A lock of hair all the way from Iran occupied the spotlight at the inaugural event of the 27th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in the capital on Friday.
Iranian filmmaker and women’s rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi, recipient of the festival’s Spirit of Cinema Award in this edition, had sent it as a mark of protest against the travel ban imposed by the Iranian government which prevented her from being present to receive the award in person. Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari, an IFFK jury member this year, received the award on her behalf and held up the lock of hair to a standing ovation from the audience as the IFFK opening ceremony became a political statement for the second year running.
Ms. Tsangari read out a statement from Ms. Mohammadi – “This is my hair cut short to show my sufferings. This symbolises the end of my suffering. Yesterday, the Iranian government executed 23-year-old Mohsen Shekari for being part of the anti-hijab protests. I am sending this to you because at this stage, we all need solidarity to reclaim our natural right,” ending with a chant of ‘Women, life, freedom,” which the crowd joined in.
Ms. Mohammadi, who has been vocal for women’s rights in Iran for the past several years, was active in the protests in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for not wearing hijab as per government diktats.
Earlier, in a novel inauguration ceremony, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan switched on the arc lights towards the audience to declare the festival open. He said film festivals are being used as tools for propagation of regressive ideologies, in an apparent reference to the online attacks that Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, the head of jury at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), and his fellow jury members had to face after they had called out what they thought was a “vulgar, propagandist” film as part of the official selection.
“For Kerala, cinema is unrelenting in expressing solidarity with the struggles of humanity against adversities. Anything that has to do with humanity finds a place here. Mahnaz Mohammadi, who has won the Spirit of Cinema Award, was unable to reach here due to a travel ban. It is a testimony to the power of her art which unsettles the powers that be that they had to prevent her from travelling. This is the state of affairs in any country that is built up on the idea that any race or section of the population is above the rest. Freedom means an environment in which one can live without fear. Festivals such as this should be a platform to hold up this idea,” said Mr. Vijayan.
Jonny Best, resident pianist at the British Film Institute’s Southbank theatre who will provide live music during the screening of a package of silent films at the festival, was the guest of honour. Mr. Best said he was glad to see the festival making a little space to celebrate the oldest forms of cinema which hardly get any screenings anywhere these days.
Minister for Cultural Affairs V.N. Vasavan presided over the function, while General Education Minister V. Sivankutty released the festival booklet. The event was followed by a sitar performance by Purbayan Chatterjee and the screening of the opening film Tori and Lokita directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.