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INDIAN CINEMA

Festivals

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International Film Festival Of India 2004: Goa is no Cannes

Now that the 35th edition of the International Film Festival of India is over(November 29 to December 8 2004), a rather uneasy question baffles many. Will Goa remain the once-and-for-all home for the 10-day annual event as was indicated early this year ?

While the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, Jaipal Reddy, would not give a categorical assurance on this -- some perceived this as political correctness, because he belonged to a party different from the one in power now at Goa -- the administration at Panaji seemed to be in no mood to give up not just a great cinematic event of international repute, but also an attractive tourist proposition. The Goa Government was even willing to, one is told, run the Festival without the help of the current organiser, Directorate of Film Festivals, which is a wing of the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

This may not be a welcome move, given the Directorate's long experience in conducting the Festival. Admittedly, the Directorate needs to be toned up: it certainly requires a permanent Director as much as the Festival does a permanent venue. In the past 15 years, there has been as many as five Directors, and there are indications that the present incumbent, Neelam Kapur, will not stay for long.

The importance of a certain permanency cannot be ignored: the Director is often the face of a Festival. At Cannes, for instance, Gilles Jacob, has remained at the helm of affairs for a quarter century. It is only now that he has a couple of assistants whose faces are being familiarised to the world outside. The face invariably works as magic to unlock keys to rooms that have movies. It is common to find a producer part easily with a film to a Festival when he knows its Director.

As it is the International Film Festival of India lacks  direction. It took decades before it finally settled for an Asian focus. It now has a competition section for Asian cinema, but is still struggling to get the cream of the stuff.

Not surprising though, with festivals in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Singapore enjoying far greater clout in terms of money and organising ability, the Indian festival has fallen way behind. This year's Asian Competition was quite miserable, to say the least.

In the other sections as well, most notably in the Cinema of the World, most entries appeared like apologies for being there at  all. Except for a few -- such as "The Motorcycle Diaries" (Argentina), "The Return" (Russia), "The Butterfly" (France), "The Invasion of the Barbarians" (Canada), "Finding Neverland"  (UK) and "The Promised Land" (Israel) -- the rest sank without much of an impression.

The reason for this is not far to seek. The Directorate operates  on a meagre budget, and there are not enough people to run it. The Director's travel budget is so severely restricted that she  is allowed to attend only a few festivals and that too not for  the entire duration of the event. One can well imagine how little she would be able to do in a place, for example like, Cannes, where she goes for just about half the period of the 12-day festival. So, the International Film Festival of India still  remain largely a brochure festival.

It is all fine to nurse a dream like making Goa into another Cannes, but one must remember and realise that the French Riviera  is so well known and well sought after not just because of its  sunny beaches and the celebrated lifestyle and culture of the French. Let us face it, Cannes offers some of the greatest movies  that has been made in a particular year. It presents some of the most renowned directors that the world has ever known. One still  remembers Akira Kurosawa walking in. Or, the famous Portuguese  director, Manoel de Oliviera.

At Goa, apart from an Amitabh Bachchan and an Aamir Khan and a Dilip Kumar and, yes, a Mira Nair, there were few celebrities to be flaunted around. So, the festival became a kind of local  carnival with parties and street shows, which though giving a refreshing festive mood and ambience, failed to provide substance to the 10-day cinematic event. Goa was finally reduced to all  form and little content.

In short, what the Directorate and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry must now aim for is to not just settle down in Goa (by improving and building on the existing infrastructure to make it truly world class), but also try and get the best of international cinema, preferably the latest. It is very important  that directors of calibre are represented.

Finally, as much as Goa may seek to attract tourists -- much in  the same way that Cannes and Venice have been doing -- during the  film festival, the State must not forget that good cinema is the  ultimate key that holds the secret of the region's growth.

(Posted on this website on December 18 2004)

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