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‘Goa, a lovely host’

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A ‘thumbs up’ from the chairperson of the IFFI 2007 jury.

Marta Meszaros, Hungarian filmmaker.
Marta Meszaros, Hungarian filmmaker.

Santosh Mehta

Nearly a hundred films from India and 40 other countries were screened at this year’s International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in Goa. These included 21 feature films and 15 non-feature films from India, and 60 award-winning feature films from other countries.

This was the festival’s fourth year in Goa and the seating capacity had been doubled. However the halls mostly remained half-empty because it was not easy for ordinary film-lovers to buy tickets.

Marta Meszaros, chairperson of this year’s IFFI jury, is considered one of Hungary’s best filmmakers. The 76-year-old Marta is also rated one of the most significant woman director to emerge from central Europe, consistently makingfilms that are critically and commercially successful. Her 22 feature films (made during 1968-2000) preceded more than 30 documentaries that she made in Hungary and Romania. Her work has fetched her a dozen awards and four nominations at international film festivals — Golden Bear in Berlin for Adoption (1975); FIPRESCI prize at Cannes for Nine Months (1976); Special Grand Jury Prize at Cannes for Diary for My Children (1984); Golden Frog, Camerimage and OCIC Award in Venice for The Seventh Room (1959).

Her first eight feature films made during 1968-79 dealt with the social oppression, economic constraints and emotional challenges faced by Hungarian women. As she explains, “I tell banal, commonplace stories, and then in them the leads are women. I portray things from a woman’s angle.” Many of her films are like pages from her own life.

Born in Hungary in 1930, she moved to Russia with her Hungarian parents, who were lured by Josef Stalin’s open invitation to “fellow travellers”. Once in Russia, her family was shunted off to the barren plains of Kyrgyzstan and forced to forge an existence for themselves.

Pretty soon, Stalin changed his mind about letting in foreigners, and a crackdown followed. Her mother died during childbirth and her father vanished into a concentration camp, following a trial.

It was only eight years ago that Marta received confirmation that he had been executed. These early traumatic experiences formed the basis of her much-acclaimed autobiographical series of Diary films during the 1980s which won her recognition at home and abroad.

Trained in filmmaking at Moscow’s film school, she worked at Newsreel Studios in Budapest. She is married to actor Jan Nowicki and has two sons, who have separately worked as directors of photography on many of her films.

Marta has been to many international film festivals around the world. Asked how IFFI Goa compares with Cannes, Venice, Berlin and other festivals, the veteran Hungarian filmmaker says, “Goa is a fantastic venue for hosting the International Film Festival of India. The weather is lovely in Goa. I am fascinated by the sunshine here. People are warm and friendly, too. I feel honoured to have come here to this festival as head of the jury this year.”

Marta believes it’s only a matter of time before IFFI attracts Hollywood’s attention. Outside the West, IFFI enjoys a good reputation among filmmakers and audiences in Asia, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and South America. “I do not particularly care for films that are being made in America these days. They are so full of sex, violence, crime and suchlike. Of course, there are a few good directors in Hollywood. Like Francis Coppola, for example.”

Asked if the largely Government-organised IFFI would benefit from more private participation, as is the case with Cannes, Venice, Berlin and other prestigious film festivals, Marta is not so sure. “I do not know much about the situation here. Maybe it is important for the Government to manage a prestigious festival like IFFI.

I cannot say what is most ideal for a country like India. This is a decision for the Government to make. Right now, the Indian Government is organising the IFFI in Goa with local collaboration. Goa is a fantastic location for international film festivals. IFFI is quite different from other international film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice and so on.”

On her assignment as chairman of the IFFI jury, Marta says she enjoyed the work and her stay in Goa. “Sitting through several films with fellow members of the jury, day after day, and discussing their merits and demerits is an interesting job. Also tiring!”

Asked if she had any favourite Indian film director, she exults: “I love the great Satyajit Ray’s films.

They all are classics. There’s another great Bengali film director whose work I admire. But I can’t remember his name.” Did she get to see any Indian films made in Hindi and other regional languages?

She has seen a few, she says, adding, “I think Indian cinema as a whole has been upstaged by Bollywood films! Bollywood dominates the image of Indian cinema globally. I am told talented people are making very good films in other Indian languages, like Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Kannada etc. That’s a good thing. Bollywood can lend its technical expertise to films being made in other parts of India.”

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 21, 2007)
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