Every year since 2006, the Festival of Films on Arts and Artists, launched and organised by the Jatin Das Centre for Arts has been held in Bhubaneshwar. It was a very well received annual event, but now, since 2018, it is being held every two years.
The first big festival of its kind, it presents films on arts of all forms — music and dance of course, and then painters and sculptors, photography and crafts, architecture and environment, introducing audiences also to weaving — cloth and even baskets. The festival gives audiences a chance to understand so many things one takes for granted. It opens one’s mind and brings to life so much that is happening around us and the incredible talents that exist that we have not even been aware of.
In addition to the films, there are talks, an annual filmmaking workshop by filmmakers Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl — which over 70 film students attend — a meeting with film personalities, principally from Odisha but also from around India, and at least three talks. This year, there was one on the Kochi Biennale by Bose Krishnamachani, and one by Adwaita Gadanayak, head of the National Gallery of Modern Art and himself an artiste from Odisha, on the Upendra Maharathi exhibition which was recently held at the NGMA in Delhi. A scintillating talk by Nandita Das on her film on Manto and then her recently published book Manto and I took place. Her fame as a filmmaker, now also a writer, is spreading and as Jatin Das’ daughter, together with her brother Siddhartha Das, they have been deeply involved with the festival from the time Jatin launched it. Siddhartha, together with Elise Robstad, is spending a huge amount of time on the festival and on getting the Arts Centre completed.
Films came from across the world. The opening was the stunning film — Gurrumul about a blind, indigenous singer from Australia. It was not only his inspired singing but he opened the eyes of audiences to a part of Australia few people even knew existed. The film is a revelation. The closing film was about Raghu Rai, made by his young daughter: Another tribute to the now world-renowned photographer.
Short films, long films, so riveting that audiences arrived in the morning and sat through till the evening — with an occasional cup of tea — and of course lunch for all!
In addition, annually, is the two-day film workshop on the side with a large audience of young film-makers, and along the entrance a row of little shops of superb handicrafts by local Oriya people. Their handicrafts are also works of art that can literally take one’s breath away.
Other workshops are also now beginning to be held. Two years ago, it was a demonstration on Chinese-Japanese brush painting by Bryan Mulvihill, a well-known artiste from Canada, and this year it was a masterclass, together with a stall of books also on Chinese painting, by Weipu Chang.
The festival, since the start, has been held annually at IDCO stadium in the centre at Bhubaneshwar, but the gala opening night is always at the JD Centre of Arts. This year, alas, under cloudy, drizzling weather, the opening night had to be restricted to the tented eating area at IDCOL. The normal opening evening takes place at the open space below the JD Centre — which had been converted into a beautiful open-air theatre. But the rainy weather did not allow that to take place this year.
The JD Centre is a beautifully located area, close to the historic 2nd century Khandagiri caves — which has finally started being constructed. It will be a huge centre which will include a sculpture garden, an open-air theatre, a library, a café, residency spaces for artistes — and about 20-plus rooms for traditional art and craft objects, textiles, books — all from Jatin’s collection over very many years — plus films on the arts. It will be a unique cultural centre. Jatin’s dream for many years is finally beginning to take shape and will become a major centre for, and of, the arts in the country.
The festival will of course, continue every two years. As a unique and major centre for film as an art form and a centre for learning about art as a great form of expression, the JD Centre for the Arts together with the annual festival is a unique effort by an artiste.
The writer is an eminent film critic and historian, author and maker of documentaries, a member of several international festival juries and one of the top scholars of Asian cinema