The screening of the two part film OLYMPIA directed by Leni Riefenstahl in 1936 made the women in re:PLAY 1913's audience to acknowledge the power of the female gaze. How often do we see evidence of that? Riefenstahl's exquisite framing of superb bodies in action, rhythmic editing, and the surreal dance film at the close of the diving sequence makes OLYMPIA a natural for a sports and dance film festival. Since Manipur had not largely been affected by the atrocities of WWII, the students openly studied the merits of this masterpiece without fear of condoning the motivations of its producer, Hitler. Sadly, this FESTIVAL OF BEAUTY, as the second part of the film is called, had no impact on the monster, nor has there been another film on an equivalent scale that celebrates the glories of athleticism and young graceful bodies united in a peaceful purpose.

 

New York based Somi Roy founded the film festival and workshop re:PLAY three years ago at the invitation of  the Governor of Imphal, Manipur. Known for its prowess in sports and dance, Manipur theoretically has an audience ready to embrace a sports and dance film festival, the only one in the world. When he first got the invitation, Somi asked me to curate the festival as we had gotten to know each other when Joanna Ney and I showed in Dance On Camera Festival, ISHANOU, a trance inducing feature written by Somi's mother that is still the only Manipur film to have been invited to Cannes.

For the first time, my schedule allowed me to attend the festival in 2013, lead the discussions and workshop on film appreciation and criticism which opened every day with a dance class. Never having been to Asia or India, I was unsure what to expect of the audience, students, the country, facilities. A stop in Delhi had a dizzying affect so that flying into Imphal, Manipur which is surrounded by mountains was a relief and promised more green, less people, less smog, more calm. Indeed it offers more green, but as much stimulation! The festival screenings for the public were delayed to a date still to be set because a Naga guerilla assaulted a Manipuri film actress, whereas the screenings for the 100 workshop participants and the workshops continued as scheduled.

In my workshop, I was instructed by Somi to spur the growth of criticism in a culture where everyone is an artist and no one a critic. Besides exploring the various ways we could work to instigate a critical forum for the nurturing of Manipur films, we watched and discussed 5 videos made by the students: a martial arts feature, documentary short on a reformed terrorist, amusing commercial and short documentary, and a short travelogue on Andro, made on a lark.  I found this unambitious film by Nelson Elangbam so appealing, I won a trip with him to see this mountain village that makes a vodka that I found tastier than Ketel One. And I am a Ketel One fan! 

The offerings this year beside OLYMPIA included LATCHO DROM, Tony Gatlif's tale of the gypsies in 9 countries, a program of Dutch filmmaker Clara van Gool's shorts, THE LAST TIGHTROPE DANCER OF ARMENIA, MAO'S LAST DANCER, and DANCE OF DARKNESS, chosen because Somi had indicated the people of Manipur are eager to learn more about the dance from their Asian neighbors.

DANCE OF DARKNESS, shown at right, is one such poetic documentary on the Japanese art Butoh by Edin Velez created in 1989, provoked, disturbed, and intrigued the students. One woman warned that the film should not be shown, without warning families that the images could be disturbing to children.

Quite apart from the Bollywood style, and the violence of Butoh is the traditional dance of Manipur, more of a Tibetan-Burmese culture than Indian. Among my students was a dancer on her way to earn a Phd who informed me that you have to move a figure eight around your heart when you dance the traditional Manipurean dance. "That way, your dance will be graceful." 

In addition to my workshop, Iben Trino-Molenkamp and Alexandra Viets led their own workshops so that all the students joined for the screenings and fruitful discussions. Somi who knows how to sustain an atmosphere of intense investigation and awareness is to be applauded for his leadership of this fascinating festival.

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