The whole idea is to celebrate cinema, says Christina Marouda about the 20th edition of IFFLA

The festival has announced a series of exciting programmes aimed at supporting and nurturing South Asian filmmakers.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The 20th edition of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) is set to take place from 28 April to 1 May. This iteration of the festival, where 10 features and 16 shorts will be showcased, will mark a return to in-person screenings and events such as a gala presentation of Pan Nalin’s Chhello Show, the world premiere of Anmol Sidhu’s Jaggi and the North American premieres of Faraz Ali’s Shoebox and Natesh Hegde’s Pedro.

Speaking about the anniversary celebrations and the special initiatives taken by the organizers this year in an exclusive chat, IFFLA founder Christina Marouda said, “We have been thinking a lot about the last 20 years or so, and where everything is at right now. Even before the pandemic, we had been brainstorming about ways in which we can take everything that we know how to do and take advantage of the relationships we have built with Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general, and the experience we have bringing filmmakers in touch with the entertainment industry and also the incredible pool of alumni we have developed, which is over 600 people. These are incredible storytellers. Some we have discovered, others we have created a great relationship with, so we have been trying to also see how we can be helpful to the filmmakers.” 

IFFLA has announced a mentorship initiative to support emerging South Asian filmmakers. Throwing light on the impetus behind starting such a programme, Marouda said, “We wanted to see that in the next 20 years, what can we do to really make an impact when it comes to a smaller number of filmmakers so the idea of a mentorship initiative is something we have been discussing."

The organizers have researched and studied labs around the world that have been set up for the benefit of filmmakers. "What we have discovered is that the South Asian filmmaking community still needs a lot of support and some filmmakers have participated in certain labs and in most cases, it has been a positive experience but that’s still not enough.

"We have decided to launch a mentorship programme that will really be there with the filmmakers and help them take their career to the next level. We want to focus on filmmakers that are at the mid-career level. and help them get to the next level. We are going to be announcing this initiative on our closing night of the festival with a few more details. The idea is to create something that has legs and can really be there for the filmmakers for a long time.”

This year’s edition will also stage a live script-reading with prominent local acting talent from the South Asian diaspora of the feature-length screenplay, Alim Uncle, by IFFLA alumnus Kahlil Maskati. Attached to direct the reading are IFFLA alumna Fawzia Mirza (The Queen Of My Dreams), Rizwan Manji and Kausar Mohammed.

Marouda said there will be a hybrid presentation of 20 shorts from each year of the festival. "We are creating an in-person programme, which is a portion of the shorts showcase which will be online in collaboration with New Filmmakers LA. It is an organization that has various programmes throughout the year and right before the festival, they have a programme focusing on Asian cinema. They have given us a slot where we can present a handful of our online shorts as part of the 20th anniversary.” 

“In addition to that, we have gone to our alumni, previous staff, friends of the festival and patrons and asked them to record a video, answering questions such as describe IFFLA in one word, what difference has IFFLA made to your life and what is your most memorable experience from IFFLA. For us, we are treating this year as a way of bringing the community back together and not just in LA but the larger community of Indian, South-Asian filmmakers, what we call the IFFLA family. The whole idea is to come back after almost three years of the pandemic and celebrate cinema.”

The festival also includes a Spotlight on South Asia section, which will showcase some ground-breaking works emerging from the region and by its diasporas. Explaining the thought process behind creating this section, the IFFLA founder said, “When we started 20 years ago, it was a different world when it came to South-Asian cinema. It has really evolved and expanded and the diasporas, especially in the US, have really come together to make films. So it’s really hard right now to separate India from South Asia because there is this incredible collaboration. Our response to all that is this ‘Spotlight’…It’s a very nice and eclectic showcase of what we feel are the best of South Asian shorts that could be made available to our audiences.” 

IFFLA’s annual One-on-One Programme this year will include 20 film executives who will meet several of this year’s filmmakers and offer advice to help them develop new projects and build their careers. Contemplating the overall vision of the festival and the road ahead, she said, “From the very beginning, we have been very filmmaker-driven. Our most unique and exciting programme is the One-on-One, which we launched in 2004. It brings together filmmakers and industry professionals who for 15 minutes have a chance to discuss specific projects and create a relationship. This is a programme that we put a lot of thought into in terms of who we invite. We want people who are there because they want to meet our filmmakers in order to potentially collaborate with some of them because they are interested in Indian and South Asian cinema. Finding those individuals is a very thoughtful and time-consuming process that we have been doing since 2004.” 

Although the pandemic has played havoc on events and film festivals across the world, Marouda is certain that things are looking up and people are geared towards coming together for on-the-ground events. “Things have really opened up in LA. It also helps that there is a lot of outdoor space; but in terms of theatres, in-person festivals have really good attendance and we think that will be the case with us as well. People are very eager to get together.”

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