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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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IFFI 2018, VII: What it was and what it could have been

IFFI 2018, VII: What it was and what it could have been

In its 49th edition, the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was a damp squib. It could have been a glorious run-up to the 50th edition celebrations next year; instead, we had many disgruntled delegates and media-persons and serious mismanagement. In fact, many regulars decided to give the fest a miss this year, making me wonder whether they had a premonition that it would be so dull.

Here are 25 observations that need to be looked at before the 50th IFFI materialises.

1. The dates continue to be November 21-28, preceding the winter, in the hot and humid western Indian state of Goa. Why can’t IFFI be held when the weather is more amenable? Goa’s weather is most hospitable during mid-December to mid-February. Peak season would mean high costs, one can argue, but for an event like IFFI, which a joint venture between the Central Government and the Government of Goa, that should prove no obstacle.

2. The dates also indicate the curtailment of the festival from a peak 14 days to 10 to a paltry 8, now. Cost cutting seems to be the only apparent reason. That is no excuse. For a recurring event like IFFI, costs have to be met, and annual increments built-in as part of the financial planning of the respective governments. I earnestly hope that no more curtailing is in the offing.

3. I strongly recommend restoring IFFI to a total of 14 days: two full days of previews, where eight films would be shown, four/day, in advance, to the press and interested local/outstation delegates, who arrive early; one opening day, when there are two additional previews; 10 days of six shows/day, culminating in the 14th, closing day, with two screenings, in addition to the closing film.

This way, it would be theoretically possible to see 64 films. But taking into account the fact that delegates are allowed to book only three films/day and media five, and the respective persons might have reasons for not wanting to see every film on offer/they may not get seats, this figure could be as low as 50 for media-persons and 36 for delegates. Other commitments might reduce these figures to 36 for the media and 30 for the delegates.

4. Presently, there are no previews and only two films are scheduled, besides the opening and closing films, on the first and last day. Add six shows a day for six days, and the figure of possible viewings adds up to a mere 46. On ticketing basis, delegates are allowed three films/day while the media is allowed five. That’s good for the media, for sure. So, the delegates can watch no more than 22 films: three each on six days—3 x 6=18, and two each on the remaining two days—18+4=22. Assuming they do not get to see six of the films they want due to heavy demand, they would end up watching just 16 films. Likewise, media-persons might be able to watch 5 x 6=30+4=34. If they fail to get tickets for some eight films of their choice, they might end-up watching only 26 films. Moreover, if they want to cover events and dinners, media-persons would have to sacrifice some 10 films over eight days. Final score? A mere 16!

Conclusion?

Under the present format of eight days, delegates and journalists both get to see only 16 films each.

Under the revised, extended format, this figure rises to 36 for the media and 30 for the delegates.

What is the point of attending a festival, investing so much time and bearing all the expenses, if you cannot watch at least thirty films comfortably?

Please increase the duration of the festival, to 14, or, at the very least, 11 days, with effect from IFFI 2019.

5. It’s time a festival complex was built. Promises have been made for over a decade, but we are yet to see the day when they are honoured. Till this year, we have had to watch films at INOX, Maquinez Palace and the 900 seater Kala Academy, which is a performing arts’ hall and not designed for film viewing, where the seats are very uncomfortable and where the air-conditioning cools only the last three rows. INOX has four auditoria, Maquinez two and Kala one, that makes a total of six. But all six together can accommodate only about 1,500 persons. With registrations in the range of 6,000-10,000, the arithmetic is loaded against hopefuls who expect to get seats in films of their choice. You have one in four to one in seven chances of successfully booking a ticket.

6. The new festival complex must include a residential wing, where at least the budget film-buff and on-their-own media-persons can stay, at affordable rates. Tents on an open ground, tried some years ago, are not the solution. If the complex is not ready in time for IFFI 2019, subsidised accommodation must be arranged, for media and students.

7. Ugly scenes were witnessed as the ‘rush’ queues grew into three-figure, serpentine lengths. On one occasion, film-maker Rajendra Talak, Vice Chairman of the government of Goa’s Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) got into a verbal duel with a group of delegates from the south Indian state of Kerala, which probably had maximum representation at IGGI Goa 2018, and was reported to have told them to go back to their home state, if they were dissatisfied with the arrangements at IFFI. This led to a First Information Report (FIR) being filed against him at the nearest police station by one of the Keralite delegates, for violation of his fundamental rights. Hardly the thing one would expect at an event like IFFI.

8. Festival brochures had several bloopers that could have been avoided with more meticulous proof-reading and the festival bag was an eyesore. Can’t somebody at the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), Government of India, or the ESG, tell the difference between a presentable bag and a make-do one? During some previous IFFIs at Goa, the bag used to contain a packet of chocolate. Little cost, big gesture. Whatever happened to it?

