The Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films – MIFF for short – kicked off on Monday with slimmer pickings than in previous years. This year’s programme includes a typical mix of films in the competitive national and international sections, retrospectives and homages. The highlights include animated films from Iceland and Poland, a country focus on Bangladesh and a special screening of Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama, co-directed by renowned animator Ram Mohan.
It’s a minor miracle that MIFF, which is organised by Films Division and will run until June 4 in physical and hybrid versions, is taking place at all. The 2022 edition is the first to be held after independent departments under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry were merged into the National Film Development Corporation in March.
The shoehorning into the NFDC of Films Division, Children’s Film Society of India, National Film Archive of India and Directorate of Film Festivals (which organises the annual National Film Awards and the prestigious International Film Festival of India) means that units with specific and vastly different roles have now been herded together under a single, gigantic umbrella.
The Union government’s move was met with protests from both Films Division employees and independent filmmakers. The policy change is seen as part of the government’s relentless drive towards centralisation and concentration of power, with far too much authority vested in the hands of a few.
Concern has been raised about the overwhelming powers given to the NFDC to decide the future of activities with which it has never been previously involved, such as restoration and the commissioning of documentaries. There is also considerable anxiety over how the newly empowered the NFDC will handle the precious archives at Films Division in Mumbai and NFAI in Pune.
There’s no cause for worry, says the lone official who heads the megalith that is now the NFDC. Ravinder Bhakar was the CBFC’s Chief Executive Officer before being given additional charge of the NFDC as well as being named Director General of Films Division. “I am trying to the best of my abilities,” he said about his staggering list of responsibilities.
Bhakar has a mandate to “bring more transparency” and carry out “asset monetisation”, he told Scroll.in during an interview on Monday.
“Earlier, people were working in silos,” Bhakar said. “There was no co-ordination between departments. There was overstaffing and a duplication of processes. There was no effective utilisation of resources.”
Mini-versions will be set up of the organisations merged with the NFDC, Bhakar said. Films Division staffers are being offered voluntary retirement or new positions within the revamped organisation. “We are protecting their service conditions – they won’t lose anything and at best they may be shifted to another department,” Bhakar claimed.
The archives at Films Division and the NFAI will be protected, Bhakar promised. “In fact, accessibility will be easier than before,” he said.
The Union government has committed Rs 363 crore under the National Film Heritage Mission towards the restoration of Indian films. The government hopes to ensure that the restored films get shown at international festivals, Bhakar added.
Among the plans is to reboot Cinemas of India, the NFDC’s existing streaming platform. The film development corporation, whose roles includes production, distribution and the organisation of the annual co-production market Film Bazaar, will also take over Films Division’s slate. This means that apart from feature filmmakers, documentary filmmakers who want funds from Films Division will now have to apply to the NFDC.
“There was no symmetry between the procedures for allotting funds for productions at the NFDC and Films Division,” Bhakar said. “All applications forms need to be simplified to avoid the duplication of processes.”
Asset monetisation is also on the to-do list. “You need to sustain yourself,” Bhakar said. “We are not monetised properly in terms of revenue generation.”
At least in Mumbai, the NFDC has its own preview theatre, which was being hired for press previews of commercial films and censor board screenings. Films Division too has two state-of-the-art theatres. These can be rented out, Bhakar suggested. Mobile theatres might also be commissioned to take Films Division titles to places where screening venues may not be available, Bhakar said.
The national archive’s vast collection of film-related material, ranging from 35mm prints to posters and shooting stills, can yield non-fungible tokens, Bhakar suggested. It’s unclear if this possible, considering that the National Film Archive of India is a not-for-profit repository of Indian cinema and not the principal copyright holder.
With so much on its plate, it’s no wonder that MIFF’s programming has taken a knock. The festival was supposed to be held in January and was finally banged into shape at short notice. Despite all its problems over the years – ranging from poor organisation to censorship – MIFF is the only event of its kind where documentary filmmakers from across India meet on a single platform and watch films that are often inaccessible.
“Documentaries have a huge impact and always hold a mirror to society,” Bhakar said. “There is always scope for improvement.”