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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 50: Media matters

IFFI 50: Media matters

In an event like the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), the media matters. The event is organised by the Directorate of Film Festivals, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Central Government of India, in partnership with the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), a Goa Government initiative, with the Chief Minister of Goa being the Chairman of the body. Together, they spent over Rs. 40 crore (400 million) on IFFI 50, Panaji, Goa, November 20-28, 2019. This was public money.

To attend IFFI, you need to be registered either as a delegate or as a media-person, not counting the various special categories that constitute a small number. Figures of registrations range from 7,000 in a lean year to 14,000 in leap years. Let us take the larger figure into account, since arrangements should always be made with the crests in mind, not the troughs. So, we are working with 14,000 registrations. Of these, media personnel will very rarely top 700, i.e. 5% of the turnout.

Media consists of four broad categories: staffers of newspapers and magazines, staff of online publications, staff cameramen, and freelancers. Of these, the freelancers are the most under-privileged lot, often spending Rs. 25,000-50,000 on their trips, with little or no recovery from writing fees, undertaking the exercise purely for the love of cinema. They deserve the greatest consideration. Freelancers contribute the most to spread word about the festival in a host of publications, as against staffers, who write for only one publication, many of which do not have much space for events like IFFI. Moreover, staffers have all their expenses reimbursed. A case in point is my own contribution: excluding this piece, I have posted 39 articles so far, before, during and after the festival.

As one who has attended 34 IFFIs and has been associated with the festival since 1976 (43 years so far), here are some observations. If my suggestions are accepted, I strongly feel that media-persons will bless IFFI and breathe more freely. If not, status quo will maintain, or worse, things might even deteriorate. It is my earnest hope that my suggestions will be accepted, if not totally, at least in part. After all, what is an international film festival without the appreciable contribution of the media?

  1.       1.  Accreditation

To qualify, a media-person must either be a staffer or a freelancer. A letter from the editor should suffice in the case of the staffers, while four articles on cinema, in the last two years, should be the qualification for first-time freelancers. Freelancers who have been accredited for the last three years should automatically qualify.

  1.       2. Travel

All freelancers should be given travel concession of 50%, on Second Class to and fro train fare, over and above the concession, if any, given by the railways (e.g., for senior citizens).

  1.       3. Stay

Till such time as a festival complex is built, freelancers should be given 50% subsidy in their hotel room rates, if they stay in hotels that charge up to Rs.3,000/day. Those who stay in hotels that have higher room rates should not get any subsidy.

  1.       4. Media Centre
  1.       A. The Media Centre should consist of 100 workstations and seating facilities for 50 persons.
  2.       B. All major local newspapers should be available for the Media to read, in two sets.
  3.       C. The Festival Daily and the screening schedule must be available in sufficient supply.
  4.       D. Water, tea, coffee and light snacks should be available to them free of cost, from 8 am to 8 pm, from November 19 to November            28, without breaks and without a first-come-first-served rule.
  5.       E. Only media-persons should be allowed in the Media Centre.
  6.       F. Identified personnel should be present in the Media Centre, to attend to queries/complaints about beverages and snacks,                       workstations, air-conditioning and lighting, theft/loss, transport arrangements, issuance of accreditation cards, and invitations,             press conferences and general inquiries.
  1.        5. Lunch and dinner

Subsidised lunch and dinner arrangements should be made for media-persons. Not all will avail of these arrangements, but nevertheless, a majority might. A sum of Rs. 50 may be charged from them for each meal, which should be like a working lunch or dinner. This service should be available from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm and 8 pm to 10 pm.

6. Invitations

A.  The Press Information Bureau must impress upon whosoever is holding a cocktail or cocktail-dinner reception that it needs at least 150 invitations to distribute. This figure should not include the 40-50 count of the various PIB staff itself. Not inviting the press is a bad idea for any organiser, and inviting 5-10 media-persons creates only bitterness among the 145 who might be left out. The figure of 150 is arbitrary, since out of 700, only about 300 would be present on any given day, and, of them, 150 might be more interested in watching movies than going for parties. Ideally, the number should be more like 200.

B.  Invitations must be distributed at least 36 hours in advance. Even where the event is uncertain, they must be given at least 24 hours in advance.

C.  It is at parties and receptions that the media get their best chance to interact with officials and film-folk. And these interactions lead to articles.

D.  Holding dinners in Goa, a liquor haven, without serving alcohol, is paradoxical, and must be discouraged. There have been many occasions when the PIB itself has held ‘dry’ dinners.

