India’s North East region is the focus of India at the Cannes Film Festival and Market in 2023. In an exclusive interview, Pooja Sharma, Chairperson of the Sikkim Film Promotion Board, shares her vision for promoting Sikkim as a filming and natural tourism destination. Read on to find out more about the potential of Sikkim as a filming location and how the government is encouraging international filmmakers to explore the beauty of this unexplored state
In 2023, the North East will be the focus of India at the Cannes Film Festival and Cannes Film Market. Tell us about the emergence of North East and, in particular, Sikkim’s potential as a filming location.
The Seven Sister States and the Himalayan state of Sikkim are included in the North East. We have been awarded the opportunity to participate in the Cannes Film Festival 2023 this year by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. There are 14 of us who will be representing our respective States. Sikkim has attained a significant level of popularity both domestically and internationally as a filming location. Sikkim has been making a reputation for itself in this industry under the energetic leadership of Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Prem Singh Tamang, and our State has earned the most film-friendly State award at the 67th National Film Award.
We were named the ‘Most Film Friendly State’ in the 67th National Film Awards. This recognition has aided in laying the groundwork for films to become a vital part of Sikkim’s culture and to provide a platform for our brilliant people, particularly the youth, to demonstrate their skills in a variety of roles. We welcome international and national filmmakers who seek to shoot their films in Sikkim with generous cash and kind subsidies in accordance with our film policy
What are you hoping to achieve by courting international film producers this year at the Cannes Film Market?
We will promote the state as a filming and natural tourism destination, highlighting its 100 shooting locations. Mr Samten Bhutia and I would be dressed in traditional Sikkimese ethnic clothes to promote our state and its culture. There will be a “Sikkim Day” at the India Pavilion, during which we will distribute Sikkimese goods and Temi tea. Sikkim’s culinary joy is on display at the Cannes Film Festival. All of this is done to give a snapshot of Sikkim, and our main goal is to reach out to worldwide audiences and invite at least a few film directors and producers from around the world.
What steps are being taken by the Government to bring global filmmakers and production houses to Sikkim?
Aside from its natural beauty, Sikkim also has an appealing Subsidy scheme for filmmakers. Locals, nationals, and internationals are all welcome. We have the Sikkim Film Promotion Board, which serves as a film facilitation office. All permits are handled by the Film Section, the IPR Department, and the Film Board. As a result, many Nepalese filmmakers and production houses are turning up in Sikkim, and many Nepalese films have been shot in the state. We are now attempting to reach out to other countries as well.
What are the salient features of Sikkim Film Policy? Combined with the incentives offered by Government of India’s Film Facilitation Office, what benefits can be derived by filmmakers?
The government has a financial subsidy scheme for national and international filmmakers in Sikkim. For national filmmakers, the subsidy amount depends on the budget of the film – up to 10% for a film with a budget of up to 5 crore, up to 1 crore for a film with a budget from 5-10 crore, and more than 1 crore for a film with a budget over 10 crore. To be eligible for the subsidy, three criteria must be met: 75% of the film must be shot in Sikkim, 50% of the cast and crew must be from Sikkim, and a CBFC certificate must be produced to the Sikkim Film Board.
For international filmmakers, the same criteria apply plus an additional subsidy of up to 2.5 crore by NFDC.
The state and central government provide not only financial assistance but also facilitate single window permit clearance, liaison work, and assistance in finding shooting locations.
What are the advantages of getting a film shot in Sikkim?
Sikkim is a beautiful state with many natural landscapes, making it a great location for filmmakers. Some of the advantages of shooting a film in Sikkim include the cost-effectiveness of filming due to the abundance of natural locations that do not require sets to be built. This makes the shooting process more efficient and less expensive. Moreover, Sikkim is a relatively unexplored state, and its natural beauty is still untouched, making it perfect for the camera. The state’s scenic beauty is diverse, ranging from snow-capped mountains to lush green forests, waterfalls, and lakes. Therefore, filmmakers can choose from a variety of stunning backdrops to create their desired visual effects.
Another advantage of shooting a film in Sikkim is the subsidies and rebates provided by the government to national and international filmmakers. The subsidy is determined based on the DPR (Detailed Project Report) and is at the discretion of the government. The locals in Sikkim are friendly and accommodating, making it easier for filmmakers to work in the state.
