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Ronita Torcato

A little chit, a little chat, a little bit of this & that;meaning news, views & lotsa reviews from an independent journo based in Bombay aka Mumbai


IFFI Lifetime Achievement Award Bertrand Tavernier : a deeply committed, politically engaged film-maker

It is a paradox that one of the world's finest filmmakers  Bertrand Tavernier has been bestowed with the IFFI  Lifetime Achievement Award by a country that makes and screens the largest number of films  in the world, but has never  shown a film by Tavernier."Film-makers are selfish, we want everyone  to see our films," said the snowy haired monsieur from  France, underlining his "privilege to be honoured in a country that has so rich a cinematic culture." And expressing regret that the television industry has colonised by Hollywood.
“Films can be a great means to discover and understand the various cultures of the world; to tell their stories in a different way. It's sad to see only American films. I never saw Spanish, Italian or Romanian films! "

The president of the Institute Lumière, which aims to preserve film culture in France doesn't know that till recently, NFDC's Lumiere used to telecast French and other European critically acclaimed films. Used to. The past tense would have injected melancholy in his plea for desi television  to regularly show films from around the world for Indian audiences.

Paradox suits the award-winning director,screenwriter, producer,actor and author who enjoys interacting with press and public, but also deeply values his privacy. Perhaps,it has to do with France's Catholicism ( Christianity is a paradox). Or perhaps it has to do with his lineage: his father Rene Tavernier was a writer ( and president of French PEN ( the international organisation of poets,essayists and novelists ) who sent him off to the prestigious Sorbonne to study law. His family was displeased when he spent more time haunting theatres and concert halls.
 Tavernier's family "was angry,very angry" when he dropped out after a year to write film criticism (for the best French journals) and soon enough, join the film industry.
( As would his high-school classmate Volker Schlöndorff, who would go on to become a renowned film-maker)

"But I never wanted to be a film critic, I loved to read, but have wanted to make films since I was 13. I became a journalist only by accident, it was the only way I could earn a little bit" explains Tavernier with due apologies to the congregation at the media centre.
He helmed his debut feature film, L'Horloger de St. Paul, in 1974. The film went on to sweep
French and international awards. Later, he would make acclaimed films like ‘Life and Nothing But’ which won a BAFTA in 1990 and ‘The Princess of Montpensier’ which received critical acclaim in 2010 at the Cannes and Telluride filmfests.( Luc Besson's film on Aung San Suu Kyii will close IFFI. It would have been good if the curators had also brought Tavernier's 1991 documentary Contre l'oubli - segment "Pour Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar".)
 "Round Midnight" and  "Electric Mist" were French financed films made in the US, the latter because "I’m absolutely passionate about the work of James Lee Burke." reveals the multi-faceted man who has  also  written books about American movies and made features and documentaries on themes as diverse as  familial relationships, poverty, racism, French history (" history linked with fact,flesh, blood, passion ") World War I ( LIFE AND NOTHING BUT ) music (‘ROUND MIDNIGHT ) sci-fi (DEATH WATCH)  the dark realms of the human psyche and contemporary social problems like drug abuse and HIV.
"I believe in emotion...cinema is a place where you can be emotional and passionate. when I see films like the remake of King Kong, I feel there are more monsters than screenwriters.However, film-makers like Clint Eastwood, Nani Morati, and Spanish, RUssian,Romanian and Iranians make beautiful films."

A pacifist who is firmly opposed to anti-immigrant racism and like-minded legislation,Tavernier was one of 66 film-makers - with his actor son, Nils - to protest against the Debré immigration law. Then again, such  politically engaged, deeply moral action, could be all in his genes. His father was "dead against Fascism, the Vichy Government and Adolf Hitler, but still published German poets because he could tell the difference between Hitler's Nazism and German poetry and literature."

He loves Indian food and is open to making a film about India "except that I haven't come across a story yet...I've seen many Indian films. I loved Mehboob's Mother INdia which was dubbed in French and shown all across France; I've learned a lot from the films of Satyajit Ray and from Mrinal Sen who I have tremendous respect for, as well as Shyam Benegal."

Now, he is looking for stories, not plots, and characters who believe in their mission, a teacher who really wants to teach and really wants to follow the implication of his work. He is (justifiably) proud of the effect of his films on young fans who stay in  touch. " Eighteen percent became teachers, four became cops,very good, top cops".

"Knowledge and education can be weapons and I am frightened by the  young generation who wants to be successful without studying. They don't want to take the time to learn...they see on TV rich stars and footballers and want to make money NOW. Ignorance and stupidity can be dangerous. It can make people commit the most atrocious things. Take the case of a Jew who was abducted, tortured for a week and killed  by a gang of 20 who thought all Jews were rich. This was ignorance and stupidity on their part. The Jew they killed was poor. And they couldn't even spell. I feel we have a responsibility to give students knowledge. There was a man who said he wouldn't have committed murder if he'd read Dostoyevksy's Crime and Punishment. IN 1840, Victor Hugo gave an incredible speech which stopped government from proceeding with, what would be called in contemporary parlance, a cut in the arts and education budget.I am disapppointed by the lack of response from the Obama admin against people who created economic chaos.  But we can be responsible film-makers and do our best to ensure that education budgets are not cut, that school teachers are not fired, that aid to the poor is not stopped."
Let me stop with encomiums from Mike Pandey,Member Steering Committee, IFFI 2011, who  said that the presence of Mr Tavernier would enhance international exposure of the festival and also help ensure better participation of filmmakers from around the world. And Festival Director Shankar Mohan who lauded  Bertrand Tavernier as a politically engaged, deeply committed filmmaker.

Well said.


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About Ronita Torcato

Torcato Agnela Ronita
An incomplete round-up of movie news, features & views from an independent journo & (dare I say it:-) film critic in Mumbai



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