COINS film festival and idea of national cinema

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By 2017-10-01

By Indeewara Thilakarathne
Ceylon Today Mosaic

In this week's column, I would like to revisit the recently concluded Colombo International Students' Film Festival (COINS Film Festival) and the concept of national cinema.

The third edition of the Colombo International Film Festival, among other things, showed the immense potentials of Sri Lankan young filmmaker, apart from displaying the talents of young filmmakers from several other countries who took part in the film festival and who walked away with some noteworthy awards. What is important to note, is the avowed objectives of the film festival that is to create a short film culture in Sri Lanka so that in the long run, it would create a vibrant Sri Lankan film market.

Apart from Asian submissions, this year's festival stood out for contributions (submissions) from European countries such as from Germany, France and Poland. The festival was made up of three categories; the competition, the Coins World Cinema and the Coins Masters. During the festival which was held at Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), 56 films selected out of 280 submissions were screened while in the segment 'the Coins World Cinema' , a select few short film that were screened at international film festivals such as the Locarno film festival and the Busan Film Festival were screened. In the segment 'the Coins Masters' movies by veteran film maker Abbas Kiarostam and Jude Ratnam's film 'Demons in Paradise' were screened.

The driving force behind the farsighted initiative COINS Film Festival is the Digital Film Academy (DFA) of the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), which has against odds, over the years attempted to provide a higher quality cinema education to Sri Lankan youth, to a greater extent fulfilling the vacuum for formal institution for cinema education in Sri Lanka.

To create a vibrant cinema culture, let alone a short film culture in Sri Lanka, what is of paramount importance is to create, nurture and empower formal institution for cinema education in Sri Lanka with a strong industrial focus. It is such strong institutional infrastructure that could not only bring out higher quality professionals for the cinema industry but also be able to lay a foundation for a vibrant Sri Lankan cinema culture. As of now, the harsh reality seems to be that almost the entire Sri Lanka cinema industry depends on handful of dedicated filmmakers and allied professionals in the industry who have made a substantial contribution to the industry.

It is pertinent at this stage to look, even briefly, at the salient characteristic of national cinema against the backdrop of COINS Film Festival and renewed interest for creating a vibrant Sri Lankan cinema culture and market for cinema.

Concept of national cinema
In enunciating the pivotal role that the international film festivals made in creating and nurturing national cinemas, L i z C z a c h in 'Film Festivals, Programming, and the Building of a National Cinema', observes, "As film festivals around the world steadily proliferate, the question of how film festivals and programming mandates contribute to global film culture, to the life of film festival host cities, as well as to the success of individual films and filmmakers requires serious consideration.

High-profile international film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, and Sundance play a large role in national and international film culture, bringing concentrated attention from press, industry, and the public to indigenous and foreign films. While each of these festivals provides a platform for showcasing their international selections, highlighting indigenous filmmaking is also common in programs such as Perspektive Deutsches Kino at the Berlin Festival, American Showcase and American Spectrum at Sundance, or Perspective Canada at the Toronto festival. Each of these forums undoubtedly plays a role in the formation of that specific country's national cinema culture as well as its reception and reputation abroad. To further develop this line of inquiry, I will consider what roles film festivals and film festival programming play in the process of forming a national cinema by paying particular attention to Canadian national cinema and the Perspective Canada series at the Toronto International Film Festival . "

In dealing with the issue of how film festivals could contribute to the formation of national cinema and what are the issued involved in the process, he observes, " While the concept of film canons has come increasingly under scrutiny both within and outside the academy, the twin concepts of national cinemas and canonical great works continue to provide some of the primary ways we teach, study, and understand film history. National cinemas have been largely organized in terms of a body of great works by extraordinary filmmakers.

This development of national cinemas in conjunction with auteur theory has been, by and large, readily adopted by film studies. In Canada, this conjunction of national cinema culture and auteurism has led to the canonisation of directors such as Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Claude Jutra, and Denys Arcand, among others. Of course, the formation of a canon is not an automatic, innate procedure but rather a contested cultural process. The processes of inclusion in and exclusion from film canons share some of the attributes of, without being synonymous with, the selection process of film festivals. Film festivals provide an important site to help shape and confirm as well as contest the canon.

Canon formation, like film festival programming, necessitates a series of exclusionary practices. How a canon is formed and which films are excluded depend on a series of mechanisms, some of which Janet Staiger outlines in her essay "The Politics of Film Canons." Among the most important processes, according to Staiger, are critical attention, film scholarship, and inclusion in film histories. In addition to these, Staiger outlines how a "politics of selection" engages with various discourses of value, art, and exemplary works to inform decisions related to canon formation.

Although Staiger does not discuss film festivals or festival programming, similar discourses are engaged in the process of programming a festival. Selection decisions made regarding the canon sometimes correspond strongly with the kind of evaluative judgments made in programming. "

What is important to take into consideration is the fact that the discursive nature of film festivals role in the formation of national cinema and the broader concept of national cinema should not simply be limited to the idea of movies produced and shown with the boundaries of a nation state.

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