9. ESG and the Chief Minister continue to keep outstation media away from their two dinners, which reeks of step-motherly treatment. IFFI is an international film festival and the invitees’ list does have several international personalities on it, but the national media are carefully kept at arm’s length. They forget that such events mean important networking for everybody, and that Goa has a minuscule film culture. Almost all the dinners were ‘dry’, with no drinks on the menu. In the context of the fact that Goa sells the country’s cheapest liquor, and that liquor is an integral part of film-culture, the decision to keep things dry is a strange one. Nobody will be forced to drink, but for those who enjoy their drinks, such dinners mean disappointment.

10. Time was when there would be as many as six events in a day, including breakfast, lunch, and cocktails-dinner, every day. There haven’t been breakfast or lunch events for some years now, and the dinners have come down to five, where you would be lucky to be invited for even one. Whatever happened to hospitality?

11. We were taken on two river cruises in every festival and a company called ADLABS had a boat anchored off Kala Academy, with hospitality spelt with a capital H. As the festival grew, all these perks shrunk away. Restore them—remember, it’s a festival, not just films.

12. A committee of festival veterans must be on the selection juries as well as the steering/advisory committee for all IFFIs. Make a list of persons who have attended more than 25 IFFIs and are interested in offering their services, as above. Let them be part of the preparations for the 50th IFFI. Also, honour them, as well as those media-persons who have completed 50 years or more of film journalism. Make free travel and stay arrangements for such persons for the 50th IFFI. I am sure such a list will comprise 30-50 persons from all over the country. In view of the registrations that are likely to hit 10,000 in 2019, this works out to less than 0.5%, and is very reasonable to consider.

13. Allow delegates and media-persons to approach the festival complex from the INOX rear entrance. Merely leaving a small gap in the aluminum scaffolding for single persons to squeeze/jump through is not enough. Also, let them enter the complex from INOX. I realise that this might involve extra arrangements for security, but so be it. The detour many, including senior citizens who cannot squeeze/jump, have to take often costs a delay of five to seven precious minutes.

14. Offering free tea, coffee and biscuits/cake pieces/mini-toasts free to journalists is truly welcome. However, a steady supply has to be maintained, and these eatables and beverages should not keep running out thrice a day.

15. There should be a clear 60-minute gap between the second and the third shows, around 1.30-2.30. Scheduling press conferences and Open Fora during this slot is a sure recipé for poor attendance, as few would like to remain hungry as the price for attending the event. No snacks/beverages/food are offered at such occasions. Indeed, there was very poor attendance at many such events, a fact that could be attributed to a much-needed lunch-break.

16. Bean bags are no substitutes for chairs/benches. Placing a handful of bean bags in the INOX compound only meant a few individuals lolling in them, with hardly any interaction possible.

17. Shifting the Food Court to the area near the edge of the old Goa Medical College Building was not a good idea. The earlier locations were better.

18. The Media Centre has to be twice its present size, with twice the present facilities.

19. Two Directors helmed the festival: Chaitanya Prasad, as Additional Director in the Directorate of Film Festivals and C. Senthil Rajan, Director, DFF. Neither person held any press conference. There must be a minimum of three press conferences by the Director(s): one pre-festival, one mid-festival and one on the penultimate day of the festival. The reasons are obvious, and the conferences must be made mandatory.

20. If you invite a large number of persons to a dinner at a venue far from the festival complex, arranging for their to and fro transport is a must. In the past, coaches have been arranged. Not so at IFFI 2018.

21. Free auto-rickshaws playing between INOX and Kala Academy are welcome. But we needed many more of them. Also, they must ply till the last show ends, at either venue. None were seen after about 9 pm. Speaking to some of the drivers, I found that they get paid a low amount as compensation by ESG, so not many are interested in signing-up for this ferry duty. No excuse.

22. Coming to films, some very good films were screened, but the bad ones were really bad. Yes, there can be differences in choice, but that does not explain the large number of insufferable films which did not move at all—cinematically. You need better, more qualified and more experienced selection jurors to pick the best of the lot, and they have to be ruthless in their decisions. Even the opening and closing films were nothing to rave about.

23. It is customary for many festivals round the world to have a FIPRESCI Jury, or, at the very least, a FIPRESCI juror within the jury. FIPRESCI is the International Federation of Film Critics. There are about 50 members in FIPRESCI India, from all over the country, with very high requirements to qualify for membership, and if a five-member FIPRESCI jury is appointed each year, you can have new faces for the next ten years at least. A FIPRESCI award adds tremendous prestige to any festival, so why not IFFI?

24. At the opening and closing ceremonies, every speaker thanks a dozen persons/institutions, often the same names being thanked six/seven times. Besides being repetitive, it makes the long-winded event boring. Also, buses take you to the venue by 2.50 pm while the proceedings begin at 4.50 or 5 pm. We sit in those chairs for over two hours before anything happens. Please do not cart invitees to the venue so much in advance. 15-20 minutes before the scheduled commencement of proceedings is fine. More than that is torture.

25. Continuing the rehearsal after the invitees have been seated is unpardonable. At IFFI 2018, even the Golden Peacock winner was revealed because the rehearsals were still on when we all had already arrived.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

India



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