The Lakeside Doc Film Festival recently concluded its 5th edition in Naukuchiatal at the Lakeview Resort. The festival, curated by Neelima Mathur, is a set of personal, intimate and organic screenings that lend easily to engaging discussions.
A film festival in the mountains is definitely an excuse for a vacation for those who are interested in films and we have in the past seen festivals grow both in terms of the duration as well as the audience very quickly if they are located in the hills or at beaches. The Lakeside Doc Film Festival, however, is a different story.
Conducted over a four day period at a resort located right at the bank of the Naukuchiatal Lake, this festival has remained a small, niche and condensed affair that is organised without much fanfare. If you aren’t interested in documentary films and if you aren’t keen on finding out about the festival, chances are that you would not reach it. It isn’t like any other festival where hordes of people going in the same direction would pull you along.
This small nature of the festival lends itself perfectly to having engaging screenings of some of the most excellent selections that the festival director Neelima Mathur curates. The 2017 edition of the festival presented films that talk about subjects immediately relevant to the audience. A film like Cinema Mon Amour, by Alexandru Belc, is highly relevant for not just the documentation of the decline of single screen cinema theatres, but for the humility with which it presents the people in it and brings us closer to realisation of impermanence of things in the world, however glorious they may have been at some point in time.
The Lakeside Doc Festival also appears to be a festival without a larger curatorial agenda, and while that is a great thing for the festival, it often ends up stymieing the festival for the onlookers because it becomes a personal effort to try to locate ourselves within the context of the films. If the festival aims at establishing the need for a more focused approach to documentary films in India, it should be more vocal about it and perhaps then it would ring the right bells.
The festival allows for viewing of these excellent selections, and for quieter rumination on the subjects they talk about, it is possible for one to step out and take a short walk along the lake, lost in thoughts and return in due time for the next film. For the audience, this becomes important as does the fact that due to the small number of attendees, the festival allows each individual to retain their sense of identity, and perhaps find a location for themselves within the context of the films and the larger dialogue.
Lakeside Doc also presents the film festival circuit with another interesting challenge/ambition. Due to its inherent nature it allows for exploration of works of artists like Martushka Fromeast, whose work is exceptional both in form and content. Most other festivals would find it difficult to contain her photography in predefined categories, and hence may not be able to include it in the program, but Nuptial, her work with the Roma refugee children on enabling them with pin-hole cameras to record and narrate their own histories is incredible, and the insight would be referenced by many, including myself in The Dhenuki Cinema Project. The festival deserves a special mention for that alone.
One might argue why the festival is not so well promoted so that more people could attend it, and perhaps it could be a valid argument, but that may not be a necessity for the festival. It seeks a certain kind of audience, who wish to engage further than simply looking at the screen, for instance at the round-table that takes place to close the festival. One would want people who would be willing to contribute to the dialogue and perhaps help the organisers gauge the relevance of the program and methods to better the organising. Perhaps getting more people who are interested and inclined towards the subjects is then more relevant and necessary. However, it should definitely try to get in more practitioners and aspiring filmmakers who can acquire the exposure and direction needed to step into documentary filmmaking. A parallel workshop or masterclass would come in handy for getting that attention.
The Lakeside Doc Festival is perhaps one of a kind experience for people who wish to have a deeper engagement with the medium, and therefore it calls for a more focused approach each year, lest it would wither out very soon. It is also important for the festival to promote itself locally, so as to inspire the local population to engage in documenting their lives and stories, and perhaps also to help the incoming guests find directions easily by asking someone on the way.