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Light In The Haze

A Wajda retro and a flamenco trilogy are the saving grace

Light In The Haze
The dense fog over New Delhi in the days leading up to the 29th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was an apt metaphor for the event itself: much of it was, as always, caught in a grey haze until the very last minute. The questions keep cropping up: will the wintry conditions make way in the days ahead and let the sun shine in all its glory on the 10-day festival? Will the Andrzej Wajda and Carlos Saura retros or the focus on French-African cinema and the five films on the Bosnian war generate enough critical heat to drive the chill away? Won't the Cinema of the World, the festival's main section, throw up at least a couple of unforgettable gems, masterworks that will save the rest of the festival from sinking into unmitigated mediocrity? Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) chief Malti Sahai asserts that they will.

One particularly worrying layer of haze was, of course, blown away only a week before the festival got underway: the question of funds. DFF had sought Rs 3 crore from government coffers. What it got was less than half—Rs 1.43 crore. "For the 28th IFFI in Thiruvananthapuram, a non-competitive event, we had more funds at our disposal," says Sahai. "For a competitive event, you need a jury and money for the prizes."

 Fortunately for the DFF, its prayers were answered before it was too late. The Delhi government stepped in on January 2 and reduced the shortfall considerably by committing Rs 1 crore to the event. And with the Ford Foundation offering a grant of Rs 37 lakh, Sahai and her team of festival officials are in a much more comfortable position today than they were last year.

To help attract private sponsorship for some of IFFI's activities, a New Delhi-based marketing agency, Stracon India, for the first time in the annual event's history, has bought the rights for the ticket sales, the publication of the festival brochures and the auction of airtime on TV. Stracon has entered into an arrangement with DD for the daily coverage of the festival, during which the agency will get free commercial time to promote the sponsors it garners.

Never mind the generally justified doubts being expressed over the quality of the films acquired for the Cinema of the World section; if the questions it has thrown up are addressed with the seriousness they merit, the 29th IFFI could well become a forerunner of an infinitely better organised film festival. In India's 50th year, the filmmaking fraternity deserves the good turn. To begin with, the time has perhaps come for IFFI organisers to generate their own funds so that it can purchase films it badly wants for the IFFI. At present, IFFI depends almost entirely on a free supply of films by NRI film distributors and cultural centres of various embassies in New Delhi. Not surprisingly, the best films often don't make it to IFFI and cineastes have to make do with the second-stringers culled from around the world.

Says Sahai: "The lack of a market in India for international cinema other than Hollywood films is the greatest deterrent. Unless there is a potential for marketing, it is bound to be difficult to get these films in."

Those in charge of promoting good cinema have their tasks cut out: organise foreign exchange for buying films, develop an effective marketing network so that global film distributors stay interested, and streamline the sale of tickets for the public shows. Unless these steps are taken, the IFFI will remain an elitist, bureaucratic exercise that will add up to very little in the end.

This year, for instance, the organisers had a golden opportunity to push a promising first-time Indian director, the Bangalore-based Leslie Carvalho, under the competition spotlight. His exceedingly sensitive film, The Outhouse, about an Anglo-Indian family that moves from Kolar to Bangalore and crumbles under the pressures of big city existence, has attracted rave reviews and could well have been among the award-winners at the 29th IFFI. Yet another brilliant film, Rituparno Ghosh's third feature, Dahan, which, like The Outhouse, is in the Indian Panorama, was richly deserving of one of the two slots meant for Indian films in the competition section. The two films were stumped by a technicality: they were entered for the Panorama, but not for the competition. Says a member of the jury that selected the Panorama features: "As far as I am concerned, the competition section doesn't include two best films of the year."

 Fortunately, there is more to this edition of IFFI than just chaos and controversy. There are riches to offset all glitches. There's Spain's finest filmmaker Carlos Saura with his latest, Pajarico, and the flamenco trilogy. The largest Wajda retro ever to be brought to India. There's that remarkable woman director from Iran, Rakshan Bani-Etemad, with five films; Jean-Luc Godard's new feature, Forever Mozart, Wong Kar Wai's acclaimed Happy Together and Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. And there is hope.

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