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KIFF 2017: Network of independent filmmakers need of the hour

S Durga director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan said piracy is the primary difficulty, while actress Maheen Mirza said the problems filmmakers faced were similar to the problems farmers and weavers faced.

Dr Biju, Maheen Mirza, Pushpendra Singh and Sanal K Sasidharan at a panel discussion on marketing independent film. Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Manigandan KR

The different platforms available to independent filmmakers to market their films were discussed at length at a panel discussion, moderated by well-known filmmaker Jiju Antony, on the third day of the first Kazhcha Indie Film Festival (KIFF) at the Lenin Balavadi in Thiruvananthapuram.

Several other issues associated with the marketing of films, such as the need for viewers to have an active role in sharing information about independent films and the threat posed by piracy, were discussed by the panel which comprised eminent director Bijukumar Damodaran (popularly known in Kerala as Dr Biju), Maheen Mirza of the Ektara Collective, director Pushpendra Singh and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, director of the controversial S Durga.

Participating in the discussion, Dr Biju said, "The biggest difficulty independent filmmakers face is with regard to how they can sell their movies. Many think they can recover their money if their films get into festivals. However, it is very difficult to get entry into film festivals because even in small countries they are making good films now. It has been around 20 years since an Indian film won in the competitive section of the Cannes, Berlin or Venice film festivals."

The veteran went on to give hope to independent filmmakers by saying there are multiple other ways for them to get their money back. "Sometimes we get back the money if we win an award," he said. "Over the last four or five years, opportunities to market the films have been coming because of internet platforms like Amazon or Netflix. Also, the educational platform is another source. If the film is specifically made for educational purposes, it could be used by institutions such as university libraries, which screen them for a nominal sum. Then, as we know, there is the festival platform. Apart from these three platforms, there is the option of making DVDs."

Jiju then raised the question of how aspiring filmmakers could get their films into festivals. Won't their films be lost in the thousands of other films seeking to gain entry into festivals like Cannes?

Sanal Kumar responded, "We have to close our eyes to that side and see if there is any opportunity available. It is difficult to get entry into a film festival.  You try to send your films to festivals, but you can't say every movie of yours will make it to a festival. Rather, we must look to use the market in India.

"Here, we have a lot of potential but have failed to use it," he continued. "We don't know where to sell and how. People want to see every film released. If you ask viewers to pay just Rs10, which is the price of a cup of tea, and if you make a film which is in the range of Rs25 to 30 lakh, you can recover the money."

Recounting his own experience, he said, "When Sexy Durga was first shown in a film bazaar, my sales agent liked the film and told the CEO. However, the CEO said it was 'dark'. After we got selected in Rotterdam, they wanted to sell. I still haven't got any money from my sales agent. My opinion is that we will stand to gain much more if we explore our own soil."

Director Singh added to the discussion by citing his own experiences. "It is difficult to get distributors for the kind of films I make," he admitted. "Not even Netflix bought it. If you think a film festival is a big ticket to selling, then you are mistaken. Especially if you are dealing in regional cinema.

"Let me talk about my film. It was a two-hour film in black and white. My agent said they had managed to sell only one black and white film so far and that too because it had won awards and was by a famous director. I was inspired by an Israeli filmmaker who suggested that there is another platform called the art of slow films. They have a VoD [video-on-demand platform] to sell slow films. We have to focus on our artistic practice and find the right audience. He says if you are an independent filmmaker, you will have to find an independent way to sell your films. He says there should be a network of independent filmmakers who then should look at venues where they can find audiences for each other."

Providing another perspective, actress Mirza said the problems filmmakers face are similar to those •farmers and weavers face. "It is a universal problem," she said. "We produce films and they produce food. We do not know where to sell. With the advent of technology, more people are getting to make films. But who will watch the films? So, an agency comes in as an intermediary, but they want it exclusively. So the people and the masses for whom it is meant can't access it. What we need is a movement that will give people access to the films."

Dr Biju pointed out that in many countries there are dedicated theatres for screening arthouse films. Viewers get opportunities to watch rare films and filmmakers get some money, he said.

In India, however, he said such a movement is non-existent. "There are people who want to watch rare films. There may not be a huge crowd, but they are there," he said. "It is starting in Kerala. Theatres exclusively for screening independent movies have come up in Kerala. They should come up in other states as well."

Singh said that with KIFF, independent filmmakers had made a start. "KIFF is by a filmmaker. We have taken ownership," he asserted.

There were suggestions from the audience as well on how the onus has to be on viewers, who have to take the initiative to take such movies to their respective villages and towns.

It was left to Sanal Kumar to offer a practical, low-cost suggestion and raise a serious problem. "We need not screen our films to large groups," he said. "Even if we can show the film to 50 people at a time and have such screenings in 200 places across the country, I think that will be a start.

"The primary difficulty we face is piracy. People think independent  films are free. Even if you ask for Rs10, people feel offended. They don't mind paying several times more to watch big stars.

"There are some people who consider it their duty to upload our content on the internet. It is necessary that we stop people from uploading this on the internet free. Also, we must ask people to pay. It can even be Re1, but people will not pay if you don't ask. Also, when we give our films to film clubs for screening, they should make sure the films do not go out."

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Kazhcha Indie Film Festival