IFFI needs a serious rethink

The obvious trappings of Cannes, complete with lasers, CCTV screens and premieres, have begun to impinge upon IFFI's visage. But hold the applause, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2003 16:58 IST

It seems to be all coming together at long last. The Film Bazaar has grown in size and scope. The obvious external trappings of Cannes, complete with laser lights, CCTV screens, live onstage projection of ceremonial events and an emphasis on premieres, have begun to impinge upon its visage. The Asian Competition is beginning to acquire a character of its own.

But hold the applause. For the niggling question refuses to go away: has the International Film festival of India finally arrived?

Going by its last hurrah in the National Capital Region of Delhi, the event has miles to go. Let alone Cannes, Goa is still a distant dream. The coastal state, which is being tipped as IFFI's permanent venue next year on, had no representative at the opening ceremony on Thursday evening. So, is IFFI really ready to say: Goa, here we come?

The spirit of adventure that the football, feni and fun-loving people of Goa represent is still alien to IFFI's bureaucratic ethos. As one senior Information and Broadcasting Ministry bureaucrat confided in Cannes earlier this year, "the organization of a film festival requires a degree of irreverence but you cannot expect that from people who have to work within strict official parameters".

Quiet true. When an international film festival has to kowtow to the politicians of the land, autonomy is the last thing you'd expect its organizers to be armed with. So, let's face it: until IFFI sheds its bureaucratic baggage, a Cannes clone closer to our coasts will have to wait. Cannes is Cannes not because of what it has to offer the casual tourist; it has achieved its premier status because of the quality of the content it offers to a passionate lover of cinema.

Given the severe budgetary, staffing and technical constraints within which the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) operates, it is nothing short of a miracle that the annual event has kept its nose above the water for so long. But the strain has begun to show. This year's line-up of foreign films isn't quite what it should be. True, there is a six-film Lars Von Trier retrospective. But what else does the 34th IFFI have to offer?

It has a package of films under the rubric "Cinema and Literature", a Swiss selection titled "Blurring Boundaries", a couple of films directed by Francois Ozon, and a retrospective of films made by renowned French producer Marin Karmitz. But virtually none of these packages is exclusive to IFFI.

These films will travel in the next few months to the other upcoming Indian film festivals – Kolkata (Nov 10-17), Mumbai (Nov 20 to 27) and Trivandrum (December 12 to 19). While the Swiss package also heads for Chennai, the Marin Karmitz films will land in Hyderabad, Bhopal, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Pondicherry and Pune as well before flying out of India.

If so little on the IFFI bill of fare is exclusive, why would mediamen and delegates travel all the way to Goa to watch films that are anyway scheduled to be screened all over the country? Will the IFFI, then, become an event meant only for foreign visitors? It probably will.

Let's thank the Indian Panorama for that. No matter what the overall quality of the films that make the cut is, it's one section that still draws festival directors and programmers from around the world. For foreign delegates, the Panorama represents the best opportunity they can ever hope to have to sample contemporary Indian cinema.

IFFI's future also probably lies in the health of the Asian Competition - a section that seems to be gradually gathering steam. The DFF would do well to step up its efforts to sharpen the edge of the competition by making it worthwhile for Asia's best filmmakers to hold their latest films back for IFFI. That will happen only when the Asian Competition is accorded the status and prestige it deserves.

The intention is right, the direction still isn't. IFFI is in desperate need of a rethink. While the process of re-evaluation may have begun, the effects are still far from being visible. It would be too much to expect the silvery beaches of Goa to lend an instant golden sheen to a rather rusty film festival.

First Published: Oct 10, 2003 10:11 IST