India, after the high of two Un Certain Regard selections in 2015, will be a bit player at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. The festival opens tomorrow with the screening of French director Andre Desplechin's Ismael's "Ghosts", a drama featuring a quartet of top Gallic stars. Three South Asian nations - Sri Lanka, Burma and Afghanistan - are, however, at the core of three important documentaries slated to premiere during the 12-day event in the French Riviera town. Payal Kapadia's 13-minute "Dopahar Ke Badal" (Afternoon Clouds), the sole Indian film in official selection, is one of 16 contenders in the Cinefondation competition for film schools across the world. "Afternoon Clouds", shot entirely on celluloid, is about a 60-year-old widow who lives in Mumbai with her Nepali maid. The film was selected from a field of 2,600 film school submissions. Launched in 1998 to support new generations of filmmakers, the Cinefondation selection has thus far had four films from the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, but "Afternoon Clouds" is the first-ever entry from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, to make it to this far. In fact, this is the first time that FTII had submitted films for the section. This year's Cinefondation and Short Films jury is headed by Palme d'Or-winning Romanian director Cristian Mungiu. It includes "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins, French actress Clotilde Hesme, Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo and Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari. "Afternoon Clouds" isn't the only Indian film accorded 'official' status in Cannes 2017. Rima Das' work-in-progress, "Village Rockstars", an entirely 'self-made' film, is in Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market) by virtue of being one of four titles selected by the Hong Kong-Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF) for its 'Goes to Cannes' programme. Shot in real settings with children of Rima's own village, "Village Rockstars" revolves around Dhunu, a free- spirited 10-year-old girl who dreams of owning and playing a guitar. She fights societal biases to form a band with a group of local boys that she hangs out with.
But that isn't the end of the protagonist's struggles. This is Rima's second trip to Cannes. The filmmaker, who divides her time between her village in Assam and Mumbai, screened her first feature, "Antardrishti" (Man with the Binoculars) in the Cannes Film Market last year. "I grew up in the remote village of Chhaygaon in Assam," she says in her director's note. "Life back then was harsh. It continues to be so today." She adds: "Three years back while shooting for my first film, Antardhristi, I established regular contact with these children and decided to tell their story, which was also my story." Widely recognised as one of the most important film financing platforms in Asia, the HAF brings primarily Asian filmmakers with upcoming projects to Hong Kong for co- production ventures with top film financiers, producers, bankers, distributors and buyers. The 'Goes to Cannes' programme offers renowned festivals the chance to showcase works-in-progress still looking for sales agents, distributors or a festival selection. Rima Das will introduce and present extracts from her film, which has been edited in Rome with a post-production grant, during a two-hour-long market screening on the afternoon of May 20. In the Cannes Special Screenings lineup are two documentaries that probe the festering wounds of South Asian conflict zones - Sri Lankan first-timer Jude Ratnam's autobiographical "Demons in Paradise" and Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder's third film in his 'trilogy of evil', "The Venerable W". "Demons in Paradise" focuses on expatriate Ratnam's return to post-civil war Sri Lanka and asks the question: "Once war is over, how does a country stop the never-ending cycle of fear and violence... When that's all they've ever known?" In "The Venerable W", Schroeder travels to Burma to explore the violent effects of everyday racism, hate speech and Islamophobia in a country where 90 per cent of the population follows the tenets of Buddhism, the most peaceful and tolerant of the world's religions. In Directors Fortnight, an independent section that runs parallel to the Cannes Film Festival, a film by debutante Sonia Kronlund, "Nothingwood", enters the incredible world of Saleem Shaheen, Afghanistan's most popular actor-director- producer who has churned out 110 films in a span of 30 war- ravaged years. Shaheen's films, all shot in Kabul and its surroundings, bear the influence of Bollywood and Hollywood, but he calls the Afghan film industry Nothingwood. Shaheen's career redefines the term 'passion for cinema'.
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