One truly “international” act that India appears to have got right is the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). In this centenary year of Indian cinema, the 44th edition of IFFI, which was hosted in Goa for the 10th year, would be remembered for some unforgettable films and the presence of great filmmakers.
Increasingly, audiences — both classes and masses — are attracted to IFFI for the quality and variety of cinematic offerings. Glitter and glamour are no longer the pull factors at IFFI, where even personalities are in the spotlight for their work, values, experiences and insights, and not for their appearance or attire.
There were some outstanding films, features and documentaries among the more than 325 films — 171 of them from 76 countries — that unspooled in Goa between November 20 and November 30. More than a dozen of these, including Joshua Oppenheimer’s exceptional documentary The Act of Killing, were Oscar nominees. There were films by way of homage and tributes to legends such as Satyajit Ray, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Vadim Yusov (Andrei Tarkovsky’s director of photography), Nagisa Oshima, Bertrand Tavernier and KA Abbas.
IFFI-2013 hosted some iconic figures: Czech director Jiri Menzel, who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and whose The Don Juans was the opening film; the highly political Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland; and, Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Then there were ‘star attractions’ such as Waheeda Rehman (awarded Centenary Film Personality), Susan Sarandon and Kamal Haasan.
Any IFFI regular could not have asked for more. As director Ramesh Sharma, best known for New Delhi Times, observed, this festival has delivered some great films — at least five from old masters and five from contemporary masters. “These films may not be to everyone’s liking, but that’s what they made. We have some of the best European filmmakers in the jury. And, this festival got more TV exposure than any other IFFI,” said Sharma. However, he noted that there are organisational problems because of multiple authorities and consequent ego clashes.
Menzel, in Goa for the first time, says he’s been to India twice before; the first time was in 1987 with his film My Sweet Little Village, which, too, was well received.
Holland, whose retrospective of six films in Goa were a hit, had enjoyed the festival. “It’s an interesting mix of great films. This is my first time in IFFI-Goa, though I’ve seen film festivals in India. I am struck by the enthusiasm of the people taking part in IFFI”, she said. Maria Dousa, whose first feature film The Tree and the Swing was part of the country focus on Greece, was impressed by the variety of films on offer. “I am curious and excited to watch Indian art-house films”, she said after seeing Buddhadeb’s Uttara. Although IFFI is “very big”, Dousa says it is intimate with easy meetings and interactions in formal spaces and otherwise, too.
Director Adoor Gopalakrishnan is all praise for IFFI as it is now. “Festival fare has improved, prize money is more and the prestige of IFFI is rising. Now, it is truly international. In three years, IFFI Director Shankar Mohan has done a lot to raise the standard and stature of the festival. IFFI is more professional now with a number of good films. The decline of the last 20 years has been reversed, and IFFI is moving up. Now, it should not come down or decline again when the next director takes charge”.
Adoor says that the government needs to support IFFI with more independence and autonomy so that it can become more professional to compare with the best in the world. This is a point on which many IFFI regulars agree. When that happens, perhaps, IFFI could emerge as an expression of “soft power” in the conduct of India’s external affairs.
The author is an independent journalist based in New Delhi