Organisational one-upmanship between DFF and ESG notwithstanding, IFFI has managed to attract some good cinema this year, writes Utpal Borpujari
If even 56 years after it was born and despite having rated an ‘A-category’ festival at per with Cannes, Berlin and Venice festivals by the Federation International de Producers de Films (FIAFP), the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is still struggling to find a firm footing, it is all thanks to the lack of a clear-sighted vision of its organisers, the government.
The 39th IFFI, beginning on November 22 in Goa, which was made its permanent venue in 2004, comes with much-enhanced prize money and a fairly good crop of international cinema, including a few definite gems. But the behind-the-scene tussle between the co-organisers, the Central Government’s Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) and the state government-backed Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), like in previous years might have prevented it from becoming better.
In 2004, when the then NDA government decided to move the festival permanently to Goa, the stated idea was to develop IFFI as “India’s Cannes”. The premise itself was faulty as instead of copying the world’s biggest film festival that runs on a well-oiled organisational machinery that comprises experts in the field, the idea should have been to develop a festival with its own identity distinct enough to attract filmmakers pulled by the clutter of festivals happening around the same time elsewhere.
Every year since 2004, DFF and ESG have been fighting a running battle of one-upmanship, the former not ready to give up on its brand built assiduously since 1952, when the first IFFI was held in Mumbai, and the latter seeking to gain full control over it citing the original mandate that ESG will gradually take full organisational responsibility of the festival.
With a senior official of the DFF recently having taken over as its CEO, ESG has adopted an aggressive mode in trying to take full control of IFFI. This year too, the signing of the yearly MoU to organise the festival between ESG and DFF got delayed over issues of control. The conflict had assumed such proportions at one time before the MoU was finally signed that reports in the media said ESG was seriously planning to organise its own film festival from this year and had even sounded out the film industry in Mumbai for support. Finally, ESG settled this time for a stake that is better than last time.
On the other hand, in a peculiar decision, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry decided to suddenly shift the incumbent director of DFF, leading to a situation when just about two months before the IFFI was scheduled to start, DFF was saddled with a bunch of new officials who would have ideally preferred to have some more time to get accustomed to the business of organising film festivals which is quite different from routine file-pushing jobs.
Luckily, despite all this, IFFI has somehow managed to keep its head above water, even while several other film festivals across India – Kerala, Kolkata, MAMI and 3rd Eye in Mumbai, Osian’s-Cinefan in Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai – are expanding in scope and size. Though it has long before lost its pre-eminent status of the 1970s when stalwarts of world cinema would regularly attend the festival, it is still the festival that attracts some interesting cinema in both international and Indian sections.
This year too, it will not be any different. With the prize money for the Golden Peacock (Best Film) and the Silver Peacocks (for the Second Best Film and Most Promising filmmaker) in the competition category having been enhanced from Rs ten to 40 lakh and Rs five to 15 lakh respectively, the festival this time has sought to improve its profile.
While a number of acclaimed films are lined up for screening during the ten-day festival, it has some glaring omissions too. For example, the Asian-African-Latin American Competition section, does not have a single entry from the African continent. Then, the Indian Premieres section, comprising seven films, finds no mention in the official festival catalogues.
On the positive side, the package this time is definitely impressive, with a number of entries for the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar to be screened as part of the Cinema of the World and Competition sections. Films by prominent filmmakers like Majid Majidi of Iran (The Song of Sparrows – closing film), Peter Chan (Warlords – opening film), Clint Eastwood (Changeling), Ang Lee (Lust, Caution), Fernando Meirelles (Blindness), Wayne Wang (Princess of Nebraska) are sure to be the biggest draws in the festival. The Indian Panorama section, like every year, will present a collection of the country’s best feature and non-feature films – including Priyadarshan’s sensitive Kanchivaram (Tamil) and Laxman More Mahasatta (Marathi), a look at impact of market forces on labour, that are India’s entries in the competition. There are country focus sections on Iran, Switzerland and Russia and retrospectives on Wong Kar Wai, John Landis and Aki Kaurismaki, apart from tributes to film personalities like Bimal Roy, L V Prasad, Devika Rani, Vijay Tendulkar, G P Sippy, B R Chopra, Raghuvaran, Jaishri Gadkar, Mahendra Kapoor, Jeeva and Nabendu Ghosh. There will also be a special retrospective to commemorate Kannada cinema’s 75th anniversary. Another interesting section is Film India Worldwide which comprises five films made by filmmakers / production houses based abroad and with an India connection.
ESG is also starting from this year an interesting section to give a platform specifically to short films. Called the Short Film Center and modelled on a similar effort at the market section of Cannes, the section, officially not part of IFFI but coinciding with it, has attracted over 300 entries, out of which 20 will compete for prizes in the international competition and ten for the domestic competition.