At the same time came another blow for the Delhi IFFI. A Delhi IFFI jury headed by British director Lindsay Anderson in 1983 stated that films in competition did not merit the top award even though one of the films in competition–Bruce Beresford’s “Tender Mercies” (USA)–went on to win two Oscars
There are film festivals and film festivals.
The top film festivals of the world are the ones at Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. (Kieslowski before his death made one for each, “Blue” for Venice, “White” for Berlin, “Red” for Cannes and won accolades at two of the three) These three festivals have enjoyed the FIAPF (the international body governing film festivals) category I status for decades.
Two others that enjoyed the status that has slowly eroded in the past decades are the Moscow and Karlovy Vary festivals. Many Indians will be surprised to know that the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) once belonged to that august group and was recognized as a major event worldwide, in the late Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Directors like the Italian maestro Luchino Visconti sent his film “The damned” and won the 1969 Golden Peacock in New Delhi. Luminaries decked various IFFI juries-directors Elia Kazan, Antonioni, Kurosawa, Bertrand Tavernier, Satyajit Ray, Ousmane Sembene, Lindsay Anderson, Humberto Solas Grigory Chukrai and actress Jeanne Moreau. It truly once enjoyed the prestige of a major world event.
The Delhi IFFI was patronized by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, a true film buff, and once India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister. The event gradually began to lose its sheen in the decades that followed as Mrs Gandhi became more involved in politics. There were other reasons as well-bureaucrats ran the festival without a clue about good cinema and the cold and misty early January slot awarded to the festival held in Delhi was not comparable to Cannes or Goa for Westerners who wanted to escape their own bleak winters. Further Delhi could not boast of a large audience that could relish a Kazan or an Antonioni. I recall an angry audience that paid for the tickets tearing up seats in Delhi’s Archana theatre during a Tarkovsky retrospective in 1979! Today if the Osian Festival in Delhi were to hold a Tarkovsky retrospective there could be a markedly different response thanks to increased awareness of international cinema in that city.
In the late Seventies, plagued by all these issues stacked against the Delhi IFFI, the event alternated with a non-competitive edition of the same Festival called “Filmotsav” held in cities like Chennai (1978), Bangalore (1980), Kolkata (1982), Mumbai (1984), Hyderabad (1986), and Trivandrum (1988). These experiments clearly indicated a knowledgeable audience existed not in New Delhi but elsewhere in India. It also showed that more important names preferred to visit these Filmotsavs than the Delhi IFFIs. Examples of luminaries included Roman Polanski, Yousuf Chahine, Tomas Alea, Emile d’Antonio, Carlos Suara, Krzystof Kieslowski, Souhel Ben Barka and Zunussi.
At the same time came another blow for the Delhi IFFI. A Delhi IFFI jury headed by British director Lindsay Anderson in 1983 stated that films in competition did not merit the top award even though one of the films in competition–Bruce Beresford’s “Tender Mercies” (USA)–went on to win two Oscars (best actor-Robert Duvall, and best screenplay-Horton Foote) later that year. This is a clear example of what is good cinema for some, not being so good for others. I recall asking Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who was part of that jury, on this surprising decision. Having interviewed Lindsay Anderson, I can have a fair guess how that jury came to that incredible decision. Anderson and Gopalakrishnan probably had very high standards-higher than the Oscars. The international credibility of IFFI was rocked by none other than its own jury.
Soon after a couple of other attempts at reviving the falling image of IFFI, the competition section was limited to Asia, Africa and Latin America-which effectively excluded USA, Canada, Europe and Australia. But could the event continue in New Delhi?
The think tank in Delhi wanting to bring Bollywood stars to invigorate the event opted for Goa as they felt the beaches and the climate of Goa would make the IFFI resemble Cannes in some way. From an alternate year event the Goa IFFI became a yearly event. The state government pitched in with federal government to make the event financially viable and even increase the tourist traffic. The Goa IFFI is still to relive the magic of early days of the Delhi IFFI because its officials have yet to realize that the list of Golden and Silver Peacock winners have not been included on the Internet Movie Database site (IMDb), while even the lesser Filmfare awardees are listed!
While IFFI has lost its sheen, other film festivals over the past decades have emerged trying desperately to reach the stature of the top three-Montreal and Toronto from Canada, Locarno from Italy, San Sebastian from Spain, Mannheim from Germany, Sydney from Australia, Sundance from USA, Sao Paulo from Brazil, Havana from Cuba. The latest kid on the block is the Dubai festival which is definitely not short on funds.
Apart from IFFI, FIAPF has now given its approval to at least two other Indian international festivals the Kerala International Film Festival and the Kolkata International Festival, the former being a competitive festival and the latter a non-competitive one. I guess the Osian and Mumbai festival are also accredited to FIAPF. Other International Film Festivals are sprouting in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, jostling for space and recognition.
What is unfortunate for India is that no Indian film has made the competition grade at the top three festivals in recent years. Indian films get shown at these events but only “out of competition”. The Indian media often fail to make this distinction. The Indian festivals in Goa, Kerala, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi (Osian) and Pune could help reverse the trend by introducing contemporary Indian filmmakers to the ever-changing trends and the raising the bar of quality to match the quality of the best in Asia if not the world.