The founder of the LIFFT India Filmotsav & Awards – World Cine Fest 2020 talks about the challenges in organising a film festival amid a pandemic and the way forward.
All events that were organised only for media and publicity will collapse, says Riju Bajaj on future of film festivals
New Delhi - 05 Jan 2021 18:06 IST
The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on the film industry. While theatres shut down and film shoots were suspended, film festival organizers across the world tried to find innovative ways to hold their events online. One festival, the LIFFT India Filmotsav & Awards – World Cine Fest 2020, which was held in Lonavala, was organized despite all odds.
The festival founder Riju Bajaj discussed the uphill task of organizing the festival amid the pandemic. “It’s been the most difficult year for the festival because all our sponsors had backed out and they were not interested in putting in money. A lot of the workers had gone to their respective home towns so we did not have their service. Practically, there was nobody working hands-on for the festival so there was a time when we thought 'let’s give it a skip and focus on 2021'. But then I started getting calls from filmmakers, audience members and well-wishers, and overseas filmmakers started asking me about the festival and felt that we should do it.
“The response has been amazing. We got films from over 55 countries and that includes films from Iran and Italy, France and UK, and these were countries that were badly affected by COVID, which gave us a lot of confidence and encouragement to continue. This has been a learning experience for me about how with limited resources, one can mount a festival and yet keep its integrity and gravity,” he added.
While most festival organizers took the online route, Bajaj did not feel that this was the way to go. “Most of the films that we’ve been getting for the past three years are unreleased ones. Even if we did screen films online, there is no single app which can guarantee you anti-piracy, so that was a complete no-no. A few filmmakers suggested that you don’t have to do the screenings. The Academy Awards also do not do screenings, they just consider the films and give the awards. So we felt that we should put more emphasis on the LIFFT India Awards rather than the Filmotsav, which is the film festival.”
Over 425 films from over 55 countries were officially selected and shortlisted for nominations in over 75 categories. The award ceremony was held online, spread over two days.
Bajaj explained the reason for the long list of awards that are given out as part of the festival. “It’s a festival dedicated to independent filmmakers. Let us not forget that independent filmmakers use the services of newcomers, be it the cameraman, sound designer or actors and technicians, or set and costume designers, so it is imperative for a festival to recognise their talent and their work. If a festival recognises the director or the best film, you’re not recognising the cameraman or the art director or the make-up man or the costume designer, or the supporting actors, or child actor. They are left out and they do not get the attention that they should get because it would really help them put their name forward. They have something to say that their film has been recognised and has been awarded. Fortunately for us, the gravity [of the awards] has been there from the beginning and has only become stronger over time,” he said.
The jury members include Ram Gopal Bajaj, Gyan Sahay, Rajesh Touchriver, Nayani Dixit, Abhimanyu Ray and festival founder-director Riju Bajaj.
This year, the festival received films on diverse topics which are immensely relevant. The award for Best Film was won by Heart of Gold by Kullachat Jitcajonwanich. An inspirational true story of a woman who is a drug addict and dealer, the film traces her journey to becoming the first female prisoner to have achieved three world boxing championship titles. It’s the story of a hopeless, helpless underdog who rises against all odds.
The Best Biopic and Best Director Awards were won by Main Mulayam Singh Yadav directed by Suvendu Raj Ghosh. The film won a host of awards including Best Costume Designer, Best Make-up Artist, Best Supporting Actress and Best Art Director. Speaking about the film, Bajaj said, “It looks at his [Mulayam Singh Yadav’s] journey from a wrestler to a politician who fights for the rights of people. He is an iconic leader of his times. We generally do not see biopics on living people, especially about political figures.” Other winners include Yashpal Sharma for Mooso: The Mouse based on John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice And Men, while Scam 1992 and Jamtara were the big winners in the awards for web-series.
Thinking about the way forward for the film festivals, Bajaj said, “Until December, everything is going to be virtual. Thanks to COVID and online platforms multiplying, doors have been opened for independent films so filmmakers need not come to a festival to screen their films and can directly screen them on the OTT platforms. That is going to be a loss for the festivals as the numbers of films that we will receive will drop drastically next year, so hosting a festival would be impractical because we will get less content.”
However, Bajaj stressed that these circumstances will separate the wheat from the chaff, saying, “This is probably the right juncture where we know how festivals are rooted. All festivals that were organised only for media and publicity will collapse. This is where you need to introspect about whether you are really interested in doing a festival and are you concerned about independent filmmakers? If yes, you will find a way. Most of these film festivals are held by giant business houses to promote their own products.”