Mumbai's Industry Program Initiative Discusses Role of Festivals in Age of Streaming

Courtesy of Mumbai Film Festival
From left: Clare Stewart, former director of the Sydney Film Festival; Toronto International Film Festival executive director Joana Vicente, Mumbai artistic director Smriti Kiran and Telluride Film Festival executive director Julie Huntsinger

The Mumbai Film Festival's special session, held Sunday at Soho House Mumbai, included contributions from Toronto International Film Festival executive director Joana Vicente, Telluride Film Festival executive director Julie Huntsinge and Clare Stewart, former head of festivals at the British Film Institute and former director of the Sydney Film Festival.

The Mumbai Film Festival has launched its new Industry Program initiative in a bid to facilitate an exchange of ideas and knowledge about key issues faced by Indian filmmakers.

Mumbai Film Festival artistic director Smriti Kiran told The Hollywood Reporter that she created and curated the Industry Program starting this year with "sharply curated small sessions where people could connect with people they don't have access to. The idea is to fill a massive knowledge gap." As an example, she pointed out that "there is not enough knowledge on how to navigate festivals and what to do when a film is selected."

To address this particular issue, the program included a discussion Sunday titled "Living on the Edge: Keeping Film Festivals Relevant," which featured Toronto International Film Festival executive director Joana Vicente, Telluride Film Festival executive director Julie Huntsinger and Clare Stewart, former head of festivals at the British Film Institute and former head of the Sydney Film Festival.

Held at the Mumbai outpost of Soho House, the session was attended by a small group of film professionals, which included producer Guneet Monga (Oscar-winning short Period. End of Sentence); actor-producer Arfi Lamba of Bombay Berlin Productions (LOEV); cinematographer Manoj Lobo; producer Payal Dhoke; director Vinod Kamble, whose The Musk (Kasturi) is playing in the festival's India Story section; and Deepti Gupta, whose directorial debut Shut Up Sona will bow in the India Spotlight section, along with the film's producer, singer Sona Mohapatra.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the session covered such topics as the challenges faced by Indian filmmakers in developing their festival strategies, negotiating with sales agents and the role of festivals in the age of digital platforms.

"You have to know which is the right festival for your film," explained Vicente, who added that "it really depends on who is your target audience. So many films actually get discovered at smaller festivals and then they go to big festivals. Also, you have to really put your best work forward and ensure that you are satisfied with the quality of the film. Don't send the film if it's not done."

Stewart pointed out that the London festival "is really important for India, given the city has a strong Indian population."

As for the issue of films vying for global premieres, often at the cost of letting go of a premiere in their home countries, Huntsinger pointed out that fests should allow national premieres. She gave the example of how Pedro Almodovar's latest film Pain and Glory first bowed in Spain before Cannes, where the pic's Antonio Banderas won best actor honors.

As the discussion moved to the subject of streamers, Stewart said that "festivals are becoming more important in the digital age because festivals can be the only time when a film is actually playing in the context of a physical audience."

When asked by THR whether festivals were also becoming platforms for bidding wars between rival streamers, Vicente said that the biggest sale in Toronto this year was Bad Education, which sold to HBO and not to a digital platform: "That tells you a lot how things are shifting because maybe for that film, HBO is the best platform even if it doesn't go theatrical and probably they will get a much bigger audience."

Directed by Cory Finley and starring Hugh Jackman, Bad Education chronicles an infamous school-larceny scandal that rocked Long Island in the early 2000s. The film was picked up by HBO for $20 million, according to a source.

As for how fests were curating episodic series content and new media such as VR, Huntsinger noted that Telluride "has been doing TV for decades — we showed The Singing Detective in the '90s. If the story is good, that's what we are going to show." She also pointed out that last year, the festival featured its first VR series, Spheres, which was executive produced by Darren Aronofosky.

Similarly, Vicente said that TIFF's Primetime section features series which have not yet launched. "These days, so many filmmakers are working on series and moving fluidly between film and TV, at the end of day it's about storytelling," she said, adding, "I think that is the challenge for festivals, to adapt to new media. We have to always be a platform for new talent and create a theatrical experience."

The Mumbai Film Festival's Industry Program also included an earlier similar session with Cannes's Marche du Film executive director Jérôme Paillard, during which he covered various issues regarding the film market. Kiran pointed out that a final session on Wednesday will be conducted by Funa Maduka, Netflix's former director of international original films, who departed the streaming giant in August after six years. Maduka will conduct a creative session titled "What Story to Tell."