For about 11 years, Selvaggia Velo has been visiting Mumbai to find movies to screen at what is the first international fest devoted to Indian cinema - River To River Florence Film Festival. “I quite feel at home here now,” says Selvaggia, who was in the city earlier this month to finalise films for the 2011 edition of the fest that takes place in December each year.
The purpose is to show a 360 degree spectrum of India. “The films I pick have to be well directed, but they should also have the country’s essence in them,” explains Selvaggia, who has spent all these years meeting directors, watching Bollywood movies and keeping an eye out for low budget indie projects that could use a push.
“Big commercial movies need less help, but its not like we don’t screen them at all,” explains the enthusiast, who is keen on honouring Rabindranath Tagore this year. “We have had lots of retrospectives, including one on Satyajit Ray. Now I am sourcing films that have been made from Tagore’s stories and novels.”
Having observed the industry as an outsider, Selvaggia has seen Indian cinema develop. “Three years ago, films about bomb attacks were censored. Then stories about love and families became rampant,” she says. But the most significant change she has seen has been is the difference between indie and commercial films. “Earlier, they were far apart, but now even big budget movies are interesting,” she says.
But keeping the festival going has not been an easy task. With the recession having hit Europe badly, Selvaggia has been struggling. “Italy is going though a bad time. Our Prime Minister has cut 80 per cent of the funds dedicated to culture,” asserts Selvaggia. The lack of world film releases in Italy, and an indigenous industry only adds to the difficulties.
“My Name Is Khan
(2010) released only for a week in Italy. So no one knows much about Indian cinema as opposed to Germany, who is mad about Bollywood. If Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan walk the streets of Italy no one would turn around; Aishwarya Rai Bachchan… maybe,” says Selvaggia, who on her recent trip to the city was highly impressed with director-producer Vishal Bhardwaj. “For 11 years I never met him, but I bumped into him on this trip. He is so grounded and polite. I love his films.”
The festival, which thrives under the patronage of the Indian embassy in Rome, will take place from December 2 to 8 this year. The selection will go on till September.