IFFK Guide: Navigating the Kerala Film Festival

In the lines of my MAMI Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI Goa guides, here’s a a quick manual on attending and navigating the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). I’ll keep this IFFK guide short but you can add a comment if you have any questions.

IFFK was first held in 1996 and is currently managed by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy (KCA). It’s bankrolled by the Cultural Affairs machinery of Government of Kerala, so it’s kind of a big deal for the state and the country. I like to see IFFK as one of the Big Three of film festivals in India, along with MAMI MFF and IFFI.

It’s an annual cinema extravaganza where I usually go to watch films – both rare titles and mainstream premieres – with like-minded people who do not behave like barbarians. What I mean is that watching a film in a film festival is a more rewarding experience than going to the movies on a regular day. But I’m an exception here because IFFK (like all other film fests) are frequented more by cine artists who use it as a platform to network, learn, and get inspired.

The show reel of IFFK 2022

IFFK has a mix of film screenings, workshops, something called an Open Forum, and various other activities that focus on the art of cinema and not just its consumption. However, to reiterate, I attend film festivals as a mere consumer. So this IFFK guide is purely from an enthusiast’s perspective.

Where to Start With IFFK?

The first step is to decide if you want to go or not. If you’re in Trivandrum in Kerala and have the privilege to be away from work or college for a week or so, that decision may be easy to make. But if you’re in another district or way up in the north of Kerala, you’ll need to plan the logistics too. If you live outside Kerala (like me) or even India, you’ll need to plan way ahead. And also have a budget in place.

In December 2022, I spent a total of INR 16,400 during my six days at the festival. This included the festival fee, interstate train tickets, Airbnb rent, internal commute, and food.

Your decision to attend IFFK should also depend on the number of days you can attend (while being away from work or college) as well as the type of films you want to catch. I usually go for the entirety of film festivals because film screenings are scattered across the length of the festival and you may lose out on some films (or panel sessions) if you skip a few days. On the other hand, I know people who wait for the schedule to be out to see if it’s even worth attending it.

Looking at the 2023 line-up of films, I’m not too sad that I cannot go this year. The curation seems ordinary even after all the brouhaha in 2022.

IFFK film schedule is usually out only a week ahead of the festival, which makes things difficult. However, if this is your first time, I highly recommend going blind. Attending a film festival can be one of the most pleasurable experiences for any cinephile.

Register for IFFK

The next step is to register for the International Film Festival of Kerala to acquire a pass. Strangely, I couldn’t find a direct link to the registration portal on the official IFFK website. If you’re yet to register, here’s how:

  1. Go to https://registration.iffk.in/.
  2. Enter the requested details and proceed.

Then use the login credentials to enter the IFFK portal and select your pass type. In 2023, IFFK has the following pass types:

  • Delegate
  • Student
  • Film and TV Professional
  • Media
  • Film Society Activists
  • Film Associates

I usually go for Media or Delegate pass, both of which cost the same (INR 1,180). I believe Student pass has a subsidized price.

Note – IFFK passes usually sell out quick, so I recommend registering as soon as the portal opens. In 2023, the registration opened in the third week of November, roughly three weeks before the start of the festival. As of 7 December 2023, Delegate passes were sold out.

Once you register and pay, you’ll receive a confirmation and approval message from KCA. In 2022, I had to remind them to approve my Media pass by emailing to helpdesk@iffk.in.

Collect Your IFFK Pass

After successful registration, the next step is to collect your IFFK pass from the chief venue, Tagore Theatre. Simply walk to the venue, show one of your government-issued IDs and collect your pass. Do it a day before the festival begins. You’ll also get a festival kit that will include:

  • Tote bag
  • IFFK catalogue
  • Festival schedule

The schedule is the most important part of the festival kit, after the pass. It’ll help you plan your festival days, so always keep it in your person even if you decide to not lug around the heavy catalogue.

IFFK festival bag and kit
IFFK festival kit for 2022

Book Films or Sessions

Your pass is your ticket to all the films, sessions, and workshops. However, you can book a maximum of four films or sessions per day. If you wish to and believe that you can manage to watch more, you can do so offline. For example, if you have booked all four films for a day and one of the films ends sooner than you thought or you walked out of it, you can simply walk in to another show that is running empty. You don’t have to reserve a seat as long as there are empty seats for that show.

Note – It’s not clear if you can reserve a seat offline. IFFI and MAMI usually have that option.

How to Book Films at IFFK?

