The 16th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) had a setback when its key sponsor pulled out, leaving the fate of the festival hanging. But the organisers mobilised money through crowdfunding. Industrialists and film industry veterans came out in support. MFF is now back on track. Festival Director Srinivasan Narayanan speaks to Manavi Kapur about the many challenges of hosting a film festival in India
Have the challenges that MFF faced this year been unprecedented? How has the process of bringing the festival together been different from the previous years?
We used to face issues with funding till 2008 when we did not have a proper, consistent sponsor. This problem was ironed out when Reliance Entertainment came forward in 2009, after which things had been running smoothly till last year. But funding has been a haunting problem for our festival right from the start – we had to even cancel one edition in 1998. We have faced no major hurdle in putting together the jury and films and have sailed through because of the goodwill of organisations and friends from the industry who feel passionately about cinema. The main issue was and is money. Another problem is the venue in Mumbai. Since our festival lacks government support, we move from one venue to another like nomads. Because of this, we have to reinvent the festival every year to suit each specific venue.
Is the problem of funding and bringing together sponsors an indicator for the larger issue of filmmaking? Is it harder to organise festivals and make independent films in India than it is abroad?
Yes, that is exactly how it is. This is the same problem that filmmakers face while making films with non-celebrities and stars. Though the production costs are not high, filmmakers still find it difficult to fund their projects. In case of a festival like MFF, it becomes hard to raise money when stars don’t participate. But we are trying to deal with this problem. There is always a solution hiding behind a crisis; we need to hold on till the crisis period passes. We’re hopeful that next year won’t be as hard in terms of finding sponsors.
You have been wary of taking support from mainstream Bollywood personalities, but they have come out openly in favour of the festival this time. What are your views on that?
We have never been reserved about participation or support. In fact, we want them to attend the festival and watch the films. Our festival has been popular with mainstream actors and directors, though their active support and participation had dipped in the last four or five years. But it seems that with the younger generation of film stars, there has been a revival in the level of interest towards MFF. And this, we’re hoping, will help with making our endeavours widely known, especially when more people from the industry come forth and participate.
Other than film festivals, what more do you think can be done for the cause of regional and independent cinema?
We have to find various outlets in India to screen films, and not just mainstream ones. This ecosystem was created by the government at one time – with Indian Panorama, International Film Festival of India and the National Film Awards. This was the good cinema movement. MFF too is an attempt to bring commercial and arthouse cinema together. Several commercial films have a wonderful technical quality in terms of cinematography and editing and we like to honour that. This is a celebration of good cinema but it needs to go beyond that and be transformed into a movement.
What are you looking forward to in this year’s edition?
Personally, I am most excited that MFF is finally happening. We have several wonderful personalities like Christopher Doyle who will come and speak at the event. Veteran actor Catherine Deneuve will host a master class with Vidya Balan for budding talent. We will focus on the academic side of filmmaking too, since the festival is attended by lots of students and technical professionals like editors and assistant directors. Question and answer sessions with filmmakers will feature in a big way this time. We want to present this year’s edition as a well-organised and sophisticated one. Our online seat booking system should help avoid chaos and confusion.