The 8th edition of the Auroville Film Festival was held between January 22nd-28th, 2024, at the township’s Town Hall campus. It was the first return of the public event to its traditional site since 2020, following the hiatus of Covid-19. Decorated with the installations of local artists and alive with food and music, the campus hosted seven days of film screenings overlooking the Matrimandir.

Held since 2009, the Auroville Film Festival is a biennial event devoted to cinema, and stands as one of the highlights of Auroville’s cultural life. It aims to further the aspiration of human unity on which Auroville was founded, by connecting with people and cultures both within and beyond it.

Expressing the non-competitive spirit of Auroville and its aspiration for harmonious growth, winning filmmakers were awarded saplings ready to plant rather than trophies. Following the conclusion ceremony in which the jury’s selections were announced, the event ended on a joyful note with a lively concert by two Auroville groups – Sound Mirage and Ronny’s Band – who moved the audience to dance to classic rock and reggae anthems by artists such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and Deep Purple.

For the International category of “films that develop the theme of human unity”, the judges accorded twin Wisdom Awards to ‘Aware: Glimpses of Consciousness’ by Frauke Sandig and Eric Black and to Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. The documentaries, coming from Germany and India respectively, were noted as exploring the interconnectedness between all life forms, and the close ways in which humans are related to their environment.

Jury Awards were conferred on Elizabeth D Costa’s ‘Bangla Surf Girls’ and Anam Abbas’s ‘This Stained Dawn’, films featuring strong women struggling for emancipation and self-definition on the beaches of Bangladesh and in Pakistan’s maidans. The two films were inspiring for their depiction of the energy of a subcontinent’s youth striving for a better future.

The Cinema Paradiso Award for Human Unity went to Kaushal Oza’s ‘The Miniaturist of Junagadh’, a moody short starring unforgettable Naseeruddin Shah in an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s acclaimed novella ‘The Invisible Collection’ to a household during the time of the 1947 partition. The brooding, poetic story was noted by the jury as leaving a sense of “Nambikai” – hope or trust in Tamil – in terms of the possibility for a meaningful human connection across cultural and religious lines.

The Auroville Film Festival is noted for shining a light on life in the international township itself as well as its bioregion, which encompasses a coastal area of northern Tamil Nadu and the city of Pondicherry. In the category of “films made by Aurovilians, bioregion residents and guests of Auroville”, the Cinema Paradiso Award was given to Sugumar Shanmugam for ‘Thirai Virutham’, an in-depth exploration of the folk performing art Therukkoothu practiced in the area since time immemorial.

Serena Aurora’s short, ‘When Goupi Met the Mother Mira Alfassa (Founder of Auroville) and Found Home’, earned the Jury Award for its heartwarming portrayal of an early Aurovilian. Comfortably seated in a lotus posture, French-born Goupi resembles a smooth-headed monk who, even into old age, remains as radiant as ever. A series of old photographs serve him to reflect on the remarkable encounters which surrounded his fateful journey from France to Pondicherry in 1966.

Meanwhile, the Wisdom Award went to Michèle Decoust’s documentary, ‘The Path of the 12 Petals: Shanta, an Initiatic Journey’, for its study of an Auroville artist’s journey of self-discovery in the light of Alfassa’s teachings and budding community. The Mongbra Award was accorded to Valentina Beatriz’s dance short, Fallin’, depicting the dynamic use of the body to illustrate the experience of falling in love.

The jury also favourably noted Saumya Srivastava’s ‘Kolam’, an experimental art film revealing Auroville’s hidden beauty via slow-motion photography, and Mélusine Schellenberger’s premiere, Meat the Vegan, a student film inquiring into an alternative dietary lifestyle.

The highlight of this year’s edition has been the Question and Answer sessions conducted in the afternoons with most participating filmmakers following the screening of their submissions. The directors appreciated the possibility to interact over conference call with fellow creators across the world, delving into their inspiration and creative process.

An independent event, the Auroville Film Festival prides itself on remaining non-commercial, and Auroville looks forward to continuing this tradition in its next edition to be scheduled for early 2026.

by Daniel