The 29-year-old filmmaker from Karnataka, whose film, ‘Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know…’ won the La Cinef Award for Best Short Film at the Cannes, recounts his journey

Chidananda S. Naikʼs film Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know… won the Cannes La Cinef Award for Best Short film in the student category at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Naik made history for being the first student from the First Year Television course of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, to have been selected and to have won an award at the Cannes. La Cinef consisted of 18 student films, chosen out of 2,263 entries from 555 film schools around the world. The 29-year-old Mysuru doctor-turned-filmmaker made the film at the end of his one-year course.

Set in a quaint village, the 16-minute-film is based on a Kannada folk tale about an old woman who steals a rooster. As a result of her action, the sun stops rising in the village, plunging it into perpetual darkness. The absence of sunlight casts a shadow over the villagers’ lives, prompting them to embark on a desperate quest to retrieve the rooster and restore balance to their world. As the villagers grapple with the consequences of the old woman’s actions, a prophecy is invoked, sending her family into exile.

The film, shot entirely at night, uses the interplay of light and shadow to create a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, and evoke a sense of mystery and wonder. In this interview to The Federal, Naik recounts what drew him to filmmaking, how he dreamt of making Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know…, his plans for the future, and more. Excerpts:

You have made us, especially Kannadigas, proud by winning the prestigious award. How do you feel about your first film gaining global recognition?

I am a film director. My only goal is to make a good film. My heart is filled with gratitude. This win is not just mine, it belongs to everyone. We were backed by every Indian from the time we got selected, especially Karnataka as we were representing India at the global level.

Are you planning to take the film to other film festivals and competitions?

The film is produced by the FTII and it has the copyright. We made the film with tax̲payers’ money so I want this film to reach everyone. The FTII will be making all the decisions and I wonʼt be involved in any as per their rules. So, even I am eagerly waiting to find the answer for this.

Set in a quaint village, the 16-minute-film is based on a Kannada folk tale about an old woman who steals a rooster. As a result of her action, the sun stops rising in the village.

Could you walk us through the making of the film, including the story selection process and the technicians involved?

It started with me and my editor Manoj Venkatesh wanting to make a Kannada film at the FTII. While brainstorming, I came up with this Idea and after everyone decided on it, I expanded it into a full-fledged story and screenplay. It is based on folktale from Karnataka. Suraj Thakur has worked as a cinematographer and Abhishek Kadam handled the sound design.

Tell us about your experience at the Cannes Film Festival.

It is really an incredible experience and it’s where every cinephile wants to be. It was a huge honour to represent India. Witnessing the historic triumphs of Indians at Cannes was the most memorable moment. I saw history being written in front of me. What an extraordinary year it has been for India!

Tell us about your journey from Shivamogga to FTII, Pune and from there to Cannes.

I was born in Shivamogga, Karnataka, in 1995. I initially pursued a career in medicine and completed my MBBS at Mysore Medical College. However, it was the profound experiences I had with patients — witnessing both their struggles and triumphs — that sparked a deep contemplation of the human experience and ultimately led me to venture into filmmaking. Driven by my passion for cinema as an art form, I decided to pursue Direction at the FTII, Pune.

What motivated your decision to pursue filmmaking as a career?

We all are born first and then we decide how to spend the rest of the days before turning into ashes. There is no blueprint to life that will tell what to do in life. I just decided to be happy and do things that make me and people around me happy. There are no twists or turns in my life. It’s more of coming to terms with myself and finding my expression of life.

Do you plan to make commercial films?

I am open to good commercial mainstream cinema.

What is your next dream?

My dream is that everyone across the globe should watch and celebrate our films.

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