The Puri beach this week played host to a beach festival with a difference. There was sea, the golden sand and plenty of cinema. And people from across the country and abroad joined in with their films, photographs, plays, paintings and music. The venue was the partially buried Pink House Hotel at the Chakrateertha Road near Puri beach and the one-of-its-kind Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF).
Started in 2004 as an unusual experiment, the BYOFF has shaped well to become an important platform for low-budget, struggling filmmakers and film buffs. The best part: there are no entry forms, selection procedure, competition or jury, just films.
“It began when a group of cinema enthusiasts felt the need for an alternative space for independent filmmakers, a non-sarkari affair,” says Gurpal Singh of Chhupa Rustam fame and one of the founders of the festival, “A place where independent filmmakers could gather, show their work to each other, exchange ideas and experiences. There are a few film festivals with such opportunities, but mainly in the oppressive atmosphere of big cities and sometimes under the cloud of bureaucratic government machinery.” Though there were several people associated with beginning of the event, the festival was the brainchild of Singh and Odia filmmaker Susant Mishra.
The concept took off well and many who have screened their films in the last eight years have now become volunteers. The five-day festival, nicknamed the ‘Woodstock of Cinema’ by some, is phenomenal in its creation as young filmmakers who want to make films, not necessarily with all technicalities but even with a video camera, can screen their imagination. BYOFF is organised in collaboration with INSCREEN, a Bhubaneswar-based film society.
The festival has been vital in unearthing talents that would otherwise have remained undiscovered because of the stringent screening criterion at state-sponsored festivals. “The first film of the first BYOFF was by an eight-year-old filmmaker Kabir Aslam. His was an effortless narrative, Where Is My Brother?... And since then, there have been many discoveries and surprises,” adds Singh. But BYOFF’s open-ended policy that allows any film in any format to be screened at the two beach tents, throws up an obvious question: How does it ensure quality control? “There are bad films, but then attend any festival which has selection, and you will still see some bad films and the ratio in our festival has been the same. The advantage here is that the screenings are in the open so you don’t need to walk out! Just turn your head and look at the sea,” Singh says.
The festival has been mostly dependent on individuals for funding. “Everyone who comes contributes a bit and those who want to showcase their films also contribute. But that is not enough, so we have had many ‘Friends of BYOFF’ (people who want to see it continue) who end up giving some more. And yes, we still have some unpaid bills,” he informs.