Osian's fest gives top prize to Kurosawa film

NEW DELHI — Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Tokyo Sonata” was named best film last week at the Osians’ Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema.

Annemarie Jacir, a Palestinian filmmaker blocked from returning to her home and living in Jordan, scooped the special jury prize with her film “Salt of the Sea.” The pic, about a dream of returning home, also shared the Fipresci prize with Mehreen Jabbar’s “Ramchand Pakistani.” Nuri Bilge Ceylan from Turkey was named director for his pic “Three Monkeys,” which like “Tokyo Sonata” previously appeared in Cannes.

Fest, running July 10-20 was attended throughout by high-profile figures from government and international film world — notably Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, and filmmakers Ramesh Sippy, Anubhav Sinha, Ketan Mehta — as befitted an event not only feting its 10th anni, but also celebrating its increasing relevance in India.

For several years fest was plowing a lonely furrow, showcasing international arthouse cinema to upscale auds in New Delhi, which likes to think of itself as India’s cultural capital.

Now India is waking to “world cinema” thanks to the launch of specialty movie channels on TV and distributors, which have launched niche DVD labels and are experimenting with small theatrical releases.

By some estimates over 1,000 overseas arthouse and non-Hollywood commercial films, many of them library titles, have been licensed to Indian firms, mostly as channels like UTV’s World Movies and Palador stocked up.

Encouraged by that kind of response, Osians’ Cinefan this year launched a supplementary mini-fest in Mumbai, Hindi cinema’s all powerful Bollywood capital. And, having borrowed venues in Delhi like the rambling Siri Fort or the Cinematheque Francaise, fest is also looking to construct its own purpose-built home.

Such longterm planning would be unlikely to succeed were it not for the persistence of festival founder Aruna Vasudev, who has now stepped aside as festival director, and the event’s unusual financial structure. Fest is entirely backed by Neville Tuli, owner of the Osians fine-art auction house and a passionate advocate for India to do more to support its cultural industries.

Sound financial footing also allows Osians Cinefan to provide cash prizes in the manner of larger, first world fests such as Rotterdam or Cannes. Cinefan opened with a screening of Johnnie To’s “Sparrow” and closed with “Mumbai Crossing,” an anthology made by ten local directors as tribute to modern Mumbai.

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