Shankar Mohan has been part of the Directorate of Film Festivals for 25 years, which organises the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). And he been director of IFFI for five years now, and in an email interview with Hindustan Times, on the eve of the festival, starting on November 20 in Panaji, Mohan spoke about how the prestigious annual cinematic event had evolved over the years, and how he hoped it would travel further in the years to come.
Excerpts from the interview.
HT: You have been part of IFFI for 25 years and the last five years as the director. How have you seen the festival evolve?
Shankar Mohan: Since 1952, the vision and dream of IFFI has always been to curate and showcase the most thought-provoking and exceptional films from the world over. According to me, it was a brave attempt for a country which got its independence in 1947 to begin the culture of a movie festival and celebrate the art form of cinema. When I joined the festival in 1990, there were no computers, no fax machines and also no internet. International correspondences were sent through a telex machine. For long distance calls, we used to book trunk calls and wait for the telephone exchange to connect and call us back.
For overseas calls, we needed to wait in office till very late in the night owing to time difference. There were no photocopying machines, and cyclostyle machines were instead used then. Still the team was highly motivated to pull in films from the world over. Of course, those days, we could not get many entries.
Today, the festival is one of the biggest in Asia, and for our 45th edition, beginning in a few days from now, we are expecting some 12,000 delegates with about 80 countries participating. But we still have a long way to go.
HT: Have you ever felt that there should have been greater focus on Asian cinema?
SM: IFFI started the culture of a movie festival in Asia. Our focus was always to bring in the most significant films of the world -- whether from Europe, the USA, Nordic countries, South Asia or even from India. One of the best features of IFFI has been to showcase movies from countries without any cinema industry, like, for instance, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Mauritania, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, etc.
Asia was always high on our priority, and there have always been a good number of films from the region. In fact, China will be our country focus this year and the festival will be presenting a package of fine movies from there. We have also been having a section for three years called Soul of Asia, where a selection of films captures the essence, style, life and spirit of Asia.
We are introducing this year a category called, Frames: A Window on South Asian Cinema, which will screen one outstanding movie from each of the eight SAARC nations.
HT: What about Indian cinema? Do we need to promote Indian Panorama more aggressively?
SM: The section on Indian Panorama was initiated in 1978. It was intended to show some of the finest Indian films. The Panorama section has feature and non-feature categories, and the movies are chosen very carefully by a jury of highly renowned Indian film personalities, including critics. Two movies are picked from the panorama for international competition. This year, 600 submissions were made for panorama. In the final round, 26 features and 15 non-features were chosen.
HT: As a director, have you steered the festival towards a goal that you might have dreamt of or wished for?
SM: I worked for the festival for 25 years and every year I wanted to take IFFI one step ahead from its previous edition. When I took over as director, I reintroduced the Life Time Achievement Award, and introduced world competition section (with a prize money that is one of the highest among Asian movie festivals) as well as master classes and workshops for students. A category dedicated to cinema from the north-east also happened in recent years.
These are some things which I had always wanted IFFI to have.
HT: Any major festival in the world must have the right mix of content and glamour. Has IFFI been able to achieve this?
SM: Yes, without any doubt. I can say that we have been able to achieve this. But this did not happen easily. A lot of effort went into this. Over the years, you will see that IFFI has been attracting more and more entries, and we have 80 countries in this time. And some of the finest names in international cinema -- Majid Majidi, Kim Ki Duk, Peter Chan, Michael Winterbottom, Susan Sarandon and Krzysztof Zanussi - have been at IFFI. These names may not exactly be part of the glamour world, but, then, they are the ones who would add a lot of weightage to any festival.
HT: Is there a possibility that IFFI could become the number one festival in Asia, once dreamt of by the directorate?
SM: There are infinite possibilities. IFFI has the potential to become the leading festival in Asia, and one among the top in the world. In the past six decades, we have come this far, and I am sure that we will each greater heights.
HT: What are the highlights of this year's IFFI?
SM: The 45th edition has on offer 300 films. There are retrospectives of Gulzar, Jeon Soo Il (South Korea), and Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Iran), and a poster exhibition of the movies of Poland's Krzysztof Kieslowski, among other features.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover IFFI for Hindustan Times.)