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January 2008


Film Culture in Auroville

- Leslie and Robert

Aurofilm recently held a captivating exhibition, Roll up the Reel, about the history of film culture in Auroville. Displayed in Kala Kendra's circular space, the exhibition consisted of movie paraphernalia such as colourful posters, old projectors and film reels, along with text panels detailing Aurofilm's history.

Created as a film society in 1981 to promote art cinema in Auroville, Aurofilm has grown over the years to become a tool for education and creative research in film, as well as a film-making unit. In 1983, Aurofilm acquired a 35mm projector, and film screenings have been taking place since then on a weekly basis, along with regular film festivals, classes and workshops to study films and film-making. French Aurovilians Gerard and Surya have been operating the unit from the beginning. They have an office and studio in Kalabhumi, but hopes are high for a new building with facilities like a film theatre, a film library and an archive to keep and store films.


Making films is an art

Curated by French volunteer Valentine, the exhibition's aim was to educate people about Aurofilm's work and film basics. “Many people think 35mm film doesn't exist anymore, that everything is just DVD,” says Valentine. Gerard adds: “Only five percent of the feature films are made with a digital video camera, the rest is still 35 mm.”

Gerard strongly believes that film will not disappear. “Film-making is an art. It is fascinating how you can play with light, sound and image. To give up 35 mm would be like asking a painter to throw away his brushes and work only with a computer.” It strikes him that art cinema is not considered something serious. “There are twenty good film makers in India , but movie halls refuse to show their work, even though they often receive accolades at the national and international level.” The non-commercial filmmakers have to travel from one small-scale film festival to another to make ends meet.

The recent film exhibition in Kala Kendra. Photo by Ireno Guerci.
The recent film exhibition in Kala Kendra. Photo by Ireno Guerci.

The exhibition contains evocative posters for the popular weekly screenings in the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium, including recent offerings such as veteran Chinese director Zhang Yimou's new film The Curse of the Golden Flower, Tarkovsky's Russian art house classic Andrei Rublov, the Iranian film Where is my Friend's Home, and legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard's Soigne Ta Droite!

Due to the recent renovation of the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium, Aurofilm has been forced to stop screening films, but the programme will restart in February. A 4-day film festival on the ‘Cinema of Kerala' will open the restored Auditorium, which will have new seats, air conditioning, a better sound system and a new rolling screen.

Surya and Gerard.Surya and Gerard continue looking for four quality art-house films per month: ideally one should be Indian, one French, one classic and one other. The films need to fit Aurofilm's criteria of being meaningful, with few songs and a social feel. “It's not easy,” says Surya about finding 35mm prints of suitable movies from India . “Although India is a big producer of films, most of them are very commercial, and most distributors are American. It's difficult to get prints of new movies, and sub-titled ones are in demand and are usually showing in festivals.”


Less censorship

While Aurofilm usually gets complete prints, occasionally they face censorship. Strangely enough it is not always done by the Indian authorities. “They do censor, but not like in the past,” says Surya. “The movie halls themselves may do it to cater to audience tastes as well as to fit the theatre's schedule. For example, The Lord of the Rings had most of the peaceful elves scenes cut out in favour of the battle scenes.”

Aurofilm also functions as a filmmaking unit, and has made a number of short films on Auroville projects and units, performances and ceremonies in Auroville and the villages. The unit also made a short documentary on luminary film director Satyajit Ray, using existing material. The exhibition offered regular screenings of some of these short films.

Aurofilm's recent twenty minute documentary on the National Film Archive of India in Pune was the first film the unit had made outside of Auroville. Surya and Gerard approached the archives with the idea, and gained SAIIER funding for the project. Although Gerard and Surya loved doing this, the main focus stays on Auroville. They have just finished a film on education in Auroville. It is yet to be screened for the Auroville teachers. Afterwards, it may be shown to the public at large. So far, a one hour version and a 45 minute version have been made, both on DVD.

Aurofilm also occasionally functions as a training institute, teaching the basics to students at Auroville and outreach schools. It has also offered film-making intensives, such as a three-week film course for Aurovilians in 1999 with Venezuelan cinematographer Daniel Petkoff. “We want to build up our infrastructure to do regular training,” says Surya. There are also plans to create an Aurovilian film crew, and an exclusive venue for the study and archiving of films. “It would be great if we could find a script writer who wants to help make a film on the ‘vibration' of Auroville,” adds Gerard.

Valentine concludes, “People seem really surprised to know about all of Aurofilm's work, as they weren't aware of it before. So I'm happy the feedback at the exhibition is all good.”

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