The long queues outside a screening of “Bad Roads” at a Bengaluru mall last week was proof that the allure of a film festival lies in the films it puts on. Natalya Vorozhbit’s 2020 film reflects on the hostile relations between Russia and Ukraine, which have now turned into a war and a humanitarian crisis with global consequences.
It proved to be a timely film at the recently concluded Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes), chosen by curators and jury members who had only two months to watch, review and prepare a catalog of 250 films to from the initial stock of very many.
The menu of 54 films under “Cinema of the World” – the most searched category of any film festival – made up for the hiccups that marred the hastily organized event. The government promised 100% occupancy and gave the event a nod at the 11th hour!
Read | How are online film festivals organized?
However, the selection of regional films did not impress.
The success of a film festival depends on the period between initial curation and final selection. So the curators of the BIFFes took me back in time to a month ago when they got to work.
“The curation takes 6 to 8 months, we only had 2 months to achieve it”
I interrupted the lunch of Kannada director P Sheshadri to understand the process of organizing a festival open to devotees, film aspirants and amateurs. How to please them all?
“It usually takes six to eight months to organize the films,” Sheshadri, also the festival’s chief coordinator, compared the awfully short timeframe given to them. “Since this edition fought the uncertainties (on the fear of Omicron), we started organizing for ‘Cinema of the World’, an out-of-competition category, only from the last week of December,” he said. -he declares.
Experienced film fans and critics were consulted to form an in-house curating team. Then begins the watch-a-thon. “Every movie has to get a clearance from the censor board. We have to watch every movie to be able to answer any questions the board might have. I was watching up to five movies a day,” he recalls.
“In Karnataka, we badly need a directorate of film festivals. The organization works throughout the year, following and contacting the agents of the films which succeed in the famous festivals of Cannes, Busan and Berlin”, he says of the disadvantage which they had to circumvent.
When I met HN Narahari Rao, a seasoned historian and artistic director of BIFF, he told me that it took at least four months to organize the films. On the opening day, he even asked Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to give them more time in the future.
“But it helped me to have a great team. We have to cater to all kinds of people and not just serious moviegoers,” he shared when talking about the curation process.
Sourcing and negotiation
Narahari says, “We check the availability of international films through distributors. It takes 15-20 email interactions with the distribution agency to get a movie. As they are also in the film business, we receive an answer within 30 minutes. »
Then begins the haggling. “A big movie quotes around 1,000 euros (around Rs 85,000). Since we keep an eye on the different festivals and the price of each film, we try to bring it down to 300-400 euros (Rs 25,000-Rs 33,000). It takes a lot of time,” he explained.
Not all negotiations succeed. The team, Sheshadri said, failed to acquire the 2020 Chinese drama “One Second,” a critically acclaimed film about a man who escapes from a prison farm, which they are very fond of. . “The agents did not lower the prices to respect our budget”, he informed. They had the upper hand on some fronts. Bangalore has many cultural exchange centers. Thus, the Alliance française de Bangalore helped them find French films for the “Country Focus” category, and Max Muller Bhavan, a German cultural institute, organized a retrospective of German legend Volker Schlondorff.
Through a chance conversation with Harish Mallya, the festival’s consultant curator, I learned that curation can sometimes start as early as a year in advance. “For example, ‘Klondike’ is a 2022 film about a Ukrainian family living on the border with Russia at the start of the war. It’s a very relevant film today and my job is to try to get the film for next year’s festival,” he says.
Jury Process: Reluctance, Annoyance, Politics
My conversation with eminent director P Sheshadri at BIFF was interrupted by a filmmaker from Kerala.
“Sir, you were recently on the jury of the Kerala Film Festival when my film was screened,” he reminded Sheshadri. “Yes. It was interesting but unfortunately we couldn’t select it,” Sheshadri said. “It’s okay, sir. My film was then banned in Kerala, for five years,” the filmmaker said. with a smile so sure of his work.
This brief exchange gave me a glimpse of the heavy responsibility of the jury and the criticisms that their decisions can arouse. It’s exhausting work shared between the selection of films to be screened and the choice of winners.
Sheshadri began, “We received 82 entries in the Kannada section this year. If a member of the preliminary panel jury were to watch them all, it would take them 25 days. As we were short of time, we formed two panels of seven and five members each.
But assembling a jury is easier said than done. “People are afraid to become jurors because it can affect their relationship with the filmmakers. Sometimes people can be connected to the film, so they stay away because of the conflict of interest,” he said. .
However, things can go wrong at any time. “If good films are rejected for obvious reasons, like they don’t fit the festival guidelines, it can affect the relationship between the jury member and the filmmaker. There are reasons for every rejection that we cannot disclose,” he explained.
The verification process must take social realities into account. “In most Indian film festivals, three elements are considered: aesthetic value, artistic value and social content due to the diversity of the country. Films should not insult people’s religious feelings and they should encourage unity and integrity,” he explained.
But some directors don’t take rejection personally. Like Sajin Babu, whose controversial Malayalam film “Biriyaani” about a Muslim woman was initially rejected by the Kerala film festival and picked up later.
“I didn’t protest because I knew the film was politically strong and that some members of the jury would have struggled to take hold of it. Also, the recognition of the festival is not the ultimate,” he said. However, this time the tables turned at the BIFFes as he entered as a jury.
Do they suffer from burnout from watching movies back to back? How do they survive bad movies and come back to watch another title with the same vigor? What if you worked alongside a member of the jury with whom you do not get along? I wanted to know because a bad movie and I’m starting to curse my work!
“I watched 68 movies in 12 days. That’s at least five movies a day. I didn’t find it difficult. When I was a budding filmmaker, I watched six movies a day at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) Even otherwise I am watching 2-3 FDFS (First Day First Show) trade releases,” Sajin said.
“I don’t put pressure on myself because the opinion of a juror is subjective. My comments do not necessarily have to be the same as those of my colleagues. We met and talked before giving the final verdict,” he said and went on to reveal that some filmmakers in the past had removed him from his Facebook friends list because he didn’t. had not chosen their films.
He said to keep friendship, personal agenda and politics aside for this work. “You always have to be in a good mood while watching the movies. You can’t fast forward or stop halfway,” he added.
Politics and economics
When I was broaching the subject of politics in the choice of films with a filmmaker, he asked me to speak in a low voice.
The omission of ‘Pedro’, a Kannada film about an outcast who accidentally kills a cow, from the BIFFes had sparked a row. The film won accolades on the World Circuit but didn’t even qualify here.
“Films that are cinematically superior and thought-provoking don’t have to be politically correct. But (country and state) politics play a big role in selecting films for the competition category,” he said and added, “A pro-Hindu film is not encouraged in Kerala film festival, but a pro-left film is. In Karnataka, it’s the other way around. A Delhi, ruling party ideology is promoted.
Many films at BIFF were issue-based, depicting the victory of the righteous. “That doesn’t make good cinema,” he lamented.
The inclusion of mainstream films like Kannada ‘Kotigobba 3’ and Tamil ‘Soorarai Pottru’ have been criticized by festival-goers, who have come in search of ‘rare gems’. “Mass filmmakers are not respected for their craft simply because they make mass films. It is therefore important to bring their films here for critical appreciation,” he said. Not to mention that it’s mainstream films that make money for the film industry, he added.
Watch the latest DH videos here: