The Urban Lens Film Festival this weekend looks at identity, communities, riots, the idea of home, and much more, through 35 non-fiction films from various parts of the world.

Urban living, with its fast-paced life, dislocation, migration, a commingling of people and identities, a clash of ideas, loneliness, fantastic-ness is a very inviting premise for a filmmaker.

How does cinema view our cities and its people? The Urban Lens Film Festival, in its second edition, brings a potpourri of 35 non-fiction films from India, South Africa, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Canada that look as much at the city as at a cinematic exploration and expression of it.

Among the line-up of films is Deepa Dhanraj’s evergreen documentary Kya Hua Is Shahar Ko which looks at communal riots in Hyderabad; Priya Sen’s Noon Day Dispensary, a video series from the Savda-Ghevra Resettlement that disrupts easy narratives around eviction, resettlement and city planning.

Spandan Banerjee’s To-Let is a film about moving, renting and living, and trying to understand what home means in the continuous cycle of migration and flux. Saba Dewan’s The Other Song chronicles the life of the singer Rasoolan Bai from Varanasi, women and work in the early 20th century.

Anirban Dutta’s Wasted takes a philosophical look at the idea of waste in cities, Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Printed Rainbow explores the loneliness of an old woman and her cat, and their fantastical journey.

“While curating this festival we were looking for films that are not just about the city as a physical space,” says documentary filmmaker Subasri Krishnan, who has curated the films for the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), a national education institution, which is organising the festival.

“We are interested in what the urban is producing; the fantasy and imagination of the urban. You need multiple lenses to understand a city. What kind of effects migration creates, urban economics, architecture… filmmakers have looked at the urban in various ways.”

Mumbai-based Surabhi Sharma’s Tracing Bylanes, for example, looks at what rapid urbanisation has done to one of India’s most beautifully-planned cities — Corbusier’s Chandigarh.

“I knew Chandigarh intimately only through my mother’s words. She grew up there. And I began the film with a long interview with her; how Chandigarh is critical to the person she is, and to her independence as a woman,” says Surabhi. The impressionist-abstract film looks at Chandigarh as a museum-ised city, says the director. “But a museum connotes death. What does it mean for this city? What is the moment of transgression from the architectural, physical and emotional point of view…”

The festival will also feature international films, such as Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, a docu-fantasia about his home-town Winnipeg in Canada, Heddy Honigmann’s El Olvido, a movie about a forgotten city and its people and Dear Mandela by Dara Kell and Chistopher Nizza, which documents the largest movement of the poor to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa.

A specially-curated package of films have been put together from the Films Division archive (propaganda films made by the government which were shown as ‘Film Reels’ before screening feature films in theatres).

This section, titled ‘The Visual Grammar of Nation Building’, is representative of films made in the first three decades after Independence, reflecting the aspirations of the young nation.

“The 15 films from the 1950s to the 70s are representative of how a State was recording its own history. You can see the idea of the ‘ideal citizen’ emerge,” says cinematographer-filmmaker Avijit Mukul Kishore, who has curated this section.

He gives the example of one such film called Good Manners, a 10-minute film from 1953 that advises citizens not to throw garbage, how they should sit and behave in public transport etc!

Most of the films examine the preoccupations of a young India, with an emphasis on national integration, infrastructure creation and the state’s counsel to put the nation before the self in the context of two wars – with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1971. The films look at two major turns in India’s history and politics with the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1965 and the imposition of Emergency in 1975 and the subjects of social unrest, population growth and migration in this context. It also looks at how documentaries managed to subvert state propaganda in their own way.

As part of special screenings, Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light and Rajula Shah’s Sabad Nirantar will also be screened. There is a public talk by Rohan Shivkumar on the nature of spaces within the city of Mumbai, which enable and facilitate the film industry; his talk is titled ‘Producing Images, Consuming Images – The spaces of the film industry in Mumbai’.

Urban Lens will be on from September 26 to 28 at IIHS Bangalore City Campus, Sadashivanagar. Entry to the festival is free. For festival schedule check urbanlens-2014