The 47th edition of the International Film Festival of India has commenced in Goa, and has been preceded by the by-now familiar jostling over jurisdiction between the two main government agencies that handle the annual event.
The festival was relocated to Goa from Delhi in 2004, and the state was declared a permanent venue a decade later. Since then, the Directorate of Film Festivals, which is the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry department that was traditionally handled IFFI, and the state government-run Entertainment Society of Goa have divided responsibilities. Festival programming (including decisions on the opening and closing ceremonies) is DFF’s monopoly, while ESG finances and handles travel, hospitality and all other local arrangements.
The division of labour has been fraught with tension since 2004, and year upon year, negotiations over the memorandum of association signed between the Union ministry and Goa has seen the state government straining to extend its role. In 2004, a hospital annexe was converted and a football stadium pulled down to create screening venues in a short span of time. The Goa government justified the massive investment by telling its people that IFFI would eventually be handed over to the state. The promise has remained unfulfilled, including DFF’s reluctance to hand over the reins of a festival it has controlled for decades to another organisation. Every year, ESG raises its voice for an extended role in the programming, especially since it has handled sections in the past, including a centre for short films and premieres.
“We are ready to take over the running of the entire film festival, but there are several agencies involved and that will not happen yet,” ESG vice-chairperson Rajendra Talak told the media. “But we have always said we are willing.”
Apart from playing a greater role in running IFFI, ESG also wants to get involved with Film Bazaar, the National Film Development Corporation-run industry event that is takes place alongside IFFI. Film Bazaar hosts various technical laboratories and creates networking platforms for directors and festival programmers, potential distributors and sales agents. The Goa agency wants to fold Film Bazaar into IFFI. “Not just us, but many feel that Film Bazaar should be run along with IFFI, where IFFI delegates and Film Bazaar delegates can attend each other’s events,” Talak said.
On occasion, the buzz around Film Bazaar has overshadowed IFFI even though both events have very different functions. Film Bazaar is meant for the trade, while IFFI is for cineastes. One is about the creative process; the other is about the completed creation.
“I don’t think IFFI and Film Bazaar are separate, but they are different in tone and tenor,” said Vani Tripathi Tikoo, Bharatiya Janata Party politician and a steering committee member for IFFI. “A pitch and co-production market is a marketing initiative, looking at the viability of projects and where new and independent filmmakers get a chance to pitch their films. At the end of the day, it is the marketing and selling and buying of films that makes a film festival, as much as a great selection of films and the conversations and master classes that are held.”
Some filmmakers cautioned against the ESG’s proposed involvement in Film Bazaar, which has built up a solid reputation over the years for its role in boosting the international prospects of independent Indian movies, including The Lunchbox, Court, Thithi, Titli and Chauthi Koot.
“Film Bazaar is one of the better things to come out of this event,” said Goan filmmaker Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, whose NFDC-produced Konkani film Paltadcho Munis (The Man Beyond the Bridge) won the FIPRESCI award at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Paltadcho Munis was one of several films that benefitted from mentoring at Film Bazaar laboratories.
“Film Bazaar is professionally managed, runs smoothly minus the carnival atmosphere, and provides the ideal creative and energetic environment and meeting ground for film professionals to discuss their projects, and the worst thing would be if other agencies get involved,” added Shetgaonkar, who was part of a committee in 2009 that recommended changes to the I&B ministry to streamline IFFI. “Film professionals do not visit IFFI because it lacks a serious atmosphere. Six years ago, it was better managed. Now it has deteriorated and has become about garish posters, entertainment and glamour.” The opening and closing ceremonies are packed with what Shetgaonkar called “karyakartas” (party functionaries).
Like all government-controlled bodies, ESG has its share of challenges, not least the change of chairpersons with every new government. In the past five years, ESG has seen three different bosses, and is battling corruption allegations before the Lokayukta for its tendering processes for IFFI.
The number of delegates attending IFFI touched 13,000 in 2014. The organisers have tried to manage crowds and expectations. Delegate fees were hiked from Rs 300 to Rs 1,000 in 2015, bringing down the registrations to 7,000 that year. The ESG scaled down cultural events in 2015, but much of the razzmatazz remains – costing the state Rs 15 crore annually. ESG CEO Ameya Abhyankar said efforts were on to raise sponsorships and cut costs further.
The festival’s association with mainstream Indian cinema irks regional and independent filmmakers, who have traditionally seen IFFI as their platform. Shetgaonkar feels that the organisers should restrict IFFI to industry professionals rather than throwing it open to the public until it has more venues to accommodate the surging crowds. Rajendra Talak counters that it is the wholehearted involvement of Goan audiences that strengthens the state’s claim to the festival. “Half the delegates are local Goans,” he said.
The Directorate of Film Festivals has also made several changes at its end. A permanent IFFI secretariat was set up in 2011; the prize money was enhanced; master classes were increased in IFFI’s schedule. In 2013, the premieres of mainstream films were scrapped. In 2016, IFFI was scaled down to an eight-day event from 11 days.
The Goa government, meanwhile, has been promising to set up an IFFI village and a dedicated hotel and convention centre. Land for this purpose has been transferred to ESG, but with several other high-cost projects needing the attention of an already indebted state, it is unclear whether the Goa government will prioritise boosting film infrastructure.
There are many in Goa’s film fraternity who feel that ESG should focus on improving film culture within the state rather than get further involved with IFFI. “For the past five years ESG’s film finance scheme for local productions has been dormant,” complained director Dyaneshwar Govekar. The organisation has supported only 12 films since 2005, and there have been allegations that the grants were cornered by a chosen few. The Federation of Film Fraternity of Goa says the state lacks a film policy, while suggestions for a filmmaking academy that will create new talent in the region have never been taken seriously. In 2016, the Goa Film Finance Scheme was reactivated a week before IFFI’s inauguration on November 20.
“I am worried that they just don’t see the connections. The filmmaking business has to grow in Goa, the fraternity has to grow or the local connect with IFFI will be very superficial, at the level of merely watching films, getting entertained and going home,” Shetgaonkar pointed out.
Rather than concentrating power in a single body, IFFI needs to be handled by multiple agencies if it has to continue to be a success, said Tikoo. “IFFI is a great collaborative effort between DFF, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and ESG, and this triumvirate comes together to facilitate the festival in a very comprehensive way,” Tikoo said. “We have never been faced with a situation where the festival would have to be entirely held by one vertical of any of the two or three organisations involved. The collaborative part works wonderfully. So I have no idea where this conversation is coming from and how it is even being discussed.”