The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) Changing Face of Indian Cinema

English: Freida Pinto at the special screening...

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By B B Nagpal
Freelance Journalist

PIB Features

New Delhi, Dec 13, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) The International Film Festival of India has truly become the harbinger of creating a film culture among the people of the country. Though Indians are generally a cinema crazy nation with over 1000 features being made every year in about twenty languages and dialects, the people are becoming cine literate through the various Film Festivals that have started all over the country.

India held its first International Film Festival of India in 1952, but it was not until the 5th Festival in 1974 that this became an annual feature. However, it remained a roving festival for many years. The competitive IFFI was held every alternate year in Delhi with a non-competitive Filmotsav moving to other film producing centres in the intervening years.

The competition section was entirely given up in 1987, but was re-introduced in 1996 with a competition of Asian women film directors which was extended to Asian cinema in 1998 and in 2005 became a competition for Asia, Africa and Latin America. It was only in 2004 that the Festival finally shifted to a permanent venue - Panaji in Goa. The Goa government thereafter established the Entertainment Society of Goa to coordinate with the Centre for the Festival.

Following the interim report of a high-level Committee headed by Pritish Nandy which went into ways to raise the level of the Festival or IFFI as it is commonly called to international standards, the competition section was amplified to make it global and two new awards for best actor and actress were introduced in 2010.

As a result, the 42nd IFFI this year saw a major change in the complexion of the Festival. The Festival was also notable because it surpassed any previous Festival in terms of the number of films it screened – 167 from 65 countries – and the number of different sections which attempted to truly make it the people’s festival.

This year also saw the revival of the Lifetime Achievement Award which was given to the renowned French filmmaker, Bertrand Tavernier. The award included a shawl, a scroll, and Rs 10 lakh.

Bertrand Tavernier is best known for his ‘The Clockmaker’ (1974) which won the Prix Louis Delluc and the Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize award at the 24th Berlin International Film Festival. Tavernier has to his credit acclaimed films like ‘Life and Nothing, But’ which won the BAFTA award for best film in a language other than English in 1990 and four Cesar awards, and ‘The Princess of Montpensier’ which competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. The total budget of the Festival was around Rs 10 crore including the award money of Rs One Crore.

In a change with tradition, the IFFI which was held in Panaji for the eighth time in a row had its inauguration on 22nd November at the Rabindra Bhavan in Margao. It was inaugurated by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan in the presence of Information and Broadcasting Minister Mrs Ambika Soni, while actor Surya was the Chief Guest in presence of Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Mr C M Jatua at the closing on 3rd December. Goa Chief Minister Mr Digambar Kamat presided over both the events for the fifth time in a row.

Speaking at the inauguration, actor Shah Rukh Khan said ‘cinema allows audiences to think in unison for some time’, and it does not matter who is sitting next to you in the dark ambience of a cinema hall. He said he did not like to demarcate between art and commercial cinema since all films were mirrors of the world. At the closing, actor Surya said movies are all about desires that drive the people to do better. Cinema was a culture and not just entertainment, he added.

Both the opening and closing films were based on real stories. The festival opened with the Portuguese film ‘The Consul of Bordeaux’ by Francisco Manso and Joao Correa based on the life of a man who saved around 30,000 Jews during the Second World War by issuing them visas, and closed with ‘The Lady’ by Luc Besson on the life of Nobel Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar. Michelle Yeoh who played the title role in the closing film was present at the closing along with Luc Besson.

The Festival paid homage to seven stalwarts of the international film industry who were well known for their creative genius. The international luminaries remembered at this year’s festival included Sidney Lumet, Raul Ruiz, Claude Chabrol, Adolfas Meekas, Richard Leacock, Elizabeth Taylor and Tareque Masood.

The Indians to whom homage was paid included Mani Kaul, Shammi Kapoor, Jagjit Singh, Bhupen Hazarika, and Rabindra Nath Tagore who was remembered with the screening of five films based on his written works.

