Like a big lunch, the 6th Auroville Film Festival ended leaving us all full, tired and with big smiles on our faces. But still, I’m not quite able to define it. Had I assisted a community festival or a film festival? Every person with whom I spoke gave me a totally different answer. They ranged from the ones locked up in the cinema for a week watching every single movie, to the ones who hadn’t seen any films at all, but spoke to me with enthusiasm about the dinners and the live music.

This year’s edition of the festival made it really challenging to answer my question. If the participation, the food, the people dancing or seated on the grass next to the stages would suggest first one answer, then those seeing so many great films from the first night to the closing awards ceremony, left me the feeling it was a film festival after all – and a really good one. 

All my life I’ve been used to film festivals being ‘closed’; festivals made and designed just for a few members of the film industry, to show each other their works. After a few years in that world, I was seeing the same old faces, again and again, festival after festival. And most of the films that were screened there were almost impossible to understand if you didn’t work in movies. Sometimes I found myself in community festivals which were extremely nice, but where the selection of events was nothing special, really. So this is probably what surprised me the most, being part of the Sixth Auroville Film Festival: seeing a whole community attending screenings of a truly high-quality selection of Films, from all over the world; where the audience was called to react to seeing a lower caste being mistreated by an upper caste in India; next to the magic of the polyphonic singing of the naga community; then to reflect on the silence that surrounds the sexually abused; to laugh, seeing a man who looses his wife at the supermarket among a sea of women all wearing burqas’; to explore female sexuality following women who are fighting to overcome misogyny and ignorance. All of a sudden, all these international hot topics were brought into this community, in one place and at one festival. New ideas, new discussions sprang up between people, ranging from politics to art for its own sake. 

While all this was happening there were films made by Aurovilians, revealing an artistically active community sharing with one another, manifesting a strong desire to grow together. 

Maybe isn’t right trying to define the AVFF, maybe it’s time to rethink what a film festival is, and what is its role in society. This week I’ve been seeing the true purpose of Art-house cinema. For a moment I lost all those fears that come from the likes of Netflix  – mass-produced films and TV from globe straddling entertainment machines –  and I saw instead a whole community reacting to art, together. And all I can think is that this culture must spread.