It was a memorable day. It was the only the second time that a school management liked what we do. It was one discussion which convinced Ma’am Nalini Sengupta and Mr. Vivek Gupta at Vidya Valley Schhol in Pune, that a Film Club would be a worthwhile engagement for their students. What’s better, you ask? Their openness of thought that led them to invite parents to be part of the club too.
Expecting a bunch of inquisitive teenagers, we went over our discussion points, the movie we’d be screening and every possible question that would be thrown our way by a bunch of children stepping into their rebellious teens. We were constantly trying to figure out ways to engage with the students, because so far our experience had revealed — thanks to the vices and the virtues that define this generation — their attention spans are generally not suited to long workshops, discussions or even particularly long films. We’d be thrilled to be proved wrong, and we were, to some extent.
The group turned out to be made up of adults mostly; parents of students at Vidya Valley, some of whom had got their children along, aged between 5 and 10 years old. We were relieved and we panicked. We knew now that this was a group of genuinely interested people who had signed up for this club meeting, and who did not have to be coaxed into feeling engaged. But there needed to be an immediate rethink and improvisation of our discussion points, the questions we wanted to ask, and reorient the thought process we had been trying to employ in preparing ourselves to talk to a different age group altogether.
It is to the great credit of our audience that they led the discussion with their keen questions, sharp observations, and perceptive analysis of the movie and our own understanding of the world of cinema. They made our job so much easier simply with their expressed interest. We were most pleasantly surprised when we played the earliest films made by Lumiere Brothers, and A Trip to The Moon by Georges Melies, and the young kids sat still in their seats and gaped at the screen in wide-eyed wonder. It was such a joy to behold. We were vindicated by these reactions – there are many who believe in the power of cinema, who await quality cinema in theatres, want a healthy discussion around this medium, and that kids are equally interested in the medium. They only need initial guidance to know about the width and depth of this medium, and how the rest of the world treats it.
The above should at least make people process cinema consciously and in a healthy manner, rather than just make passive consumers out of us. Mainstream popular cinema may be considered analogous to junk food that tastes great but does nothing healthy for the physical system. It feels good to consume junk every once in a while, but to make it part of our daily diet will only cushion our brain with fat, and prone to dysfunction – think laziness, lethargy, shortness of breath, and atrophy from lack of usage. Definitely not the idea of healthy.
The Hand is Czech animator Jiri Trnka‘s last and greatest work. He used puppets and stop-motion technique to make a bold statement against state repression. The film is about a sculptor visited by a huge hand, which seeks the completion of a sculpture of itself. By rejecting the imposition, the artist is constantly pursued by the hand, ending with induced suicide and the hand officiating at his funeral. The Hand is considered a protest against the conditions imposed by the Czechoslovak communist state to artistic creation. Although the film initially had no problems with censorship (which Trnka blamed on carelessness or simple ignorance), after his death copies were confiscated and banned from public display in Czechoslovakia for two decades.
Jiri Trnka was a Czech puppet-maker, illustrator, motion-picture animator and film director. In addition to his extensive career as an illustrator, especially of children’s books, he is best known for his work in animation with puppets, which began in 1946. Most of his movies were intended for adults and many were adaptations of literary works. Because of his influence in animation, he was called “the Walt Disney of Eastern Europe”, despite the great differences between their works. He received the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustrators in 1968, recognizing his career contribution to children’s literature.
In view of the current stir at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, we share this short in solidarity with the students there.