Flo Film Festival: Celebrating Storytellers

Documentary filmmakers, Bollywood celebrities, strategists, funders, broadcasters and thought leaders from around the world gathered in Mumbai from February 16 – 19 to celebrate the power of stories and storytelling. The week began with a Global Symposium on Gender in Media, hosted by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, FICCI Ladies Organization (FLO) – the Women’s Wing of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) – in partnership with Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Women and Girls Lead Global (WGLG), then segued to a three-day film festival that showcased stories on diverse themes such as child marriage, women’s empowerment, sexual abuse, girl’s education, and economic independence.

On the opening day of the festival and symposium, panel discussions on ‘Media and Social Impact’ and ‘The Art of Storytelling’ elicited impassioned viewpoints and commitments from eminent panelists. The first panel, moderated by the Representative of UN Women in India, Dr Rebecca Tavares examined the role of film and stories in changing attitude and behaviors on women’s issues. The audience welcomed Bollywood actor, Rahul Bose with thunderous applause when he said,  “Before we raise our boys, we must raise our men – that it’s ok to love, to touch, to cook.” Rahul Bose will be working with WGLG India on a Public Service Announcement encouraging men and boys in India to lead the way to a violence-free society.

At the Art of Storytelling panel, noted Indian film actress and director, Nandita Das left a room full of activists and storytellers with a statement to reflect on, “When patriarchy is subtly portrayed in films, it is even more difficult to fight against. We are made up of what we see”, hinting at the need for telling stories with a gender-sensitive lens.

The 1st annual FICCI-FLO Film Festival gave WGLG the opportunity to screen eight films from the Women of the World series. Every screening was followed by a dynamic discussion, where the audience were keen to learn about the impact our films are making on the ground. Following the screening of No Problem! Six Months with Barefoot Grandmamas, Jackie Shroff, who ruled the Hindi cinema in the 90’s as a romantic superstar, made a commitment to advocate for women’s empowerment in a discussion with audience and filmmaker, Yasmin Kidwai.

Films weren’t the only attraction at the FLO Festival. WGLG India Country Engagement Coordinator Abhishek Srivastava and his team led an interactive workshop for a crowd of budding filmmakers, media professionals, NGO workers and corporate representatives to demonstrate the way our unique three-film model is bringing about substantial changes in the lives of women and girls across the country. CEO of Yes Foundation, Prerana Langa acknowledged our work as ‘ground-breaking and inspirational, especially with men and boys’.

The entire week was infused with the spirit of the film Thelma and Louise – depicted on the screen on opening day holding hands, flying away, out of the world, completely free, conveying one unifying sentiment: revolutionary women and their powerful stories always trigger emotions of hope, perseverance and a revolution within. So let us commit to invest in such stories and storytellers.