The International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which concluded a few weeks ago, seems to have traveled a long way since 2004 when it was first held in Panjim. The Festival did not have either a smooth start or a smooth sailing over the years. It does not help matters that the Festival is marked every year by numerous side-shows along with the screening of films. The hectic last-minute preparations and the arguably extraneous events on the side have always caused logistical and organizational problems apart from seriously inconveniencing people living in or traveling to Panjim. It wouldn’t be too much to say that every IFFI sees the city hijacked by the festivities.
The problem with IFFI and Panjim is not unique. In fact the case is symptomatic of the way in which Goan resources are used, or overused, in order to host national and international galas. The success of such events should not be judged by the good or bad press they receive, but rather by how much these festivals can give back to Goans.
One needs to ask if the promotion of extraneous activities like music concerts, food streets, and other amusements right in the middle of the town promotes a ‘film culture’ in any way. If one consults older news reports it becomes evident that while the government of Goa and the organizers of IFFI claimed to be promoting ‘film culture’, the emphasis was rather placed on IFFI’s potential to bring in the tourists and developmental projects. In other words, IFFI was sold to Goans because it would help the tourism industry. The tourism industry and many of the culture fests think of Goa as a veritable carnival-provider. In fact, more often than not, the imagination of the culture fests in Goa gets trapped within the Goa-equals-fun-times clichés they operate in, thereby losing their intellectual and educational value.
Thus, right from the get-go, IFFI was wedded to the goals of the tourism industry. In fact, many argued that local and international members of the film world would be attracted in coming to Goa precisely because of its natural beauty and tourism-related infrastructure. As far as Goa is concerned, this is where the problem lies. Like mining, tourism is also an extractive industry; it puts pressure on public infrastructure if handled badly. One wonders why the Goa government and the organizers of IFFI, like the Entertainment Society of Goa and the Directorate of Film Festivals, prefer to add to the existing chaos.
One doesn’t understand why the organizers want to have more tourists given that the number of delegates is quite high. This year’s IFFI saw about 7500 delegates registering, a staggering number for a small city like Panjim to accommodate. Why can’t the Festival be more about an engagement with good cinema, and the residents as well as the traffic in Panjim spared the inconvenience and imposition of catering to the tourism industry on such a massive scale? The Festival wants to attract a crowd that has very little to do with films; a crying shame considering the 2016 edition had some very thought-provoking films. In fact, the tourist hoopla – food stalls, music programmes, and children’s activities – created such nasty traffic jams that many cinephiles missed the film shows.
Like literature festivals which have writers and artists in attendance, a film festival is also about the people who make films – writers, actors, directors, and technicians. IFFI 2016 was able to rope in many accomplished personalities renowned for their work internationally. These persons often conducted master classes and were available for interaction after their movie was screened. My impression is that most of these persons were willing to interact with anyone who was interested, young as well as old; sadly there were just a few to engage with the visitors.
Thus, the Festival – or any other such festivals – should be primarily a learning experience for all. Many young Goan filmmakers and cinephiles have written about their experiences that allow us to see the value of culture fests. These young Goans have written how being part of IFFI has allowed them to broaden their interests, expand their horizons, and be more engaged and interested in the happenings of the world. In other words, world cinema opened up the world to them! It is precisely because of such value that IFFI adds to the lives of young Goans that it would be worthwhile to have the festival, despite its numerous problems.
Many delegates at IFFI 2016 were of the opinion that this year’s edition was by far the best organized, and in many ways rightly so. However, the continued dependence on Goa’s tourism image to sell the Festival suggests that a lot needs to be done. Considering that the Festival has been around since 2004, 12 years is a lot of time to get one’s priorities right. And it is only by emphasizing on the learning potential of the Festival and its usefulness to the lives of young Goans (rather than the mindless carnival that is offered) that the Festival – indeed other such festivals – would be meaningful to the people, culture, and history of Goa.
(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 21 December, 2016)