URI associate professor’s experimental film to be screened at Berlin Film Festival in February

Ashish Chadha teaches in Harrington School of Communication and Media

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Ashish Chadha, an assistant professor of film/media in the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of URI.

KINGSTON, R.I., Jan. 26, 2017 — It took seven years to make, but that persistence has paid off for Ashish Chadha, a film professor at the University of Rhode Island.

Chadha’s experimental film, Aapothkalin Trikalika, or The Kali of Emergency, has been accepted by the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and will be shown to an audience of thousands in the German city in mid-February.

The 79-minute film is one of 44 works from 21 countries invited to the festival’s Forum Expanded category, which showcases avant-garde work through film, video and performances. The festival starts Feb. 9; awards will be announced Feb. 18.

Chadha, an associate professor of film/media in URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, is a cultural anthropologist and filmmaker who has been making experimental films for more than two decades.

His films are far from mainstream. The magazine Art Review calls his films “highly formal meditations on ritual, time and death…and rooted in Indian religion, philosophy and history.’’ They are “deliberately incomprehensible’’ to most viewers, yet “visually seductive.’’

A still photo from Aapothkalin Trikalika, or The Kali of Emergency, a film by Ashish Chadha. Photo by Ashish Chada.

Aapothkalin Trikalika, filmed in India, is a religious and philosophical exploration of political and social turmoil, or, as Chadha puts it, “How do the Gods and Goddesses act in the volatility of the contemporary world?’’

URI’s Office of Marketing and Communication recently talked to Chadha, who is on sabbatical in India, about his work on the big screen and in the URI classroom.

Tell us about your latest film? What is the message you’re trying to convey?

 This film is a profound political and religious commentary on the state of perpetual and perennial emergencies we live in. It is not a report; but a philosophical comment of the world we live and inhabit, which is deeply vitiated and highly divisive. For me, its selection is an important acknowledgment by the curators of the Berlin International Film Festival of not just my work, but also the state of intense despair we live in. Although filmed in India, this film has a metaphoric symbolism to a new regime of perpetual emergencies we have entered with Donald Trump as president of the United States.

 You have a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Stanford. How did you make the leap into filmmaking?

I have been making films for the past 21 years, much before I began my doctoral work at Stanford. I emerged from a lively cinephile and political culture in Calcutta, which inspired me to start making films and do political work simultaneously. The political part of me took me on a journey that ended with a doctorate in cultural anthropology, and the other part made me a filmmaker.

 The film took seven years to complete. It was shot without a script, the actors were from a local theater or non-professional, and you barely spent any money. Your persistence is amazing.

 This is not about persistence, but about a practice of the creative process. My theory of work necessitates a long gestation period for a film to be created. It is a long durée artistic process. It is not dependent on capital or market or audience. It is a process of rigor and meticulousness.

 What courses do you teach in the Harrington School of Communication and Media?

 I teach courses in film production and critical and historical studies of film as an art form.

 What can students learn by making avant-garde films?

 Experimental filmmaking is a deep and rigorous creative process, which is outside the market and capital. It teaches students to be critical, creative and independent—artistically, politically and intellectually.

 Any suggestions to budding filmmakers at URI?

 They should believe in their imagination and their ability to make films that are outside the domain of corporate entertainment-based cinema.

To view a trailer of Aapothkalin Trikalika, or The Kali of Emergency, visit: http://avikunthak.com/portfolio/aapothkalin-trikalika-the-kali-of-emergency.