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Olympics and Olympic values: A celebration on celluloid

Starting 1 October, a festival of films and acclaimed images will allow sports fans to revisit unforgettable Olympics moments

A jubilant Indian delegation after the Indian men’s hockey team won the final at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. against Pakistan
A jubilant Indian delegation after the Indian men’s hockey team won the final at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. against Pakistan (1964/Kishimoto/IOC)

As one of the most important sporting events in the world, defined by the motto Citius, Altius, Fortius-Communiter (Faster, Higher, Stronger-Together), the Olympic Games have given audiences incredible—at times jaw-dropping—moments of human spirit and sportsmanship. Who can forget Nadia Comăneci’s perfect 10 in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Usain Bolt’s world-breaking records at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, or, most recently, Neeraj Chopra taking the victory lap holding the Indian flag aloft at the Tokyo Olympics?

Now, Indian audiences can relive those moments, courtesy Olympics In Reel Life—A Festival Of Films And Photographs, presented by the Film Heritage Foundation in partnership with the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. To be held in Mumbai (1-7 October) and Delhi (7-14 October), the festival’s expertly curated programme includes a marathon screening of 33 Olympic films and 10 documentary series; an exhibition of the Olympic Museum’s internationally acclaimed photography series, titled Olympism Made Visible; and a campaign in Mumbai which spotlights Indian sportspersons at the Olympic Games. Being conducted in a tie-up with the Brihanmumbai municipal corporation (BMC), this campaign will feature photographs of Indian Olympians displayed on billboards at 25 spots across the city.

“When I approached the BMC with the idea, they were excited,” says Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, film-maker, archivist and founder director of the Film Heritage Foundation. The timing of the event couldn’t be better. As Dungarpur tells Lounge, “From 15-17 October, India will be hosting the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) session since 1983 and the Indian government has announced its intention to pitch to host the Olympics in future.”

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Explaining how it all came together, Dungarpur says: “The Olympic Museum team was familiar with the kind of work the foundation has done. They knew that we had done Reframing The Future Of Film 4 (a conversation between visual artist Tacita Dean and film-maker Christopher Nolan at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, or NCPA, Mumbai, in April 2018),” he says. Additionally, both the Film Heritage Foundation and the Olympic Museum are members of the International Federation of Film Archives (Fiaf). For Dungarpur and team, it wasn’t too hard to say yes because “the idea of showcasing the history of Olympics through films made by great auteurs like Miloš Forman and Kon Ichikawa was exciting.” 

A still from Bud Greenspan’s 16 Days Of Glory, the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, US.
A still from Bud Greenspan’s 16 Days Of Glory, the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, US. (Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland)

In-depth curation
When it came to curating the film schedule, Dungarpur and co-curator Robert Jaquier, project manager—Olympic films, Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage—had their work cut out. They had to select a strong line-up from the IOC’s exhaustive collection of archival films, which dates back to 1912, and the Olympic channel.

“Robert and I wanted to make sure that the films screened would showcase not just the history of the Olympics but also its exciting aspects. The films being screened are such humane films, they almost seem fictional, which they are not,” says Dungarpur. In his curatorial note, Jaquier writes: “The retrospective of Olympic films is the largest ever put together. It will present all the best Olympic films, from the most well-known ones to unknown gems. Taking a non-chronological approach, the films have been grouped thematically and artistically to create bridges between eras and highlight their formal qualities over time.”

Dungarpur says an underlying intention is also to showcase the “art of cinema”. “Visual art is so powerful, and, through this event, people are going to realise that there is more to film than just feature films,” he notes. Of the films scheduled for screening, Dungarpur is excited about Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, made in 1938, and Ichikawa’s 1965 film, Tokyo Olympiad. “When they asked me if I wanted to show Olympia, I said, ‘Of course!’” 

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A still from Olympia II Fest Der Schoenheit (1938), directed by Leni Riefenstahl
A still from Olympia II Fest Der Schoenheit (1938), directed by Leni Riefenstahl (Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland)

The official film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was shot by Helene ‘Leni’ Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl, one of the few women directors in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Riefenstahl was known to have tried a number of new techniques while filming Olympia, such as tracking system shots, underwater diving shots and panoramic aerial shots. Highly controversial and polarising, her films, Olympia and Triumph Des Willens are today counted as amongst the most effective propaganda films ever made.

Framing values 
The Olympism Made Visible photography exhibition, a highlight, is a global initiative conceived in 2018 by the Olympic Museum to portray the role of sport as a force for positive change and empowerment. Over the past six years, the series has seen 12 photographers, including names such as Dana Lixenberg, Lorenzo Vitturi, Alex Majoli and Max Pinckers, visit developing countries like Jordan and Cambodia to create their own visual narratives linking sports, culture and education.

The exhibition, which will be held in Mumbai and Delhi, will feature more than 80 photographs by Lixenberg, Vitturi and the Kolkata-born, London-based neurodiverse artist Poulomi Basu’s series, Champions Of Tomorrow, shot in Odisha this summer, will debut at the festival. She visited schools in Bhubaneswar to explore the impact that sport, physical activity and Olympic values education can have on school children. Participants in Mumbai can also look forward to interacting with Lixenberg and Vitturi, both of whom will be holding workshops on 3 October at the Piramal Gallery, NCPA. 

Junior hockey champions at the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar
Junior hockey champions at the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar (Poulomi Basu, IOC)

Taking Olympics to schools
In Indian schools, the “activity” of sport is limited to the PT period slotted at the end of the day. “We are taking Olympics In Reel Life to schools in Mumbai and Delhi to show kids that sports is cool,” says Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, film-maker, archivist and founder-director of the Film Heritage Foundation.

“Beyond its physical aspect, sports makes you a good human being and teaches you the importance of values such as sportsmanship and integrity. This is why we have tied up with the Brihanmumbai municipal corporation (BMC) in Mumbai and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in Delhi to ensure children from local schools come and watch the films,” Dungarpur adds. 

Olympics In Reel Life will be held at the NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai, from 1-7 October. Film screenings will be at the Little Theatre and Godrej Dance Theatre, 10am onwards. The photo exhibition will be at the Open Air Plaza. At India International Centre (IIC), 40, Max Mueller Marg, Delhi, from 7-14 October. Film screenings at the CD Deshmukh Auditorium, 10am onwards.

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