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IFFI scorecard: Goof-ups and good films

A film festival is all about films. Everything else is incidental. There may be room for much improvement, but IFFI is still an event worth saving.

entertainment Updated: Oct 19, 2003 14:34 IST

It was business as usual at the 34th International Film Festival of India. Everything that could go wrong did indeed go wrong. But it was no skin off anybody’s nose. The event carried on regardless as if nothing had happened.

The snafus occurred all through the festival. One film in the Indian Panorama, Rituparno Ghosh’s Shubho Muhurat, was screened before the Kolkata-based director could make it to Delhi. He landed in the National Capital roughly around the time that Shubho Muharat had completed its two-and-a-half-hour run. Someone had obviously forgotten to communicate the screening schedule to Ghosh.

The much-awaited Asian Competition film from Iran, At Five in the Afternoon, was presented hours after its young director, Samira Makhmalbaf, had checked out of the festival hotel. An Indian filmmaker, Anwar Jamal, had to do the honours during the presentation/introduction ceremony before the screening of the film.

Worse still, prior to the screening of the German entry, Hans-Christian Schmid’s Distant Lights, an announcer sashayed on to the stage, stood before the microphone and raised hopes of an appearance by the film’s director. But what she said next took everybody’s breath away. She asked with absolute non-chalance: “Is there anybody in the audience connected with the film that we are about to screen. Would he come up to the stage please?” Stunned silence greeted the query. As the lady walked off, thunderous applause accompanied her.

The go-as-you-like, do-as-you-wish spirit of IFFI 2003 never showed any signs of being dispelled. Mansion by the Lake, the latest film made by octogenarian Sri Lankan master Lester James Peries, was presented without so much as a tribute to the man who had won the first Golden Peacock at IFFI.

But nothing that happened had prepared anybody attending the 34th IFFI for the shameful, dastardly rape of a diplomat in the Siri Fort parking lot. Newspapers and magazines that had until then found no reason to devote space to the goings-on at the festival gave the incident front-page lead treatment, gloating over every little detail that the cops provided. For the media, one rape was clearly more newsworthy than 212 of the world’s best films.

But was IFFI 2003 only about goof-ups and an unfortunate case of rape? Most certainly not. For film-lovers, the ten-day festival unspooled some truly great films. Virtually all through, the festival had at least one good film a day. Sometimes the count went up to two. And when that happens, you have to admit that a film festival has served its purpose.

Marco Bellochio’s My Mother’s Smile (Italy), Wolfgang Becker’s Goodbye (Germany), Lenin, Unni Straume’s Music for Weddings & Funerals (Norway), Eva Lopez-Sanchez’s Francisca (Mexico), Francois Ozon’s 8 Women (France), Roberto Faenza’s The Soul Keeper (Italy), Per Fly’s Inheritance (Denmark), the marvellous Brazilian docu-drama Radio Favela and Ali Shah Hatami’s Gipsy, to name just a few, kept the festival on the boil.

Things did often go wrong. But what the Directorate of Film Festivals did right – it got a clutch of wonderful films -- made all the difference. A film festival is after all about films. Everything else is incidental. There may be room for much improvement, but IFFI is still certainly an event worth saving.