York University’s 2013 Summer Institute in Film looks at national cinemas of India and Iran

Nation, modernity and cinema is the theme of York University’s fifth annual Summer Institute in Film, launching today and running to June 13.

This Summer Institute focuses on the evolution of distinctive national traditions of cinema in India and Iran, and the complex cultural and political contexts that gave rise to them, and that they reflect and address. It looks at how national cinemas contain, repress, appropriate and negotiate with internal differences; religious communalism, cultural plurality and hybridity; diaspora and exile; and globalizing influences that render the nation as a site of continuous struggle and contradiction.

The Summer Institute in Film addresses these questions through a dozen public lectures and screenings, on campus and downtown, presented by three leading international film scholars.

The inaugural event is a talk this afternoon on Melodrama and the Indian Cinematic Form by Ira Bhaskar, professor of cinema studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her lecture, taking place at 2:30pm in York University’s Nat Taylor Cinema, N102 Ross Building, is followed by a screening at 6:30pm of the classic Indian melodrama, Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (dir. Abrar Alvi, 1962). Set in Bengal during the nascent nationalist phase of colonial India, the film illustrates the volcanic shifts that were taking place in the social and cultural milieu at the turn of the 20th century. It offers a moving portrayal of female sexuality and desire destroyed under the weight of feudalism, even as it works through the contradictions generated by the encounter between tradition and modernity.

irab__mediumIra Bhaskar

Looking back on a turbulent century, the drama Hey Ram! (dir. Kamal Hassan, 2000) brings together the contemporary political situation in India and the moment of the 1947 Partition that ended the British Raj and created the newly constituted nations of Pakistan and India. An aging Saket Ram lies on his deathbed on December 6, 1999 – the seventh anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Mosque, that led to sectarian riots between Hindus and Muslims across India, leaving thousands dead. The narrative unfolds in flashback, delineating the traumatic histories of communal violence that connect the Partition and the contemporary explosive inter-community relations between Hindus and Muslims.

Hey Ram! screens Wednesday, May 29 at 7pm at Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave. Bhaskar takes up the theme of the film in her lecture, Trauma, Memory and the Alternate Imaginaries of Belonging: Partition and Communalism in Bombay Cinema, on Thursday, May 30 at 2:30pm at Nat Taylor Cinema. Looking at the Partition’s catastrophic history of violence and dislocation, Bhaskar explores the representation of intercommunal relations in Indian cinema. She engages with the notion of melodrama as both a popular mode of depicting the horrors of sectarian conflict and a powerful mode of public mourning that enables a confrontation with the spectres that haunt history and gives voice to the desire for reparation.

Bhaskar’s participation in the Summer Institute in Film is made possible by The Shan and Jaya Chandrasekar Visiting Artist/Scholar Residency, established in the Faculty of Fine Arts by Shan Chandrasekar, president and CEO and Jaya Chandrasekar, executive vice-president of Asian Television Network International Ltd.

Mumbai-based film scholar, curator and historian Amrit Gangar, author of the seminal book Cinema. Culture. Capital. Context: India, is likewise a guest of the Chandrasekar Residency. His contributions to the Summer Institute in Film include two talks on his concept of Cinema of Prayoga, which locates the history of experimental film in India within a pre-modern tradition of innovation, celebrating a cinematographic idiom that is embedded in Indian philosophy and cultural imagination.

“As a theory of filmic practice, Cinema of Prayoga challenges the dominant forms of filmic expression in contemporary India, including the all-pervading Bollywood,” Gangar said.

amrit__mediumAmrit Gangar

Paired with his lectures, which take place at York’s Nat Taylor Cinema on Tuesday, June 4 and Wednesday, June 5 at 2:30pm, are evening screenings of Cinema of Prayoga at Cinecycle, 129 Spadina Ave. Co-presented with Pleasure Dome and the South Asian Video Arts Centre (SAVAC), the screenings feature two collections of rarely seen Indian experimental films and videos, ranging from 1913 to 2006. Gangar will give a curatorial introduction and engage in a Q&A session following each screening.

The spotlight moves to Iranian cinema in the final week of the Summer Institute, with screenings and public talks featuring Hamid Naficy, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in Communication in the Department of Radio/Telelvision/Film at Northwestern University, Illinois.

Naficy, author of the landmark four-volume A Social History of Iranian Cinema, traces the development of Iranian film over a turbulent century in two illustrated talks at Innis Town Hall.

He locates the film industry and its modes of production, narratives, aesthetics and generic forms in the intersection of deeply rooted Iranian performative and visual arts, and what was imported, adopted, adapted, translated, mistranslated and hybridized from the West. He argues that the contributions of Iranian ethno-religious minorities, and the interplay between Iranian and Islamic philosophies and aesthetics, complicated and channeled cinema in specific ways unique to Iran.

From Artisanal to Industrial Production 1897-1978 (Wednesday, June 12 at 2:30pm) looks at the emergence of artisanal cinema, followed by the establishment of national production and distribution systems encompassing three distinctive genres: documentary, popular commercial fiction film, and art house cinema.

From Revolution to Globalization 1978-2011 (Thursday, June 13 at 2:30pm) charts the destruction of the film industry during the Iranian Revolution and its subsequent rebuilding under the Islamic Republic; the ascendance of women on screen and behind the lens; the impact of video, satellite TV and the Internet; and the rise of dissident cinema, innovative directors and a vital diasporic “accented cinema” in the post-revolution era.

Naficy punctuates his lectures with presentations of two pivotal films.

A Separation / Jodai- ye Nader az Simin (dir. Asghar Farhadi, 2011), winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, screens at Innis Town Hall Tuesday, June 11 at 6pm. The film critically examines the pressure cooker of the restricted life under the Islamic Republic, and through its narrative expresses a further criticism by envisioning a better life elsewhere.

hamid__mediumHamid Naficy

“More than any other single production, this movie helped globalize the humanist Iranian cinema, particularly at a crucial time when the public diplomacy enmity between Iran and the West was at its height,” said Naficy.

The underground documentary This is Not a Film / In Film Nist (dir. Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011) is an incisive, subversive account of living and filmmaking under duress. After the 2009 presidential election, Panahi was arrested for clandestine filmmaking. Condemned to six years of house arrest and banned for 20 years from making films, he nevertheless made this audacious film about a day in his life, in his apartment – without permission, actors, sets or crew. This is Not a Film runs Wednesday, June 12 at 6:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. West.

The 2013 Summer Institute in Film: Nation, Modernity, Cinema is organized by Film Professor Brnda Longfellow and produced by the Graduate Program in Cinema and Media Studies with the support of the Norman Jewison Series in the Department of Film, York University, and with the participation of the Cinema Studies Institute and Innis College, University of Toronto.

“We’re thrilled to be hosting this year’s Summer Institute in Film on the theme of Nation/Modernity/Cinema, and grateful to our sponsors for their support in bringing such distinguished international scholars to the York University community,” said Longfellow. “This is a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves in screenings, lectures and conversations focused on two of the world’s most fascinating and crucial cinemas. We’re looking forward to lively discussions with students and with the public.”

For the full schedule and detailed information about the public talks and screenings, visit the 2013 Summer Institute in Film website. This is Not a Film is a ticketed event. Admission to all other events is free.