Satwant Gill started to manage film programmes for the British Council from the early 1990's, and headed the Film Department between 2006 - 2010. During this time she has advised on and organised numerous film related events, festivals and markets worldwide, and did a five year stint as the short film programmer for the London Film Festival.
Satwant Gill © British Council. Photo by Jodie Kingzett
As a member of London's Satyajit Ray Foundation, Satwant runs their annual short film competition and has now embarked on a new venture, the London Indian Film Festival.
Your current project?
The inaugural London Indian Film Festival in July 2010 - there's so much interest in Indian cinema and culture in this country but often knowledge and access is limited to Bollywood. We're aiming to provide a platform for film makers who work outside of this system - after all, the attraction of India lies in its sheer scale, colour and diversity. As the country speeds towards being a 21st century super power, it's fitting that all her different voices should be heard.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
No specific person or incident - I think being Indian means that it's in the DNA!
What has been your career high so far?
At the risk of sounding a little trite, to have been in a position to support and encourage fledgling film makers over the years has been terrific; the British Council's short film scheme in particular has been much appreciated by film makers and festival programmers worldwide, and the roll call of film makers who've we've worked with early in their professional lives is staggering: Nick Park, Asif Kapadia, David MacKenzie, Andrea Arnold, to name but a few. As far as 'career highs' go, that's been great so far but I hope the best is yet to come.
More of a 'gloriously mad moment' rather than a 'career high' was once encountering the Italian diva Gina Lollobrigida strolling down the Croisette - well into her 70's, resplendent in scarlet stilettos, scarlet dress, scarlet pout, scarlet hair and seemingly oblivious to the wall of flash bulbs and hysterical photographers all scurrying backwards in front of her. It was all so charming, incongruous and utterly Cannes!
What was your first job in the film industry?
Some films were going to screen in New Zealand - it was all going so well: the tour was lined up, the guest presenter/filmmaker was sent out, the audience was primed - it was just a pity that the films were still sitting in London...sigh...its a long story and we needn't mull over it now. It all came right in the end but not until my finger nails were bloodied stumps; it really was the proverbial baptism by fire.
If I knew then what I know now…
It's best not to be too prescriptive with any kind of advice, however (!) young film makers would do well to remember that just because one person loves/hates their first film, not everyone else will necessarily feel the same. Also, have trust in a good editor: they're on your side.
What is your favourite British film? Why?
So many! A Matter of Life or Death because I was totally convinced that Kim Hunter and David Niven could fall in love in a matter of minutes; this has to root the rest of this divine film. My Beautiful Laundrette for being a visceral kick in the teeth for Thatcher's Britain. Local Hero because charm oozes out of every frame and the film still delivers an important and poignant environmental message. Passport to Pimlico for its sharp political commentary clothed in delightful comedy.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be? Why?
I'm old enough to remember how exhilarating the first moon landing was, so it would have been wonderful to be involved in the production of In the Shadow of the Moon - listening to those astronauts recount their experiences in space is beautiful, poetic, thrilling, profound and sad.
What’s the first film you remember seeing? What was so memorable about it?
The first cinematic image was the beginning of some Bollywood film - the opening shot was a burning flame and the heat felt intense; can't remember the rest as I started to cry and then fell asleep. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first film I recall seeing properly aged about five - glued to the screen in complete awe, followed by weeks of nightmares about scary old women and poisoned fruit!
What’s your favourite line or scene from a film?
Bette Davies in All About Eve, at a party, downing a martini and spoiling for a fight: ‘Fasten your seat belts, its going be a bumpy night’ or ‘I'll admit I may have seen better days, but I'm still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut’ - having seen that movie about a gazillion times, it still packs a punch.
An indelible scene is from Marzieh Makhmalbaf's The Day I Became a Woman when a young woman in a black chador furiously cycles on an endless road, while her husband and various other men, riding on horseback along side her, try to make her turn back. Her wordless, focused determination to reach some kind of freedom is very moving.
Favourite screen kiss? Why?
The montage of censored kisses at the end of Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso has been known to bring a little tear to my eye.
Indian cinema has had to master the art of the non-kiss for decades; often the attempts are just laughable (the actress coyly turns her head at the last moment to avoid a lip-lock) but not so with Satyajit Ray. A favourite non-kiss is in The World Of Apu - Apu agrees to marry a woman he doesn't know, to their mutual consternation. In the next shot some time has clearly passed and we see the current state of their relationship: the once shabby apartment is now more inviting, and as the couple awake her sari is entangled in his clothes. Her gentle smile as she gets up and his look of tenderness as he finds one of her hairpins on the pillow says it all really - wordless, kiss-less.
Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain? Why?
I probably have to stick with Bette Davies here too because even though she was no stranger to melodrama (slight understatement), she also convinced when being scheming (In This Our Life), chilling (The Little Foxes), shlocky (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), romantic (Now Voyager), fun (The Man Who Came to Dinner)...er, did I mention I was a bit of a fan?
Who would play you in the film about your life? Why?
My considered response is any actress of talent, intelligence and flair but I have a horrible feeling that the honest answer is someone who is taller, thinner and prettier than me!