The Mumbai International Film Festival, which kicks off today, aims not just to promote documentaries, short films and animation but to “hold a mirror” to social issues, Sanjay Jaju, Secretary for the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said at a press conference on Friday.

“Cricket and cinema occupy our mindspace when it comes to entertainment,” Jaju said at the conference in Mumbai. “This particular event [MIFF] allows us to hold a mirror in front of us and provide opportunities to look at issues that are topical, of socio-economic import and find solutions. The power of these films is not just to entertain us but to inform and inspire us to look at the kind of society we are in.”

The biennial festival’s 18th edition will be inaugurated with a cultural show and a screening of Charlie Hamilton-James’s Billy & Molly, An Otter Love Story, about the relationship between a wild otter and its rescuer.

In all, 314 titles across lengths and filmmaking styles will be screened until June 21. The V Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award will be given to acclaimed wildlife filmmaker Subbiah Nallamuthu.

The festival’s focus is on a documentary production market aimed at helping filmmakers understand the intricacies of funding, distribution and marketing. Animation is the other big theme, with a premiere of Vaibhav Kumaresh’s debut feature Return of the Jungle, master classes and a retrospective of Swiss animation director Georges Schwizgebel.

The line-up is missing several acclaimed independent documentaries, some of which are critical of the Central government’s policies. Jaju justified the selection process, saying it was “subjective” and reflects diversity, especially in terms of representing languages.

Jaju was flanked by Prithul Kumar, who is the festival’s artistic director, National Film Development Corporation Managing Director and the ministry’s Joint Secretary, as well as Smita Vats Sharma, Additional Director General of Press Information Bureau. In 2022, Films Division, which has been organising MIFF since its inception in 1990, was folded into NFDC along with other units such as the National Film Archive of India and the Children’s Film Society of India.

NFDC has become “much more focused now”, Jaju said. “All the units have come together,” he added. “We have laid out a roadmap for NFDC. Everything is NFDC now. All the roles, whether fiction or non-fiction, have become integrated. The objective is development of films.”

Among NFDC’s planned ventures is its own streaming service. At present, government-funded productions are available on Films Division’s YouTube Channel and the Cinemas of India website.

Commenting on Payal Kapadia’s recent win at the Cannes Film Festival for All We Imagine As Light, Jaju said the ministry was committed to supporting independent filmmakers in whichever way possible. “We do not want any credit” for the international acclaim garnered by filmmakers such as Kapadia, Jaju added. “We were supporting them through whatever small measure we could. So it’s their team members who deserve this congratulations.”