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Fest tries on beach venue

Festival showed 175 films from 46 countries and attracted 5,000

MUMBAI — After 35 years, the Intl. Film Festival of India (IFFI), is still struggling to find a place as a top-tier fest. One problem has been that the fest travels to a different city each year, with this year’s edition, Nov. 30-Dec. 9, held at the beach resort of Goa.

Another is that there are no international premieres and only half a dozen domestic ones.

For years, advisory committees have tried persuade organizers — the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting — of the advantages of a permanent venue.

The fest, which showed 175 films from 46 countries and attracted 5,000 attendees, went off smoothly enough to ensure that Goa will get another go next year. Festival director Neelam Kapur said the government would assess infrastructure and management before making a longer commitment.

A carnivalesque atmosphere — open-air screenings on the beach, performances on the promenade and a slew of parties — prevailed and the proximity to Mumbai, home to Bollywood, brought in the requisite star glamour. Event included a tribute to Hyde Park’s Ashok Amritraj.

But IFFI lacked the programming buzz of South Korea’s Pusan, the top Asian film festival.

“Curating and creating long-term relationships is the essence of any festival,” says filmmaker Mira Nair, whose “Vanity Fair” opened the festival. “The ministry must put the festival in the hands of people who love cinema.”

Critics called the fest’s programming just average, with only six national premieres. Neither the competition section (open only to Asian films) nor the Indian Panorama section created critical waves.

“Many people don’t look at IFFI as a major platform,” admits Kapur.

The most innovative section was 24/7: Making Movies, which gave free cameras to anyone under 24 who could make a fiction film in 24 hours.

The films were screened daily and the project ended with the three best films winning a slew of prizes — a polio-afflicted debutant director got the opportunity to make a film for a leading television channel while another budding filmmaker got a professional digital camera.

It’s going to take plenty of original ideas like this to put IFFI on the festival map, say observers.

Amit Khanna, president of the Film Producers Guild of India, says: “The state must eventually wither away and let the festival take its own roots, but Goa was a good second chapter for IFFI.”

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