It seems like the end of an era for movies festivals across continents. The Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which ran its eighth edition last October, has pulled down its shutter.
The organising Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi said on Thursday in a Press Note that this step had been taken as part of a restructuring process. The priority had now shifted to greater support for local and Arab moviemakers and to attract a greater number of film productions to Abu Dhabi (capital of the United Arab Emirates).
This reason seems bewildering, given the fact that the festival was doing splendidly. It had been showcasing an exciting mix of movies from the Middle East and Africa as well as independent cinema. The cocktail of art-house and mainstream fare offered the right thrill to a varied audience, which one had been seeing at Abu Dhabi. Some insightful seminars and discussions were also part of the festival.
Last year's edition, which ran from October 23 to November 1, opened with Ali Mostafa's Emerati film, From A to B, and closed with Disney animation, Big Hero 6, with nearly 200 movies from more than 60 countries included. Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan from Russia won the festival's top prize, the Black Pearl Award.
The festival was seen as a stiff competitor to the slightly older Dubai International Film Festival, which itself drastically scaled down its operations last December. Several programmers -- including Indian actress-director Suhasini (wife of auteur Mani Ratnam) -- were dropped as part of a move to hold the event on a low key.
With Abu Dhabi closing down, only Dubai remains in the Middle East, which had two more festivals -- Gulf Film Festival and Doha Film Festival. Both wound up in recent years.
Obviously, movie festivals do not appear to hold fascination for funding agencies. In 2014, India's Reliance Entertainment withdrew its financial support for the Mumbai Film Festival. Desperate, it had to go in for crowd-funding, and Bollywood mandarins like Aamir Khan and Vidhu Vinod Chopra stepped in to bail out of the festival. Srinivasan Narayan, who was the director of the festival for many years and who was credited with great movie selections, stepped down. Anupama Chopra, film critic and wife of Vidhu Vinod, is the new director.
Shankar Mohan, who was for long part of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI, oldest in the country), and who was at its helm for a few years, retired in December after the 11-day event in November. IFFI is still to have the director's slot filled on a permanent basis.
India has seen in recent times an explosion of smaller movie festivals -- in Pune, in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai and so on. Although if you have seen one, you have seen it all -- the truth is that these newer festivals help those who might not be able to travel to Panaji for IFFI.
However, it remains to be seen how many of these festivals would remain playing.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered seven editions of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and several of Dubai's.)