Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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International Film Festival of India 2005: Headless and floundering

With less than three months to go for the latest edition of the International Film Festival of India, it is still without a Director. The last Director was asked to leave in February, and Afzal Amanullah, Joint Secretary (Films) in India’s Ministry for Information and Broadcasting, has been holding the additional post of Festival Director.

The Festival is controlled by the Ministry, and is completely run by the Government. The present Information and Broadcasting Minister, S. Jaipal Reddy, told this correspondent at Cannes last May (2005) that he was planning to appoint a Curator -- who will be above the Director -- on a long-term basis. But three months later, the Festival is not only headless, but is also, according to sources who do not wish to be identified, floundering without direction. Neither a Curator has been appointed nor a Director.

For one thing, Amanullah has little time to spare for the Festival, busy as he is with his normal, routine work. More importantly, he is not a cinema person, being a typical bureaucrat. But he dreams big: at Cannes, where he had gone along with Reddy, he told this writer that he would make a Cannes out of the Indian Festival, to be held in Goa from November 24 to December 4 this year. He is also keen on inviting top international stars.

But if the sources are to be believed, work on putting together the Indian Festival has not even begun, and as any festival organiser will tell you that big stars need several months’ notice even to consider, let alone accept, an invitation. And, getting movies and organising a festival is a full year’s job.

The Indian Festival has been problem-ridden for many years now. It used to move from city to city, and it took much persuasion from film lovers and others before the Government realised that that they could not hold a word class event in a different place every year. Before the last Festival, Goa was decided as the permanent venue.

But a more pressing issue remains unresolved: the Festival has had no long-term Director since over a decade. This period has seen five Directors come and go. One of them was held responsible for a microphone failure and asked to leave! Another was never given a permanent designation: she remained Acting Director for a long time before she quit.

Derek Malcolm, respected British film critic, says that a festival without a permanent face can never hope to secure a good cinema package in a scenario today where personal equations and relations alone help a festival get good and contemporary fare.

The Indian Ministry does not seem unduly bothered by this. What is still worse, except for one or two, most of the Directors have had little knowledge or understanding of cinema. The last Director, Neelam Kapur, was brought in from the Agriculture Department and asked to head the Festival. Another incumbent, Deepak Sandhu, came from the Press Information Bureau.

At Cannes, when I asked Reddy why he does not consider one of the officers in the Directorate of Film Festivals – the executive wing under the Ministry which organises the show – for the post of Director/Curator, he quipped, “I do not trust bureaucrats”. He said he planned to appoint a movie critic or academician as Curator. He appears to be running very late.

(This story was posted on this website on August 28 2005)

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