For years, the International Film Festival of India, has had directors who knew little about cinema or, worse, were the least interested in the medium. The Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which runs the festival with the help of the Directorate of Film Festivals, has hardly cared about its appointees.
However, the choice of Shankar Mohan as festival director could not have come at a more critical period in the history of the 11-day cinematic event, held every November in Goa’s Panaji.
Mohan, who has been part of the Directorate for about two decades and has a keen sense of cinema, has made a perceptible change in this edition of the festival, though he was assigned to be the director only a few months ago.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, chairman of the jury, affirmed this during his inaugural address. Positive changes were already visible after Mohan’s appointment, he averred.
For someone like me who has covered the festival for about 25 years, the most important change this year has been in content and the list of international celebrities.
France’s Bertrand Tavernier was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, an honour that was reintroduced this year after a decade. With movies like Holy Lola, In the Electric Mist and The Princess of Montpensier to his credit, the helmer was an apt choice for the prize..
The 14-entry world competition was a good package of films from Israel, Iran, Iceland, France, Germany, Spain and so on. Iran’s A Separation, about a couple ready to split, Israel’s Restoration, dealing with a father-son rift, and Iceland’s Oranges and Sunshine on Britain’s lost children were some that engaged.
What was as impressive was the lineup of celebrities, a kind I had not seen in years. British director Michael Winterbottom came with his Trishna (a modern-day adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles set in India) and Frieda Pinto (seen in movies as varied as Trishna, Black Gold, Miral and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.). Then there were Luc Besson (whose marvellous biopic of Aung Saang Suu Kyi, The Lady, will close the Festival on December 3), and Australian director Phil Noyce, renowned for works such as Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American and Salt.
A seminar on 3D, films on soccer (because Goans love the game, and these were shown in an open-air football ground for the public) and several master classes made a heady cocktail.
Ultimately, a movie festival must have good cinema and star actors and directors. IFFI certainly managed to rope in some exciting celebrities and fare. In fact, what I noticed was that most delegates (including journalists) were not seen outside the theatres; they were mostly inside the auditoriums – an unmistakable sign of good selection.
One only hopes that Mohan is allowed to remain long enough to catapult the festival to great heights.
(The views expressed by author are personal)