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Iffi 2014

Taking Goa By Storm

179 Films From 75 Countries

Watch Out For the Chinese and Marathi Productions

“A narrow-minded person thinks, prescription this is for me and that is for another. For those who are broad-minded, liberal or noble, the entire world is one big family.” – from the Vedic scripture Maha Upanishad

Through 20-30th November I’ll be taking no phone calls, answering few emails, house-working at unearthly hours, ferrying tired feet to and from Kala Academy to Inox to Marquinez and back. I will be arm-chair travelling via IFFI (International Film Festival, India) to other countries, centuries and sharing others’ life-experiences, through films.

The opening film is going to be Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President. The Grand Master by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai will bring the curtain down.

By the time this story reaches you see the sketch Here, the Big B would have inaugurated IFFI at Dr Shama Prasad Mukherjee stadium near Panjim. And the ever-young Rajnikant would have received the Centenary Award for the Indian Film Personality of the Year. Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell and Polish film-maker Krzysztof Zanussi are the other Guests of Honour for this Festival.

Film-makers and watchers in Asia take IFFI seriously. There are other festivals in Nashik, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, even in the home of Bollywood, but this is THE one that aims at (quoting a government press release) “providing a common platform for the cinemas of the world to project the excellence of film art, contributing to the understanding and appreciation of film cultures of different nations in the context of their social and cultural ethos, and promotes friendship and cooperation among people of the world.” Phew, quite a mouthful.

Born in 1952, IFFI  was the first International Film Festival held in Asia, organized by the Films Division with the patronage of India’s first Prime Minister. That edition was non-competitive, had twenty-three countries participating with forty feature films and about a hundred short films.

From the 3rd edition, IFFI became competitive.

IFFI was subsequently taken to Madras, Delhi, Calcutta and Trivandrum until in 2004 it came to Goa to roost. The Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government, declaring Goa its permanent venue. How long it will take to build the necessary infrastructure, how it will impact public transport, rents, travel and hospitality related businesses only time will tell.

The day taxi-drivers can talk knowledgeably about films, as they do in Mumbai, I’ll be convinced that Goa, or at least Panjim, is worthy of the permanent label.

“… it will soon become an internationally famous venue like Cannes,” Union Minister Javadekar has claimed. Waiting and watching.

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Last week, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said China is the “Focus Country’” in this year’s festival. Besides screening twelve films, the Chinese are bringing a working group that will engage with Indian filmmakers to discuss collaborations. Both countries have signed an audio-visual co-production agreement.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Directorate of Film Festivals and the Government of Goa take a lot of effort to sift and sort what will be screened here and who the guests will be.

Last year, IFFI witnessed several firsts, including a film produced and directed by an Afghan director and a film from north-east India. This year, ‘Minefield’ – the directorial debut project of young Assamese filmmaker Shiladitya Bora – has been selected among the fourteen international final entries for the prestigious Co-Production Market at the Goa International Film Festival of India (IFFI) Film Bazar.

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Those fourteen international projects to be showcased in the eighth edition of the Film Bazaar Co-Production Market (FBCPM) include films from the US, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Norway, France, Germany and Singapore.

This FBCP Market, the only one of its kind in South Asia, provides a platform for filmmakers with South Asian stories to make the right connections to get their projects financed. It is organized annually alongside the IFFI. The directors and producers invited to the event present their projects to co-producers, funders and distributors from across the world.

Film Bazaar, which will be held from November 20 to 24, has played a crucial role in mentoring a new Indian cinematic sensibility. If you’ve seen NFDC co-produced The Lunchbox, Ship of Theseus and Titli, which premiered at the Cannes this year and Margarita with a Straw, which was screened at the Toronto Film Festival, you’ll understand why. I’m going to visit the Film Bazaar’s Romance Filmwriters’ Lab to see what it’s about.

What the participating film-makers will bite their nails for are the Golden Peacock Awards given for Best Director, Special Jury Award, Best Actors Male and Female and the Centenary Award.

IFFI 2014 will be screening 179 films from 75 countries across categories:

  • World Cinema (61 films),
  • Master-strokes (11 films),
  • Festival Kaleidoscope (20 films),
  • Soul of Asia (7 films),
  • Documentaries (6 films),
  • Animated Films (6 films).

The Indian Panorama section includes forty-one feature and non-feature films and seven from the North-East, which is the focus region this year.

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Of late, Marathi films have been making an impact. Paresh Mokashi’s second Marathi outing ‘Elizabeth Ekadashi’, the opening film of the Panorama section, is on my must-see list. As is the biopic of an Oriya freedom fighter who had to wage a long battle to get his due after Independence.

I will attend the workshops and master-classes if I can squeeze in. They’re door-keepers’ nightmares, and the invitees’ delight.

Hopefully the e-ticketing will reduce the queues at the counters. Nothing can stop them from snaking outside the entrances, though. In these queues, I have met people who have made their bookings months in advance, who seriously study films and discuss them on and off-line with like-minded virtual or real friends, and visit Goa just for these ten days year after year after year. They have permanent bookings in local, inexpensive hotels. Some of them go to other film festivals, too, but IFFI, they say, is the most charming. No reason to disbelieve them. The venue, along the banks of the Mandovi, is just one of the attractions.

Whether or not IFFI gets as famous as Festival de Cannes, we Goans can still boast of something akin to it. We have miles to go before we’re even close to the Venice, Toronto, Sundance or Berlin International Film Festivals. Berlin is the largest film festival worldwide, based on attendance. But… we’ve taken the first tottering steps.

Perhaps north Goa is more crowded during IFFI than over New Year’s Eve because it coincides with the novenas and feast of the 16th-century Basque missionary-saint Francis Xavier. This year, there’s an exposition, too, which will add to the woes of the police and the coffers of the taxi-men.

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The first IFFI was an iffy thing: the evening before the inaugural ceremony, writer-friend Bevinda Colaco and I sat on the steps of the Kala Academy with the Chief Minister, keeping our fingers crossed. Overnight, workers, supervisors, managers, officers who had been slogging over weeks, did perfect fine-tuning and if there were goof-ups, they were kept out of lay visitors’ sight. There wasn’t much traffic, and we could walk on Bandodkar Marg, enjoying the breeze, the works of Goa’s artists and classical music programs. The stalls of instant foods have replaced those today, adding to convenience (and garbage). I wish the organizers could mix and match elegance and essentials.

One year, the IFFI was split between Margao and Panjim: lots of hard, complicated work for the organizers. Never again, someone must have sworn. Amen, I say to that. May the IFFI remain this side of the Zuari forever and ever. Amen again.

Next week, I’ll be here again, telling you stories from the reel world. And experiences between the Entertainment Society of India, Inox and Kala Academy.