India film fest tainted by chaos

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NEW DELHI -- The almost four-decade old International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is in apparent disarray despite a recent rebirth and an attempt to establish a permanent home in the western coastal resort state of Goa.

This year's event -- which ran Nov. 23 to Dec. 3 -- attracted bad press on everything from management chaos, a perceived disregard for regional Indian cinema and the event's ability to attract little to no foreign presence.

Jointly organized by the recently established government-backed agency Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) in association with the New Delhi-based Ministry of Information and Broadcasting's Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), the event shifted from New Delhi to Goa aiming to make it India's answer to the Festival de Cannes with movies and an active market alongside.

The ambitious plans, according to observers, attendees and organizers alike, didn't quite come off.

ESG CEO Nandini Paliwal admits "there is no comparison between Goa and Cannes in any way."

But Paliwal says: "I am sure in its third year, Cannes probably faced various challenges that we are facing at this stage. But this is a growing festival and we hope to evolve and improve with time."

IFFI's reported budget this year was 10 million rupees ($2.2 million) funded equally by the government and a collection of corporate sponsorships.

Leading Mumbai-based entertainment conglomerate Adlabs Films chief Manmohan Shetty, who even parked a yacht, Cannes-style, in Goa, says: "I am not the complaining type but there was a lot of confusion and mismanagement this year."

The chaos erupted when reports of more than 5,000 passes dished out for venues seating and less than half emerged.

For her part, Paliwal puts this down to overblown media coverage.

"The festival had about 4,000 delegates while the two main venues had a total capacity of about 2,000. This is a typical ratio at any major festival. For the sake of comparison, even at Cannes, not every pass holder gets a seat at every screening," Paliwal argues.

One of the few foreign delegates, who didn't want to be named, said in an interview that despite being "officially invited" to the shindig, it was an uphill task to secure entry to the opening-night screening of Pedro Almodovar's "Volver."

The French Embassy's Mumbai-based Audio Visuala attache Mohamed Bendjebbour -- who attended last year's IFFI, which hosted a major French delegation -- opines that "being the largest film industry in the world, India deserves to have an international festival on its own without trying to copy any other important rendezvous, be it Cannes or Berlin."

Bendjebbour suggests that "one person should be the festival boss with a large autonomy to recruit a team and supervise the different agencies involved, just like nobody questions the authority of Gilles Jacob at the helm of Cannes or Jonathan Wolf at AFM."

Various post-mortem media reports lay the blame at bureaucratic confusion between the various government agencies involved. DFF did not return calls.

But Shetty feels that IFFI is better suited as a creative platform for filmmakers rather than a film market.

"Most Indian producers already sell major territory rights at overseas marts like Cannes or the AFM, so there is little on offer for foreign buyers if they are looking at IFFI," Shetty says.

Market woes aside, the IFFI also failed to deliver on the creative front for festivalgoers.

Says actress Nandita Das: "I was there to promote my regional-language film "Maati Maay" (A Grave-Keeper's Tale) and there wasn't even a Q&A session after the screening, which is the purpose of such festivals."

Das believes that "an international film festival in a vast country like India should travel between various cities. After all, Europe has so many festivals, and given India's sheer diversity, it makes sense to have both regional festivals and a touring festival."
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