You can book a film or session through the IFFK app or the portal through which you registered. I recommend the app (even though it’s poorly rated and only available for Android). However, if you feel you’ll get a faster internet on your laptop, use the website. An advantage with the website is that you can use the search/find function to quickly find your films and reserve. In the app, you have to scroll up and down to find your films, which means wasting precious time.

Bookings open a day prior at about 8 AM[1]I suggest confirming the time with the IFFK management as I’m not sure.. So, if you want to book films for Dec 8, you’ll need to be ready by 7.55 AM on Nov 7 with your phone or laptop.

I’m stressing on optimizing the reservation process because films get booked out very fast, sometimes within a minute or two. This is more true for popular titles. In 2020, I missed out on Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Churuli (2021) because I logged in at 8.:01 AM. But I was lucky in 2022 for the director’s Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (2022).

Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam queue at IFFK
This is the long queue for Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam in 2022

Not all seats for a screening are available to book online. Some are earmarked for offline booking, walk-in, media, and crew. The bifurcation is not public. If you miss out on booking a film, your next best option is to go to its venue and try to book offline or queue up outside the hall.

In 2022, although I got a booking for that Mammootty film, I was able to occupy a seat in the last row of balcony at Tagore Theatre. Reason? People had been queuing up for the 3 PM show from nine in the morning and I reached the venue at 1.30 PM. It was total chaos. I would have rather watched the film on Netflix the following month.

IFFK Guide: Planning Your Fest Schedule

In 2023, IFFK will happen in ten venues across Trivandrum. Knowing your way to these venues and the distance between them is critical. There are several approaches to planning your film festival days.

Approach 1

I usually start by scanning the entire schedule and marking the must-watch films for all days. To do this, I first prepare a watchlist on IMDb (samples: 2022, 2021). Next I pick one must-watch film for a day (from my watchlist) and then plan my day around its venue. So, if I have a 2 PM show at Kairali Theatre, I will ideally try to plan all films in that theatre or also include a nearby venue which is less than a kilometre away. That way I can walk between the venues and not miss out on my booked shows.

Sometimes this may not be possible, so you’ll need to look at transport options as well. Buses, rickshaws, and Uber are the only available options if you don’t own or rent a vehicle. In 2022, IFFK ran shuttle buses between venues but their timings may not always match with your chosen screenings.

I recommend pinning all the venues on your preferred maps app for easy navigation.

If you use this approach, you’ll be well-versed with the roads to the venues by the fourth day.

Approach 2

Pick a theatre that you’re most comfortable visiting and watch only those films that are screened there. At 2023 MAMI MFF, I saw a lot of people doing this to avoid the commute between venues, which is a herculean task in Mumbai during peak hours.

This approach works for people who don’t wish to travel between shows and want to have a laidback, non-stressful IFFK experience. You can pick different venues for different days based on the IFFK schedule.

Nishagandhi (2,500) and Tagore Theatre (1,000+) have the highest seating capacities, which means better reservation chances. Aries Plex SL halls have the lowest. Factor these in while planning.

Approach 3

Rent a scooter or a motorbike and pick films that you really want to watch regardless of the venue. This is a daredevil approach and you’ll need to acknowledge Trivandrum traffic to pull this off. The odds of success are 3:2.

The Bra film
The Bra was one of the funniest silent films I saw at IFFK 2022

Whatever approach you take, I can assure you that you’ll not be able to watch all the films that you originally wanted. This is because of schedule overlaps, different running times, festival fatigue, and cancellations. In such situations, you should give in to serendipity and catch a show or session that suddenly seems interesting. I have watched some really good films this way, including the amazing Netflix animation I Lost My Body (2019).

Having said that, IFFK has an amazing feature in its schedule. In 2022, its schedule had small elliptical circles for each film screening that highlighted the number of times a film will be screened during the festival. So, if a film has three circles, you know it will be screened thrice on different days. After each of those screenings, the circle will be blacked out. This is very helpful for planning your days and also finding out those rare films that will only be screened once.

My plan for Day 4 of IFFK 2022

A great example is of a horror film, Satan’s Slaves: Communion (see above), that I watched at Nishagandhi in 2022. It was the only screening of that film, scheduled as a midnight show, and it ended up being my best experience that edition. If you ever see a horror film scheduled in Nishagandhi, leave everything else and go watch it.

What to Expect at IFFK?

I wouldn’t say you can expect complete chaos but there will be good crowds in all venues. In 2022, I got slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people gathered at Tagore Theatre, especially when actor Mukesh turned up. Maybe it was his andazz (self-respect) that attracted many.

