As Martin Scorsese left the podium, the crowd cheered with a glittering roar. This was not a roar for Scorsese himself but rather for the tribute he paid to the great Indian filmmaking legend Satyajit Ray.
A black-tie gala at the Freer Gallery of Art was held Feb. 27 to celebrate the beginning of a two-month-long film festival honoring 35 of Ray’s film works.
Ray is acclaimed as an international filmmaking legend, accredited with single-handedly sparking the creation of art film in India. Today his works are viewed as essential facets to film history.
Scorsese’s appearance was prompted when he heard of the festival to praise one of his inspirations. In his speech Scorsese attributed much of his success to the filmmaking master.
“Film is an art that can bring cultural awakenings and new waves of life to people who have never seen such cultures before,” Scorsese said. “I remember going to see my first Ray film in (New York) at 15 and witnessing a whole new world presented visually before my eyes. Without a doubt in Ray’s films the line between poetry and cinema, dissolved.”
Scorsese said in an interview after his speech that Ray’s attempt to portray Indian culture provided valuable input for his own career.
“I could appreciate Ray’s work within my own struggles to truly represent the Sicilian heritage which I grew up in,” he said.
Scorsese spoke of the distinct value and artistry of Ray’s films.
“His characters were both distinct and tragic, portraying issues which were still unfolding historically around him,” he said. “His work is something that I personally cannot wait to show my own daughter, once she is old enough to understand them. In the end I believe that such work must be preserved, so that the children of the future can see what Ray was visually able to represent.”
For many film buffs Ray’s legacy is familiar. He wrote his own screenplays – many based on his own published stories – storyboarded every scene by hand, shot and edited all footage and composed his own musical scores.
Satyajit Ray was the true film auteur. When asked why he worked so hard, he was someone who would reply, “because I love it.”
Ray prided himself on mastering several genres. His films touched on many issues, mostly using familiar superlatives to describe human dilemmas. But while his films were deep in their humanism, they rarely spoke to his personal life. To his contemporaries he was a man of great talent and brilliance whose sense of humbled being was not superficial.
Ray died in 1992 shortly after receiving an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. His legacy is showcased at this year’s film festival in an exhibition called “The Complete Satyajit Ray: Cinema through the Inner Eye.” The festival runs from March 1 to April 28, and most screenings take place at the Freer Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of Art.