By Pickle  November 24, 2019

The International Film Festival of India gained a status that was on par with Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Karlovi Vary and Moscow because of the quality of its programming and freedom from bureaucratic hurdles. Even though the Festival has failed to live up to our expectations in the recent past, there is still hope that it can be restored to its past glory
By Bobby Bedi

As a student in Delhi in the 70’s I have vivid memories of the Film Festival. It was a big event and all of us hungered for tickets. Films like Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord, Milos Foreman’s “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Coppola’s “Godfather”, and Conrad Rooks’ “Siddhartha” were the class of films screened. The premiere was at Vigyan Bhawan and the festival spread over many cinemas in Connaught Place and even Archana in Greater Kailash. Special guests included Frank Capra and Satyajit Ray, who chaired the third edition. It was recognized by FIAPF, it was considered at par with Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Karlovi Vary and Moscow International Film Festivals. It was run by an autonomous body funded by the Government of India. Tickets were priceless and we used all our connections to get even one. THAT WAS THE PAST.

Today, the Festival is run by the Directorate of Film Festivals and the Director, for many years, has been a bureaucrat. Administrative skills are naturally high, but domain knowledge is negligible. This has resulted in the festival becoming a very middling event and the quality of international cinema has declined.

A nascent Bollywood that should have been a key part of the Festival has stayed away from the Festival; a loss to both. The potential of cross influence has reduced.

Somewhere around early 2002, there was a change in thinking and it was felt that the Festival no longer gained from being in Delhi or itinerant in nature. The Festival should be anchored in a single destination like Cannes, Venice, and Berlin, etc.

Yash Chopra, Manmohan Shetty, Amit Khanna and I were part of a committee that explored the possibility of Goa as a location and with an unstinting and dedicated support from the then Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, the Festival shifted to Goa. The first edition was easily of the calibre of Cannes and Venice. There was a brandnew multiplex, The Kala Academy had been restored by Mario Miranda, the promenade was full of festivity and there were party boats on the river and motorboats to ferry delegates from the Fort Aguada Hotel to the venue. Many companies hosted private events around and Hyundai gave brand-new sedans branded with the Festival logo for delegate transportation.

The attendance was fantastic and the films a cut above the previous years. The world attended it as Goa was a great holiday destination.

AGAIN, THAT WAS THE PAST. It took two years for the event to lose its lustre. The enthusiasm of a start-up, driven by a very dynamic CM, gave in to the powers of routine bureaucracy. But this time there were two bureaucracies, the Centre and the State, and often different parties in the two positions. The result was predictable.

BUT AGAIN, THAT WAS THE PAST. Let’s now look at the future. There have often been suggestions that the festival should be privatized, that the
Industry should take over. This is barking up the wrong tree. There is absolutely no doubt that art and culture needs State support. Festivals all over the world run with state support and yet retain their excellence. A festival in India needs to be world class. After all we are a gigantic film industry. Cinema is integral to Indians and I would even stretch to say that it is one of India’s binding forces. This cannot happen without State support. The method has to change. And we do not need to invent this process. It is there all over the world. We need to study the different models of successful festivals, Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Berlin or even Busan and see what works for us.

I have been attending the Cannes Film festival every year since 1994. Their quality is unmatched, and it is State supported. The difference is that it is not run by the Government. So if need want to see IFFI of the future that is as glorious or more than the past we should adapt and adopt what the best in class are doing.

My broad suggestions are:

• Get a separate body along the lines of a FICCI or CII for the entertainment sector. Let it run independently of the Government.
• The Central Government specify its objectives clearly. This could include Trade objectives, Cultural Objectives, language promotion, local cinema promotion, etc.
• Let the Goa Government clearly specify its own objectives, be it tourism or the local entertainment industry, etc.
• Let these objectives be very clearly articulated in measurable terms. Let the new body draw up budgets and propose to fund the process through grants from the Centre, State, Sponsors and Industry.

Give them a bit of time to set this up and then let their performance be measured against the clearly set objectives. If they are close to fulfilling them, let them be. Do not interfere at all and we will have a great Film Festival.


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