Do you like experimenting with Cinema? Join The Experimenta Film Society


"Cinema isn't materials. It's refined, imaginative seeing ... darkness made visible. It existed long before modern devices, since the first opening of the first animal eyelid ... scene one, take one.” Is how the concept was defined by an experimental film-maker of the west. But the question is - is India willing to break through from the run-of-the-mill cinema and have its own set of try outs?Experimenta Film Society, say yes. In conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for, founder and filmmaker Shai Heredia tells us about how she chooses to trespass the less travelled roads of Indian cinema and take it through an experimental “paradigm-shift”!

If someone asked you to define the Experimenta Film Society in a nutshell, what would you say?

The Experimenta Film Society is a unique artist run platform that encourages uncompromising, fresh, compelling and critically urgent experimentation with the moving image in India. Since its inception in 2003 this groundbreaking platform has over the years played a significant role in creating a community of filmmakers and artists interested in countering the domination of the mainstream Indian film and art industry.

Besides curating the critically acclaimed bi-annual festival Experimenta, the festival for moving image art in India, we have also showcased Indian experimental film and video at international film festivals and art venues. While bringing Indian moving image art into international prominence, we have also hosted International artists residencies in Mumbai and Bangalore, curated regular screenings and conducted film art workshops across India.

So how exactly is Experimenta countering the hegemony of the mainstream Indian film industry?

Through nurturing an alternative community that reflects upon, and examines the different traces of Indian artists’ film and video, both historical and contemporary, we engage in a series of projects that bring together Indian and international film artists with similar creative and socio-political concerns. As a strong community spread across the country, we have played a significant role in evolving independent, new and radical spaces, contexts and discourse for film as an art practice in India. Also, many emerging artist filmmakers, who are not interested in participating in the industry game, have been able to share and promote their own filmic artistic expressions through connecting with the Experimenta community.

How is the acceptance of this concept in India? How has been the response thus far?

The response has been fantastic!!! People are extremely excited and interested in seeing non- mainstream experiments with film and video. Our festival and screening audiences are always very engaged with the work shown and very supportive of the special space and community that this festival has created. Over the years, Experimenta has developed an international reputation of being India’s most cutting-edge independent, non government run film festival, and this reputation is owed largely to the support of both the film and artist communities who understand the cultural value of initiatives such as this.

Where are you based? Could you tell us a little about your future festivals?

We are based in Bangalore and Mumbai. The next Experimenta festival will take place from Nov 30 - Dec 4 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore. We plan to travel the festival to Delhi and Chennai in 2012. We will also be hosting international residencies with organisations in the UK, Canada and Europe. We are partnering with a major distribution house for artist film and video in London towards distributing Indian experimental film and video internationally. This distribution platform will be extremely unique as it will promote Indian moving image art work in the gallery, museum and cinema context as well.

Could you tell us a little more about your international tie-ups?

We work with many international organisations. Some of these are the LUX London – a distributor of artists film and video in London,, London – a film arts lab and artist run initiative and Images Festival – a major experimental film festival in Canada.

How big is your team?

My team is, infact, very small and I am always looking at hiring. Most people work part time for very nominal sums of money, just for the love of the arts and for a larger commitment to our cause.

What were the challenges you faced while starting up?

Starting Experimenta has been extremely difficult as this was a context of work that has always been ahead of its time, in that it is interested in celebrating non-conventional and radical non-narrative film and video. The mainstream art and film community were never convinced by it – as, in an Indian context in which narrative storytelling is the only form of film making, non-narrative and abstract film and video was just unheard of and considered an outrageous indulgence. It is difficult for people to understand any experimental art context as there are no clear tangible outcomes, and it really is a space of R&D so to speak. So, it’s only once you have proved yourself by taking the risk alone, that people begin to take you seriously. But while taking this risk, there is a lot of heartache as you have to do this with only a handful of people who believe and support you. It takes time to get the respect you deserve when you are doing something that shakes up the establishment and pushes people to see the world and think in new and unconventional ways.

Did you fundraise to startup?

Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to raise substantial funds to run unique, niche and cutting edge arts projects like Experimenta. In the past, we have always raised corporate sponsorship for the festival, and applied for arts grants to run our residency programmes, workshops and distribution network. However, we are now keen to get more focussed and committed long term support from visionary foundations and entrepreneurs who understand arts philanthropy and the future implications of an avant garde enterprise such as ours.

Any notable accolades for Experimenta that you’d like to tell us?

Experimenta has traveled and showcased Indian experimental films at prestigious art venues like the Tate Modern (London), the Berlinale Film festival (Berlin), Images festival (Toronto), EXiS festival (Seoul) amongst several others.Many award-winning filmmakers have first screened their works at Experimenta.

Are there similar market players in the country? What are your differentiators?

Well there are many film societies and film festivals and each has their own character. And Experimenta has its own specific identity - and quirks too. I do think however that it was the first independent, non government, film festival in the country. Internationally, there are many spaces that support experimental film and video – and they are a part of the extended Experimenta community.

Our USP is – we go where no woman or man has ever gone before!

What is the most crucial element in your line of business? Any vital tips you could give to budding film-makers?

Making art is all about madness!

Where do you see experimental cinema and Experimenta in the next 5 years?

I see Experimenta doing the same things it is doing now, just with a more secure bank balance. We will not succumb to the pressures of scaling up as most organisations seem to feel the need to do, and will focus on quality rather than quantity. Experimenta needs all the support it can get from likeminded visionary thinkers from various fields and disciplines. My hope is that by 2012 we have a group of committed patrons and supporters who understand experimental cinema, and respect the endeavour of Experimenta and the impact it can and will make to future generations of artists and filmmakers in the country, and internationally.

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This article is a part of the British Council’s YCE Series. To know more about the Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Awards, click here. Follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards (YCE) on Facebook


- Abhilasha Dafria