Festival of Contemporary Films from India: First of Its Kind in Multiple Ways

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of Mani Kaul. You're probably not the only one, especially if you grew up in the States or even in India, where the late filmmaker broke new ground in India's relatively unknown avant-garde scene.

"I don't think a Mani Kaul film has been screened in Houston," says Ratheesh Radhakrishnan, organizer of "CinemaSpace: A Conference on Indian Cinema and the City" as well as the Festival of Contemporary Films from India event that will partially act as a tribute to Kaul, who died at the age of 66 in July. Both shindigs take place the first weekend of November at Rice University, 6100 Main.

Along with the screening of Kaul's recently remastered 1973 Duvidha (In Two Minds or Two Roads), Kaul's take on a Rajasthani folktale, the festival will showcase five subtitled films, none of them Bollywood, in three different languages (Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam). The directors for Sthaniya Sambaad (Spring in the Colony) and Akam (Within) will be in attendance for Q&A sessions.

Radhakrishnan, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice's Chao Center for Asian Studies, says that Kaul is better known in Europe and that contemporary Indian avant-garde filmmakers employ many of Kaul's touches.

"[Kaul's] filmmaking included non-realist, formalist and avant-garde styles. He also used music and miniature paintings from India as the basis for his aesthetic," he says. "Apart from very small film institutions, his films aren't very fashionable in India because of his slow, brooding style."

In terms of the festival's more current offerings (each released between 2008 and 2011), Radhakrishnan is especially stoked on Akam, which will screen during a special preview presentation, and Gandu (Asshole), a film that will probably never experience an official showing in India, according to Radhakrishnan.

"For instance, there are sequences of full-frontal oral sex," he says about the film that has become sort of an instant cult classic, thanks to screenings at the Slamdance Film Festival and Oakland Underground Film Festival as well as a musical score that's heavy on Calcutta rap.

"All of these films are less seen, even in India. Some are seen in film festivals, but not in the U.S.," says Radhakrishnan. "A few of the films have been screened one or two times in the States, but that's it."

Before the festival, scheduled to take place at Rice Cinema from Friday, November 4, through Sunday, November 6, the two-day CinemaSpace conference will feature 15 speakers and presenters from the U.S., the United Kingdom, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

About the four-day blowout, Radhakrishnan says, "The idea is not to necessarily celebrate Indian culture, but to actually talk about cinema itself and to make India a site for this discussion."

"CinemaSpace: A Conference on Indian Cinema and the City" takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, November 3, at the Kyle Morrow Room of Fondren Library and from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Friday, November 4, at Rice Media Center. Admission is free. For more information, check out the Chao Center Web site.

The Festival of Contemporary Films from India will be held from Friday, November 4, through Sunday, November 6, at Rice Cinema. Admission is free. For schedule information, check out the festival page on the Internet.

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