The politics of IFFI

By Laxmikant Shetgaonkar
03 June 2012 23:35 IST

DIRECTOR IFFI has resigned from his post. Yes, you could sense air of upcoming election 2013. Once again cinema has become a battle ground for politicians to rock and roll.  

International Film Festival of India (IFFI), a 40-year old film festival, has lost its glory over the years. So much so that it doesn’t even attract ten-second news in any of the news channels or a small news item in national-level print media. In its earlier avatar, it was conducted by Government officers, who are transferred from one department to another, leaving no scope for continuity in organizing the event.  Things like celebrity presence can be made possible through year-long networking and relationships.

The ministry of information woke up to the growing global criticism and decided to reinvent IFFI in 2010. It constituted an expert committee consisting of film professionals to decide the roadmap for an international festival, on par with Cannes or Berlin. The committee consisted of Kamal Hassan, Pritish Nandy, Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Prasoon Joshi, and many others who compiled a comprehensive report after deliberation for almost eight months. The committee report made its intention clear. Similar to other international film festivals, IFFI needs to be visualized and managed by film professionals.

Accordingly, Shankar Mohan, an FTII graduate, film academician and the director of Satyajit Ray Film Institute, was appointed as FESTIVAL DIRECTOR. The steering committee of the festival was chaired by Mike Pandey and assisted by Shaji Karun, Gautam Ghose, Jhanu Barua apart from other eminent film professionals. IFFI 2011 was a logical conclusion of the festival envisioned by the expert committee report.

The newly formed IFFI Secretariat to a large extent succeeds in bringing unique identity to the festival. Be it the young artist presentations at the opening ceremony or Pan India representation by bringing Surya, the South Indian star, at the closing function. Can anyone forget the artist’s live painting to felicitate the life-time achievement award winner?  The designs by renowned artist Totta Torani added style and elegance to the festival designs. The opening festival logo film with peacocks was instantly popular and admired by animation professionals. God lies in details.

No wonder IFFI 2011 was considered the most efficient and well organized film festival till date. Right from Dadasaheb Phalke awardee Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mrinal sen to general festival delegates openly appreciated IFFI 2011. It was a perfect combination of quality cinema and sleek, contemporary presentation ceremony.

All this is going to toss. The ministry is  going three steps backward. Rather than giving enough time to the Festival Director, the ministry has made preparations to form a five-member team of officers who are politically suitable to head the IFFI. The IFFI is going to be managed once again by government officers. The ministry discontinued the steering committee and a new committee has been formed headed by information secretary Uday Kumar Varma and a number of officers from various government departments with inclusion of Ramesh Sippy, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra and Pooja Shetty Deora. The idea behind having five members from the various Government departments instead of a FESTIVAL DIRECTOR is as disastrous as having five captains to one ship. Where is this going to lead? The common intention of the Pritish Nandy committee report was to develop IFFI into a liberal, independent film festival, free from the clutches of the government. In contrast, the present festival team comprises of hardly any filmmakers of international repute. 

The most shocking part was that IFFI was represented by Secretary, Information at Cannes 2012. Ideally a FESTIVAL DIRECTOR attends the important film festivals across the world and acquires films for its next edition.  The director is supposed to network amongst the global film fraternity in interest of its own festival.  IFFI has lost an important event on the world calendar to make contacts and line up films for IFFI 2012. The international community is not very keen on screening films at IFFI as the Indian film festival is yet to come to the stature of other international events. It thus becomes further more necessary that IFFI director puts extra efforts to convince and attract film programmers and film producers.

This episode is a shining example of how cinema can be politicized by a bunch of bureaucrats. A family trip to Cannes along with like minded colleagues and partying at the Riveria at the cost of government exchequer does not bring any glory to the nation. The need to hold the festival together by a leader/ a festival director who has concern for Indian cinema and aptitude to take IFFI beyond the narrow vision of bureaucrats is the need of the hour.  Otherwise IFFI will be like a sinking boat with no captain or too many captains trying to hog the limelight at the most prestigious event of the country.

The decision to discontinue with present festival director and its steering committee needs explanation from the ministry.  The Government cannot relieve professionals without adequate reasoning. Neither can Government afford to blow off crores of rupees on officers who are learning the art of organizing a festival. It’s a matter of 10 crores of rupees spent both by the central and the state Governments. More importantly, it’s a matter of prestige of this country.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Laxmikant Shetgaonkar

Laxmikant Shetgaonkar is a Goan filmmaker of international repute, presently shuttles between Goa and Mumbai. He has created history with his first Konkani film “Paltadacho Munis” (A Man Beyond the Bridge) winning the most prestigious FIPRESCI award, also known as Discovery Award of the Critics, at Toronto International film festival in 2009. His first short film “Eka Sagar Kinari” had also bagged a National Award, the first one for Goa once again, in 2005. Laxmikant graduated in Theatre Arts from Kala Academy, Goa. He was an Actor-Teacher at India’s prestigious theater training school, National School of Drama, New Delhi. Overwhelmed with the quality of world cinema, he decided to take up the medium of cinema to express his concerns. He has also started a cinema movement in Goa, by forming Entertainment Network of Goa. He has also directed many more films. He has figured in the Top Ten youngest achievers of India in Sun magazine in 1995. His profile and activities are available on his website .

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