E.  Whosoever is organising the closing reception (usually the Chief Minister of Goa, who is also ex-officio Chairman of ESG) must be made to realise that keeping the press, especially the out of Goa press, away, from the stars and winners of the festival, after the awards have been announced, is a self-destruct policy. It is at this stage that the press need most access to the award winners and their teams, ideally over cocktails and dinner, to do their jobs. So far, the ESG steadfastly refuses to give any invitations to the press, especially the ‘foreign’ press. Besides trying to save some money, I see no logic in this stand. After the awards ceremony and the screening of the closing film, there would not be more than 100 media-persons left in Panaji. Most media-persons leave the same night or before for their respective base towns or cities. Of these, not more than 75 would be keen on attending the closing dinner. Surely parties that cater to 500 or more invitees can accommodate 75 more. It is humiliating to see some colleagues tapping source after source to procure a card.

7.  VIP Enclosure

Before/after a screening, VIPs and film crews are taken to a VIP enclosure in INOX, where they wait for about 15-20 minutes. These minutes can be priceless for journalists who can get hold of these dignitaries and make stories from brief interactions. The press, however, is kept out of this VIP area. Of course, if a person does not want to talk to the press, the media-person can be politely told so, and there is security around to ensure that such a decision is respected. I have heard that one reason why the press is barred there is the fact that snacks and tea/coffee are served there, free, and the media-person might partake of such offerings. Well, how miserly can you get!

8. Transport

A.  Having free auto-rickshaw shuttles from near INOX to Kala Academy is a boon indeed. But here too, impractical rules have made it less effective. Firstly, you need to walk 200 metres from INOX to get to the rickshaw stand. Then, the rickshaw drops you 200 metres away from the Kala Academy entrance. You thus walk 400 metres. And the rickshaw plies for only 400 metres. Walking is not an unwelcome exercise, but not when you have mobility issues/are a senior citizen/need to rush to catch a movie. Moreover, the service stops by about 8.30 pm, when there are still two more shows to be held. This arrangement needs reconsideration. A few rickshaws must ply till the last shows are over, at either venue.

B.  The PIB knows fully well how many cards it has distributed for a particular reception/ event. Buses/coaches must be arranged accordingly. We always find that there are fewer coaches than media-persons, leaving some of us stranded, waiting for good Samaritans to offer lifts, or for additional buses to arrive/same buses to return after the drops. The same arrangements must be in place for return journeys. At least one coach must be stationed to depart only when the reception ends. Others might leave as they get full.

9.  Approach

Access to the INOX parking lot road is blocked on the 20th till the 28th of November. That might be due to security and traffic considerations, and is fine by me. A small gap, about 6 ft. high and 3 ft. broad, is left in the barricade, during some years, 2019 included, through which humans can pass, by jumping over a bamboo/rod some 2 ft. above the ground. Persons with any impediment in movement will find it impossible to execute this jump. Now, after you have crossed this hurdle (literally), you come to an entrance/exit to the INOX Complex, which is blocked. The second entrance/exit is also blocked. So is the third. You can only enter from the fourth entrance, which means a detour of a good 150 metres. Precious time is lost in the bargain. Then comes the queue for screening of bags, followed by the security check, and frisking. Since there is screening and frisking in place, why not arrange the same at the first entrance, and save everybody so much inconvenience?

10. Bag and contents

A.  Everybody, including media-persons, is given a bag that contains catalogues and other printed material. Fine. Except the bag has threads dangling all over and is of inferior quality. Either give good quality bags or stop giving bags altogether. Why are the bags inferior? Some money is saved? Nobody has checked them?

B.  In some earlier years, we found a chocolate and discount coupons for use at local retail outlets. We do not mind not getting the coupons, but a chocolate was a great idea. In wholesale, a chocolate would cost Rs. 10 each. If sponsored, it would cost nothing. Surely a sum of Rs. 1, 00,000 (Rs. 10 x 10,000) can be allotted towards this sweet inclusion.

11. At a Press Conference held on 19 November at the ESG premises, the Chief Minister of Goa, Dr. Pramod Sawant, and the Director of IFFI 2019, Mr. Chaitanya Prasad, agreed to two suggestions from the media. The first one was about having a separate queue for media-persons at cinema halls, since they need to rush from place to place and file stories. The suggestion was accepted. The second suggestion was made by this writer, and it asked for the recognition of veterans who have attended 25 or more IFFIs and/or have completed fifty years in film journalism. This was accepted too. However, no separate queue was seen for media. And though I provided both the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) and the PIB with a list of 14 persons who qualified as veterans, they were not honoured at IFFI 50. We expected a memento and a certificate to be handed over at the closing function or any other public occasion. Mr. Prasad ruled out handing over the mementoes and certificates at the closing ceremony. He went on to tell me that he cannot even sanction the idea, in principle, himself, and will have to talk “to the Minister”. Mrs. Mrunal Niket Walke, General Manager of ESG, told me that she will speak to the Chief Minister about this. Two emails were sent, to PIB, DFF and ESG respectively, but no reply was received. That is where the matter stands.

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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.


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