By Utpal Borpujari
Life begins at 40, they say. The International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which found its permanent home in Goa in 2004, is having its 40th edition this year, and surely, it is time to look back and also ahead, especially when it comes to the fact that the government has been persistently claiming that it would be made at par with the Cannes Film Festival, the world’s biggest in the business.
IFFI actually is 57 years old, since its first edition was held way back in 1952, thanks to an initiative by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, arguably the most culturally-aware political leader India has ever had. Initially, it was not an annual affair, and there were also forced gaps due to reasons like India’s wars with Pakistan and China, which explains why it has taken 17 more years to reach its 40th edition.
As the 40th IFFI begins in Goa this Monday, like every year, it will present a medley of films from the world over, spread out into a number of sections, including the coveted Competition Section for Asian, African and Latin American films. Of particular interest this year will be a section called “War & Peace” on anti-war films, which has entries like Chetan Anand’s “Haqeeqat” from India, Danis Tanovic’s “No Man’s Land” from Bosnia, Bahman Ghobadi’s “Turtles Can Fly” from Iran, Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and the iconic Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” from the United States.
Among the other attractions will be the 55 films from 45 countries in the Cinema of the World section, which includes the opening film “Wheat” from China, Mid-Fest highlighter and France’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar next year “The Prophet” by Jacques Audiard, and Spanish master Pedro Almodovar’s Penelope Cruz starrer “Broken Embraces” which will bring down the curtains on December three. In the Competition section, 13 films from the chosen three continents, along with two from the host nation – Marathi film “Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain)” by Satish Manwar and Bengali film “Angshumaner Chhobi (A Film Made by Angshuman)” by Atanu Ghosh, both debutant directors – will vie for the top honours of Golden and Silver Peacocks.
There will also be a special retrospective of NRI filmmaker Gurinder Chaddha, an innovative package of “Spoof Cinema” made in Malegaon in Maharashtra, and four NRI films as part of the Film India Worldwide – “A Shine Of Rainbows” (Canada/Ireland) by Vic Sarin “Seven Days in Slow Motion” (India/USA) by Umakanth Thurugoti, “The Firm Land” (Iran/France) by Chapour Hathighat, and “Bombay Summer” (USA) by Joseph Mathew. Sarin, incidentally is also serving as a member of the jury headed by Brazil’s Joao Batista and comprising Jean Michel Frodon from France, Sarika from India and Kemchi Okubo from Japan.
One major highlight of the festival will be a six-film retrospective on Portuguese director, the 102-year-old Manuel de Oliveira, the oldest active filmmaker in the world. Thai filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr is the other filmmaker who is being honoured through a retrospective of his films at the festival which this year will have a really special guest in the form of Sir Ben Kingsley who will hold a master class and also formally announce his mega project “Taj” that reportedly is going to star himself and Aishwarya Rai. There will also be a “Continent Focus” on Latin American cinema and “Country Focuses” on Croatia; Italy, Poland, Estonia and France. A package of digital cinema will be an added attraction.
The Entertainment Society of Goa, the Goa government’s wing that co-hosts the festival with the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) has come up with an innovative “T20 of Indian Cinema” programme to mark the 40th IFFI. The programme, which has ten leading film critics and ten young directors of the country on a panel that will create an all-time best 20 Indian films’ list, is aimed at attracting more and more people to the film festival culture through a participatory process in which anyone interested can list their Top 20 Indian films and vie for a slew of prizes.
As usual, one of the most interesting programmes at the festival will be the Indian Panorama section, comprising 26 feature and 18 non-feature films.
The Indian Premier Section will showcase a selection of eight films during The 40th International Film Festival of India, Goa 2009 from 23rd November till 3rd December 2009. Apart from this, some very fresh Indian content will be seen in the “Indian Premieres” section, which has film like “And Once Again” (English) by Amol Palekar, “Red Alert: The War Within” (Hindi) by Ananth Mahadevan, “God Lives in the Himalayas” (English/Hindi) by Sanjay Srinivas, “Shahrukh Bola Khoobsoorat Hai” (Hindi) by Makrand Deshpande, “Zagor” (Konkani) by Sangramsinh Gaikwad and “Vimukthti” (Kannada) by P Sheshadri.
Brining up the rear of the festival will be “NFAI Classics” comprising rare films stored at the National Film Archives of India, tributes to Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee for completing 50 years in the film industry (Kamal Haasan too has completed 50 years, but DFF has decided to hold a separate retrospective of him in February in Delhi since he wanted to have at least seven of his films at IFFI, as against the offer of three films each of the other three), and a package to mark the Platinum Jubilee of the Assamese film industry.
IFFI has surely come a long way, but its 40th year should give parent ministry – Information & Broadcasting – a peg to plan how to really take it forward to a bigger and better format. Over the years, IFFI has been seen to relatively lost its way in the world fora of festivals, especially when compared to aggressively-marketed festivals like Toronto, Venice, Berlin, Cannes and Pusan. The Ministry, industry observers argue, need to give DFF its required manpower – it is facing severe manpower crunch since the last few years thanks to the government’s policy of not filling up vacant posts – and more autonomy, like the Cannes festival body has. This year can be a new starting point for all this, and quite surely IFFI can work towards a firm and leading position in the world film festival map, something it deserves being one of the world’s oldest festivals.