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July 21 2019
MAMI announces that film festivals are still relevant in the Netflix era
25 June 2018

Is the offline film landscape realigning itself in the age of digital platform?

Braving Delhi’s waterlogged roads after a thunderstorm earlier this month, cinephiles and cinema personalities made it to the late-evening screening of Wes Anderson’s animated fantasy Isle of Dogs that marked the launch of MAMI’s (Mumbai Academy of Moving Image) year-round programme in Delhi.

At the red carpet event preceding the screening, biggies Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Vishal Bhardwaj showed up to support the MAMI team, represented by festival director Anupama Chopra and creative director Smriti Kiran. The venue, the iconic Chanakya theatre, had been swankily revamped, and added a special charm to the event.

Coming to the capital

With this, MAMI has created a footprint in the national capital, coming to Delhi with the promise of offering film-related events every month. This will include not just screenings but discussions with film crews, workshops and masterclasses. And a three-day film festival is on the cards for March-April 2019.

This is great news for a city whose film festival culture is a little more subdued than what is found in Mumbai, Goa or Thiruvananthapuram. And it was heartening to see Delhiites hazarding rain and traffic to watch good cinema — especially in the age of digital streaming platforms. MAMI is likely to travel to other cities soon with this new year-round programme.

With digital streaming changing how we access cinema, how much must the offline landscape realign itself to stay relevant?

 

The MAMI Film Festival in Mumbai.

The MAMI Film Festival in Mumbai.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

MAMI was thinking of this when it started its year-round schedule in Mumbai. “You can’t dump 200 independent films on a city in one week and then disappear. We need to have a consistent supply of content where you not only feed cinephiles but also others whom we can convert. So we started the year-round programming in Mumbai and the idea was to take it to other cities too,” says Kiran.

There is an impression that festivals too have to focus on big-ticket titles and popular stars to get the crowds in. Kiran concedes the point but says, “The way we curate is that we have the 50 favourite titles everyone is tweeting about. But we also get, say, 30 films that are discoveries.” Social media presence is also becoming vital to promote festivals.

One of MAMI’s exciting initiatives is the web-driven Movie Mandi — an online marketplace for curated Indian films across languages — an effort to push home-grown cinema beyond the titles that usually make it to festival circuits around the world.

New engagements

How we engage with films today has changed, says Kiran — but for the better. “The endgame is, are people able to watch good stuff? I’m a great endorser of the online platform. But the one element that has not changed about festivals are the elements of discoverability, curation, and contact with the filmmakers. The festivals feed into what the platforms are not able to provide,” she says.

 

The 10th Bengaluru International Film Festival.

The 10th Bengaluru International Film Festival.   | Photo Credit: Sampath Kumar G. P.

The opportunity to interact with the cast and crew from different countries has always been a major attraction at film festivals, which is where it scores over online movie viewing. “This ambience helps people grow to love cinema. Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc., are good platforms for independent cinema and to release films that do not make it to the theatres, but they cannot replace film festivals,” says Indu Shrikent, who headed Delhi’s much-loved Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, which stopped after 2012.

Big screen magic

Filmmaker Ritu Sarin founded the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2012, with husband Tenzing Sonam. She is unfazed by streaming platforms. “Our aim is to not just create a platform for indie cinema but to also provide a space where film lovers and filmmakers can interact in an intimate space,” she says. Although online is how cinema is increasingly consumed, Sarin says the magic of watching a movie on the big screen as a shared communal experience will continue to remain relevant. “Perhaps even more so for indie films that otherwise don’t have the possibility of being distributed in cinemas.”

What festivals are doing is to reinvent to keep up with the times. One event called ‘DIFF On The Road’, for instance, shows select films from the Dharamshala festival in different cities around India. Sarin wants to cover the smaller towns of Himachal Pradesh itself first.

H.N. Narahari Rao, who was artistic director of Bengaluru International Film Festival, stresses the aspect of curation. There might be greater access to good cinema from the comfort of our drawing rooms, but how does one know what to watch. “The kind of films available online are not especially selected. Also, how many people can access cinema on digital platforms,” he asks.

It is perhaps time for theatre owners too to re-examine what they represent. Consider the increasingly exorbitant price of tickets (and popcorn!), and you could find another reason why audiences stay away. It’s certainly a tricky time for the theatre industry.

But times look better for film festivals. As critic and scholar on Asian cinema Aruna Vasudev says, “People are not going to theatres because the price of a ticket is so high. But the festivals are still jam-packed.” And that’s exactly the sentiment MAMI is riding on.

The freelance writer is a lover of cakes, chai, bookshops and good yarns.

 

 

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