All these advantages make Sikkim an attractive location for filmmakers.
In the 67th National Film Awards (2021), Sikkim was named the most film-friendly state. What difference has it made to the destination?
Many Indian and Nepalese filmmakers are shooting in Sikkim. Hilly locales are being used in Bengali and South Indian films. TV commercials and shows are also finding a home here. It is not just a tourist hotspot, but also a quiet getaway for many people who want respite from the monotony of city life. The destination is expanding its scope in terms of developing its own film industry.
Do you get local talent to help out domestic filmmakers?
Gangtok is fortunate to have the National School of Drama. It generates extremely talented artists all year. Sikkim has many local talents; we assist them by informing and distributing audition data, we hold seminars for film fans, and we are presently looking for ways to train technicians as well. We provide financial assistance to domestic filmmakers after the film’s release. We are attempting to incorporate documentaries and short films into the policy as well. As of now, the assistance is limited to feature films.
Do you have a redressal mechanism in place for film producers to contact when they face problem during a film shoot?
We are still a budding State in this regards. But we want to incorporate a redressal mechanism during the phase of shooting and productions (for pre and post production it’s not yet possible).
What other initiatives do you have in store for the creative industry and filmmakers to engage with the film tourism?
Sikkim is creating its own film city in Yangyang, South Sikkim, called the Eco-Heritage Film Village. It will take some time as we await central aid. Sikkim Global Film Festival 2020 had an excellent turnout, but 2021 was postponed, and we have yet to organise it this year. We are establishing a visual and graphics studio in the heart of town with the assistance of the Industries Department. Filmmakers can shoot nature, mountain city life, rural and organic life, fantastical and genuine great storylines, and shoot here that have yet to be seen by the rest of the world.
The state has excellent connectivity with the rest of India.There are numerous routes from Delhi to the region for an international film producer.
Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal is the closest airport to Sikkim, located roughly 124 kilometres from the state capital, Gangtok. Major airlines operate many daily flights from Delhi to Bagdogra. The flight from Delhi to Bagdogra takes roughly 2.5 hours.Taxis or cabs can be hired from Bagdogra to get to Gangtok.
It is important to note that Sikkim is a protected area and requires a special permit for non-Indian citizens to enter the State. Foreign producers should ensure that they obtain the necessary permits and follow all rules and regulations before traveling to Sikkim.
Sikkim has a pleasant climate throughout the year, with moderate temperatures in the lower altitude regions and sub-alpine climate in the higher altitude regions.
Monsoon season begins in June and lasts till September, bringing heavy rainfall to the region. The autumn season begins in October and lasts till November, with temperatures ranging from -5°C to 10°C. Winters, from December to March, are harsh, with temperatures dropping to as low as -20°C.
Sikkim has a rich and diverse cultural landscape, with a mix of different traditions and customs.
What is unique about Sikkim? What are the three things that one can cherish in Sikkim which is rare in other places?
Sikkim is indeed a paradise for nature lovers and offers a variety of stunning landscapes that can make for a perfect setting for filming. The state boasts of stunning valleys, snow-capped mountains, sparkling lakes, lush green forests, waterfalls, rivers, and notable biodiversity with flowers like orchids, rhododendrons, and primulas. The Khangchendzonga National Park, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and also the second highest bridge in Asia, Singshore Bridge, are located in Sikkim.
In addition to these advantages, there are several other reasons to visit Sikkim.
Some of the things that one can cherish in Sikkim are:
A walk at MG Marg: MG Marg is a popular street in Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim. It is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes and is a great place to relish local cuisines and shop for souvenirs.
Visit to Changu Lake: Changu Lake is a beautiful glacial lake located in East Sikkim. The lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is a popular tourist destination. One ca`n also enjoy a Yak ride at the lake.
Trips to North, West and South Sikkim: Sikkim is divided into six districts, each with its own unique attractions. A trip to North Sikkim can take you to Yumthang Valley, which is known for its natural hot springs and stunning landscapes. A trip to West Sikkim can take you to Pelling, which is home to the famous Pemayangtse Monastery and offers breathtaking views of Mt. Kanchendzonga. A trip to South Sikkim can take you to Temi Tea Estate, which is known for its organic tea and scenic beauty.