Try to arrive an hour before the start of your show to ensure you get the best seat. For popular films, make that two hours. For hyped-up films, make that half a day maybe. In the recently concluded 2023 MAMI MFF, queues for the screenings of Anatomy of a Fall, Fallen Leaves, Perfect Days, Agra, and Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person were the longest.

Audience at IFFK
Long queues are a reality at any film festival including IFFK

For all screenings, some seats will be earmarked for guests and VIPs. It’s best to avoid arguing with the ushers regarding reserved seats and just pick a seat that’s empty. Avoid crowds as much as you can because I sensed stampede-like situations in Tagore Theatre and Aries Plex SL in 2022.

The festival crowd will always be jubilant and vibrant. But during screenings, most of them follow theatre etiquette. I recommend lowering your phone’s brightness and switching to silent mode for the entirety of your IFFK days. This is to avoid getting patted down by a stranger. Or worse, shooed away by almost everyone in the hall.

There won’t be any time to eat or pee so grab the chance when you get it. A usual IFFK day would look like this:

  • 10 AM to 12 PM
  • 12:45 PM to 2:30 PM
  • 4 PM to 6:30 PM
  • 7:30 PM to 9:10 PM

The intervening hours seem enough to grab a bite but let me remind you that after every show, you’ll need to walk out of the hall and immediately queue up for the next screening. It’s easier said than done, and even worse if you take the daredevil approach. And in most cases, you’ll end up with an empty stomach.

Irregular eating times are a given, but some days you may also have to skip breakfast. Lunchtime is not a word in any film festival goer’s dictionary. Dinner is possible if you’re a late eater like me.

Lights at IFFK
IFFK has often a lively atmosphere with vivid lights and deocrations

In any case, I recommend smuggling energy bars (like Snickers or Yoga Bars) in your bag as emergency contraband. If you somehow do not get a chance to grab a motta puff (egg puff) and tea outside Nishagandhi, you will still have the power of peanuts and chocolate. It may seem like nothing but will you believe me if I told you that Snickers saved my life during IFFI 2022?

In 2022, IFFK had stalls outside Tagore Theatre selling everything from t-shirts to pastries. Check them out if you get to between shows.

Spotting Cinema Artists

A lot of cinema artists that you recognize from films that you now cannot name will be around at IFFK venues. Heck, you may even see them standing in front of you in a queue. The way I saw actor Irshad standing in a queue to the washroom where he cracked an obvious joke.

Although I have stopped reaching out to actors for a quick appreciation or selfie, I’d suggest you to go and say hi, especially if they’re alone and not doing anything. As I’m told, unpopular artists love it when strangers recognize them. I still regret not saying hi to actress Athmeeya Rajan when I saw her in a Mumbai-bound flight in Kochi.

Things to Carry

  • IFFK pass and schedule
  • Steel water bottle
  • 4-5 energy bars
  • Jacket (for air-conditioned auditoriums)
  • Sunglasses and cap
  • Lip balm
  • Credit cards and some cash
  • Smartphone
  • Face mask

Tips for Outstation Folks

  • Get an Airbnb or a hotel near one of the venues and use Approach 2 (see above). Thampanoor is a good location as most venues are within a five kilometre radius.
  • Use Uber Auto instead of regular auto.
  • If you see yourself walking late at night, find and carry a stick to fend off street dogs. I’m telling this from experience.

Film Recommendations for IFFK 2023

Based on the IFFK 2023 schedule (pdf), here are a few films I recommend:

  • Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World
  • Follower (director is a friend’s partner)
  • Fallen Leaves
  • Agra
  • Family (director is an acquaintance)
  • Paradise
  • B 32 to 44
  • Footprints on Water
  • Aattam (must watch)
  • The Monk and the Gun (hyped up at MAMI MFF)
  • Perfect Days
  • Afire
  • The Exorcist (midnight screening at Nishagandhi; do not miss)
  • Invisible Windows
  • Ramji Rao Speaking (oh, boy)
  • The Core

Note – The opening ceremony and film doesn’t require registration and has free walk-in at Nishagandhi. The same applies to the closing film (if there is one).

IFFK 2022 at Nishagandhi auditorium
People watching Satan’s Slaves 2 at Nishagandhi auditorium at 2022 IFFK / IFFK

The 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) will commence 8 December 2023 and culminate 15 December 2023 in Trivandrum, Kerala.


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