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All that glitters at IFFI is not Gold

E Nisha | NT BUZZ

The inaugural ceremony of the 49th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) will get underway at the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee stadium in Goa today. Over 200 films will be shown at Asia’s oldest festival, which moved permanently to Goa in 2004, giving a unique annual opportunity to film lovers to catch up with some of the best movies from the international circuit.

At the time of writing this, it is not clear who the chief guest will be for the opening; not that it matters to film buffs but it is certainly indicative of the planning – or lack thereof – that has gone into this year’s film festival. IFFI has never been famous for its punctuality or organisation, but the lack of communication and the delay in providing critical information has plumbed hitherto unfathomed depths this year.

Many delegates who turned up to collect their kits – which contains the all important festival catalogue – had to go back empty handed on the very first day of distribution. Even the schedule wasn’t made available online till afternoon, yesterday. This leaves absolutely no chance for an outstation delegate to do any kind of planning whatsoever.

If there was an agency to rate festivals, there is not an iota of doubt that IFFI would score low on almost all counts. After all, which festival in the world declares its line-up of international films just a few days before the event starts and the schedule at the very last moment?

Indifference from the organisers seems to be the order of the day and delegates get a raw deal, being treated as second class citizens. The same mistakes are repeated year after year and no one seems to care about fixing them.

IFFI was supposed to compete with some of the best film festivals in the world, but that remains a pipe dream and, as long as it is in the hands of bureaucrats, it will remain one. The Berlin Film Festival was started in 1951, just a year before IFFI; the modern day Venice Film Festival took off only in 1979, but those festivals are among the top three in the world today, along with Cannes.

For instance, Venice declared noted director Guillermo Del Toro as president of the international jury in February, for a festival that was to be held six months later, in August 2018. The organizers at IFFI have their heads buried so deep in the sand that you fear that they might pop out from the other side of the planet.

Forget its international standing, IFFI is competing and lagging behind home-grown film festivals like Mumbai, Kerala, Kolkata and Bangalore. There is Anupama Chopra at Mumbai, Bina Paul in Kerala, Vidya Shankar and his team in Bangalore – all passionate about cinema and their festivals. IFFI meanwhile is run by whichever bureaucrat is posted by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Once, they even made the CBI spokesperson the director of IFFI (it must be added, however, that he was one of the better administrators IFFI has had, but that is incidental).

There is a steering committee which boasts of names like Karan Johar and Subhash Ghai, but, it was rendered ineffective as the members hardly had even one meeting. Besides, it is unlikely that the committee will be aware of ground realities and the travails of the delegates.

Money is certainly not the issue here: the expenditure for IFFI was around `33 crores last year, while Mumbai and Kerala festival have more screens, more delegates and they spend much less than one-third of IFFI’s budget. This year, IFFI’s opening and closing ceremony will cost the exchequer `4.5 crores, while the total budget for Kerala’s film festival is `5 crores (down from `8 crores because of post-flood austerity measures). Take a deep breath and digest that.

Ironically, delegates at IFFI cannot attend the opening or closing ceremonies since that is only by invitation and they certainly aren’t invited. For whom is this money being spent then? In 2016, the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) spent `6 crores on décor, which mercifully came down to `2.5 crores last year, but it is still a lot. Surely, the delegates are not swayed by fancy designer peacocks and hanging trusses in deciding which films to watch. They would rather have the basics of the festival in place.

But it is not all gloom and doom – Goa as a venue is unparalleled and has so much to offer – none of the other cities even come close. The other festivals are held in multiplexes which are in a mall and at the end of the day, a mall is a mall. The culture, the food, the locales of Goa and the overall ambience of the Old GMC complex is as good as it can get.

Film selection wise, IFFI does manage to bring the best of international cinema and they have done that fairly consistently. (For film recommendations at IFFI this year, refer to page 4)

It is high time though the festival involves more professionals to run it; the way things have shaped in the last 14 years, this festival is going nowhere. In fact, they should rather have amateurs with passion, for there is every chance they will learn, rather than have the present dispensation run it.

Meanwhile, make the best of IFFI 2018.

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