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A peek behind the curtains… … of Asia’s oldest and India’s premier film festival

By Sachin Chatte

The 45th edition of Asia’s oldest and India’s premier film festival is all set to kick off. After it moved to Goa in 2004, this is the 11th year that the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is being held in the state.

It started with a lot of fanfare and a few controversies, most of which were overblown as it turned out, but since then it has settled down in many ways. Over the last few years it has been accepted that IFFI is here to stay and this year a formal agreement was also signed to that effect.

But, how has IFFI’s progress been over the years? Well, it has been more a case of one step forward and two steps backwards and, occasionally, the other way round. And sometimes a side-step. There are other film festivals that have caught up very fast and IFFI faces competition from MAMI despite the fact that IFFI has almost four times the budget of its Mumbai counterpart – ` 20 crores versus ` 5 crores.

It is not so much about money as it is about the money being wisely spent. In movie parlance, if it is not seen on the screen, it is a waste. With two factions, the Entertainment Society of Goa and the IFFI Secretariat at the helm of affairs, there is always a tug of war going on as to who gets a bigger slice of the pie. This turf war is futile because in the end, the victim is brand IFFI itself. For example, this year the raging debate was who will do the décor for the opening ceremony.

And it is certainly not the case that one faction is more competent or productive than the other.

It is good to see that more and more people are registering as delegates even though right now a large chunk comprises local Goans. But pray, why does the Entertainment Society of Goa keep organising IFFI roadshows every year? If you haven’t created awareness after hosting the festival for a decade, it is highly improbable that a road show will help.

What irks us the most is that the same mistakes are repeated year after year. Now it appears to be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for IFFI officials to amend their mistakes. To start with, it is natural for every festival to take pride in the films that it screens. Everyone wants to have the crème de la crème of films from around the world. But even if you have the best of films, it is important to disseminate information about them, otherwise what good is getting those films?

In what can be termed an unpardonable sin, the list of films was released just two days before the festival this year, earning IFFI the dubious distinction of being a festival that is completely out of sync. All they had to do was upload the contents on the net, but that too was an insurmountable mountain to climb. A good friend from Mumbai coming for the fest asked if there were any not-to-be-missed films in the first couple of days. With no information emerging from authorities about either the films or the schedule, all I could tell her was, “Bas, mausi, khandaan ka pata chalte hi hum aapko khabar kar denge”

The more I see the IFFI schedule, the more I am convinced that they roll a dice to decide the scheduling of films. Otherwise, how on earth can you explain a Masterclass scheduled with Satish Kaushik (with all due respect to him) in an auditorium that seats 950 while the Cannes Palm d’Or winner Winter Sleep is screened in a theatre with a capacity of 230 odd? Are these films being screened just for the record or to actually reach out to the maximum number of people? The answer is not blowing in the wind; it is in your face.

On the positive side, the line-up of films is impressive and it covers the entire gamut of world cinema. Foreign films are usually the most exciting component of IFFI and the spread is quite enticing. They have picked up known gems; a few relatively unknown but promising films are also in store. Ultimately, the festival is about films and the experience of watching them should be made as pleasant as possible. The colours of the IFFI peacock’s feathers and the texture of the red carpet are not of particular interest to film buffs.

Now that the curtains are set to rise, let’s enjoy the fiesta of films for the next ten days.

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