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IFFLA 2019: 'Filmmakers are exploring the relationship between older and younger generations'

Christina Marouda, founder and executive director, and programming director Mike Dougherty from the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) speak to us about the influence of the festival, the lineup for the 17th edition in April, and their goals for the future.

Sonal Pandya

Like every year, the lineup for Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) brings across a wide variety of Indian cinema. From the mainstream Andhadhun (2018) to the independent film, Jonaki (2018), the selection would appeal to everyone from the casual movie watcher to the hardcore film fan.

The 17th edition celebrates the work of acclaimed actress Tabu and will screen last year's blockbuster Andhadhun, directed by Sriram Raghavan. Keenly awaited films like Ritesh Batra's Photograph, Anand Patwardhan's Reason and Praveen Morchhale's Widow Of Silence will be screened. The festival ends with the world premiere of Megha Ramaswamy's The Odds, starring Abhay Deol, Priyanka Bose and Monica Dogra. The 17th edition will be held from 11-14 April 2019.

Over email, we asked founder and executive director Christina Marouda, and programming director Mike Dougherty of IFFLA about their plans for this year’s edition, the connection between Indian cinema and Hollywood and their One-on-One programme for filmmakers.

Visibility of Indian cinema has grown: Christina Marouda, Mike Dougherty on IFFLA

How has interest in the Indian film industry grown in America over the years?

It has been growing steadily. The successes of films like Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Lunchbox (2013), but also more recently Netflix and Amazon going to India and starting to develop original series has taken the interest to a whole new level.

It's now the 17th edition of the festival, how has it evolved since it began?

IFFLA premiered in 2003 with an audience of less than 2,000 attendees. The audience has doubled, but what is more important is the influence the festival has had over the past 17 years in changing the landscape of the industry’s attention to and appreciation of Indian cinema. We now work with all the studios, including HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, Sony, NBC Universal, and through our One-on-One programme, we bring high-level executives to the festival to have brief meetings with our filmmakers.

How does the selection process work for the festival? Are you on the lookout for new filmmakers to showcase their films?

Mike Dougherty: Our programming team keeps an eye on the films premiering around the world at major festivals, and selects films out of the hundreds of submissions we receive during the programming process. I personally have maintained a presence at the Film Bazaar in Goa for the past four years to keep ahead of all the amazing work coming from the independent filmmaking community in India, and we are in constant contact with our advisors in India, chief among them being Uma da Cunha, who keep us informed as to what films to look out for. We always want to discover new, exciting talent to showcase at our festival, and I think IFFLA has a tremendous track record of doing just that.

Is there a theme for this year's festival?

Mike Dougherty: If there are two themes I could identify that are appearing across many of the films, they would be intergenerational stories, and politically-charged narratives. This year, a lot of filmmakers are exploring the relationship between older and younger generations — be it the temperamental friendship between a 65-year-old man and 12-year-old boy in Namdev Bhau: In Search Of Silence, or an octogenarian woman’s reliving of her youth in Jonaki, or the coming-of-age stories about young people who challenge and enlighten the older people around them in Chippa and our closing night presentation, The Odds.

Our filmmakers also continue their tradition of boldly tackling politically charged material, as in Anamika Haksar’s unforgettable Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon, or Anand Patwardhan’s vital documentary Reason. Our shorts filmmakers also continue to be exciting new voices advocating for change — viewers shouldn’t miss fare like award-winning director Jayisha Patel’s Circle, or Searching for Saraswati by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madeshiya of The Cinema Travellers.

What films will be having its world premiere at the festival? What films are you keen to present to the audience this year?

Our closing night presentation is the world premiere of Megha Ramaswamy’s The Odds, a delightful and visually adventurous coming-of-age tale with two remarkable young leads, Yashaswini Dayama and Karanvir Malhotra. It features supporting turns from Abhay Deol and Priyanka Bose, and all four of those actors will be at the premiere, along with Megha. Megha has made some astounding short films that we’ve loved and championed, so we’re thrilled she’ll be making her first trip to IFFLA.

We’ll also be world premiering three short films: Sakshi Gulati’s hypnotic Neon, Neha RT’s satirical comedy The Shaila (s), and Los Angeles-based filmmaker Varun Chounal’s hilarious Gabroo (Youthful).

Who are the filmmakers and artistes attending this year's edition?

Almost all of our features will have the filmmakers present. I’m especially excited to welcome Anand Patwardhan to talk about his documentary Reason, which won the grand prize at IDFA. Ronny Sen will be here to present his Slamdance award-winning feature debut Cat Sticks, producer Shrihari Sathe who won the Producers Award at Los Angeles’ Film Independent Spirit Awards will be on hand to present The Sweet Requiem, and Dar Gai will be in attendance to talk about her delightful, moving film Namdev Bhau: In Search Of Silence

This year, the festival will be honouring Tabu and her work. Her film Andhadhun (2018) is also the opening film, how did you decide upon selecting this actress this year?

We do not get to honour an actor/actress every year. We have been selective in the past, and only embark on this journey when we feel strongly about an artist. We have been discussing the possibility of honouring Tabu for years, and this year when we watched Andhadhun, we thought it was perfect timing. She is a unique actress with a very diverse body of work. It's a heavy lift for us to do justice to her and her work, but we are honoured to have the opportunity to do so.

Can you tell us about your One-on-One programmr to help filmmakers network with professionals from the American industry? Was that initiated from the inception of the festival, or did you add the programme as the festival grew?

The One-on-One programme consists of two sessions during which participating filmmakers and industry professionals engage in 15-minute meetings. The professionals are agents, distributors, producers, publicists, development and lab studio executives, and film festival programmers. The objective of the program is to lay the foundation for future collaboration and offer an educational experience. This programme was launched in 2004, the second year of the festival. It has been an integral part of the festival and its mission, and one of the elements that set us apart from any other South Asian festival.

Recently, the 4% challenge was announced at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to take further a commitment to work on films directed by women. How can film festivals take up this challenge? Does IFFLA have this mind for the future as well, as you've prominently featured films by female filmmakers on your programme?

We think it’s crucial to include as many female voices as possible in our lineup, and have always made a commitment to do so. When filmmakers come to our festival, we introduce them to high-level executives in the entertainment industry, and this is the perfect chance for these industry players to meet new and exciting female directors to consider for their projects.

Where do you see the festival heading in the future?

We would like to continue to present the best of Indian cinema from our own lenses, while we take the organization to the next level, creating partnerships and raising the necessary funds to initiate educational and project development forums.

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