but Sexy Durga is not on the list. “It will be screened at the Ariesplex cinemas on November 16 to raise funds for the festival,” Sasidharan said.

Paul said she could not predict the impact of the parallel event on IFFK. “They have the freedom to organise any event, and I cannot predict its impact on IFFK,” she said.