The Indian Panorama which had 24 features and 21 non-features was inaugurated by actress Madhuri Dixit. It opened with the screening of ‘Urumi’ in Malayalam by Santosh Sivan and the non-feature ‘Adwait Sangeet’ by Makrand Brahme on the music of Rajan and Sajan Mishra who were also present.

Bringing together the gems of the cinematic world which have found acclaim in noted film festivals abroad, the festival showcased ‘Festivals Kaleidoscope’, a package which included top award winners in film festivals like Cannes, Locarno, Montreal and Busan. There were sections on European Discoveries, Spotlight on Poland, Documentaries, Sketches on screen, Soccer in Cinema, and Russian Classics. The country focus was on the United States.

Seven outstanding films which could not make it to the competition but were felt to be of high standard were shown in a section known as ‘A Cut Above’.

With an eye on emerging technologies, 3D stereoscopic movies were showcased, along with films made on digital format. The competitive Short Film Center for short films and the Chhota Cinema section for filmmakers from film institutes were also organized.

The ‘Retrospective’ section screened unforgettable movies of two legendary directors - Luc Besson, one of the most revered and acclaimed names in the French film industry, and the much acclaimed Australian film director Phillip Noyce. Both of them attended the Festival.

A four-day Film Bazaar was organized by the National Film Development Corporation during the Festival which had over forty screenings. About twenty stalls had been set up by Indian and foreign parties, and around five hundred delegates had visited the market. Some deals had been struck, while more are in the pipeline.

The five-member International Jury headed by famed filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan judged the fourteen films in competition. The other jury members were Dan Wolman from Israel, Laurence Kardish from the United States, Lee Young Kwan who is Director of Korea’s Busan International Film Festival, and Iran’s Ms Tahmineh Milani.

The Colombian film ‘Porfirio’ by Alejandro Landes took away the Golden Peacock for best film, while Iranian director Asghar Farhadi got the Silver Peacock for best director for the film ‘Nader and Simin, a Separation’.

While Alejandro and his producer Francisco Allure received Rs 40 lakh each, Asghar got Rs 15 lakh.

The best actor award went to Sasson Gabay for the Israeli film ‘Restoration’ by Joseph Madmony while the best female actor award went to Nadezda Markina for the Russian film ‘Elena’ directed by Andrei Zvyagintev. Both received the Silver Peacock and a cash component of Rs 10 lakh each.

The Indian (Malayalam) film ‘Abu. Son of Adam’ (Adaminte Makan Abu) by Salim Ahamed received the Special jury award comprising cash component of Rs 15 lakh apart from a Silver Peacock.

A unique facet of this year’s festival was the large attendance both from India and overseas, including several film personalities who did not have films but came because of their love for cinema. They included producer-directors Ramesh Sippy, Jahnu Barua, Sudhir Mishra, Rajendra Ahire and Sohail Khan, Oscar awardee Resul Pokkutty, and cameraperson Madhu Ambat.

Others included Mr Dharmesh Tiwari who represents a workers association in the industry, Steering Committee Chairman Mike Pandey, Film Federation of India President T P Aggarwal and Secretary General Supran Sen, actors Prem Chopra, Jackie Shroff, Irfan Khan, Rituparna Sengupta, Rahul Khanna, Tisca Chopra, Samer Soni, Mandira Bedi, Kangana Ranaut and Bhumika.

Even otherwise, the Festival was attended by over 5,000 delegates and around 1000 mediapersons, and almost all the shows were full. There were over forty press meets and around ten Open Forum sessions. There was a panel Discussion on the Art of Subtitling in Cinema and a seminar on film criticism to pay homage to the late Chidnananda Dasgupta.

Perhaps the only sad memory of the festival was the sudden demise of Brazilian filmmaker Oscar Marron Filho of a heart attack during the festival, aged 56. His film ‘Mario Filho: A Creator of Crowds’ was screened in the Soccer package.

As the Information and Broadcasting Minister Mrs Soni said, IFFI has truly become an agent of the growing acceptance of Indian cinema the world over and has given an impetus and an identity to the industry making it one of the most prosperous film industries of the world.

Disclaimer: The writer is a freelance journalist and the views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB, or WBRi.

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