The International Film Festival of India has a history of
almost 50 years and this gives it an obvious advantage compared to state-run
festivals, which were started much later. It is bigger and finds many more
entries than the festivals in Thiruvanantha-puram and Kolkata. It doesn’t
guarantee quality but there is much more to choose from. Visitors can be
assured of getting a reasonable selection of award winners while the
hospitality offered in Goa, where the festival is being held since 2004,
ensures that there is a cross-section of prominent delegates from around the
world whose films are competing in one of the categories.

The focus has changed to some extent since the Entertainment
Society of Goa became a partner and started looking after the logistics while
the Directorate of Film Festivals concentrated on the selection of films,
retrospectives, tributes and the focus country. It means that the cinematic
interest coincides with the business objectives laid out by the ESG. For
instance, the festival this year has seen business delegates whose primary
interest is to explore the possibilities of making Goa an investment
destination while delegates from Korean Tourism will make full use of the
country focus on South Korea to promote tourist traffic to the beach resort.
All this paves the way for the growing budget but the prospects of sponsorship
allow the luxury of having nearly 7,500 delegates. This is far more than what a
state-run festival can afford.

The festival has been growing every year although this year
the duration has been reduced from 11 to nine days. The content has been
adjusted to accommodate a variety of interests with an eye on bigger
participation. For instance, a major step forward is to start an international
award for the best debut director. The winner should stand out in the crowd of
nearly 200 films from 88 countries that were selected from more than 1,000
entries. The Indian contribution to this category is quite significant and the
two films of debut directors should indicate where young prodigies in India
stand compared to their counterparts in the west.

The Indian Panorama has also witnessed a healthy change in
the sense that films completed just prior to the last date for entries have a
chance of being screened because the stipulation on a censor certificate has
been removed. It has resulted in a virtual explosion of entries but, at the
same time, the enthusiastic arrival of newcomers is something that the festival
organisers can be pleased about.

The number of Panorama aspirants from different states has
confirmed that the digital revolution has a direct impact on filmmaking,
especially among the young. Who would have thought that a film made in Khasi
would find its way to the Panorama? Predictably, there has been a burst of
entries in Marathi

where the state government offers generous subsidies on a
selective basis based on content and performance judged by a panel of experts.
Even otherwise, the number has gone up from Kerala and Bengal. While the
majority of these can be ignored, there are outstanding examples of technical
excellence like Veeram based on Shakes-peare’s Macbeth but presented with
extraordinary cinematic sense.

Bengali and Marathi films accounted for more than 30 entries
each and the search for good cinema will obviously boil down to modest efforts
that reveal the emergence of exciting prospects. In Bengal the most prominent
name to have emerged in the past few years is Aditya Vikram Seng-upta who made
Asha Jaowar Majhe. The director from Bengal who could make a difference this
year is Manas Mukul Pal who adapted a short story by Bibhuti Bhushan
Bandopadhyay into a charming portrait of two young brothers in a Bengal village
trying desperately to cope with the harsh reality of poverty and neglect. The film,
Sahaj Paather Gappo is one of the two Indian films (along with the Sanskrit
film Ishti) in the international competition where it will be competing with 13
short-listed films for the Golden Pea-cock.

The jury is headed by the Czech-born US director Ivan Passer
who is remembered for his remarkable films during the Prague Spring of the
1960s.

The opening film at Goa was a major draw in the sense that
it was Andrzej Wajda’s parting gift. Afterimage was a biopic on a Polish
painter with all the sensibilities that the veteran Polish director has
revealed in his work over more than 50 years till he died earlier this year.
The contingent from South Korea — the focus country — aroused curiosity largely
because the Asian country has been quite prolific with its output apart from
bringing directors like Kim Ki-duk who is hugely popular among students of
cinema.

Goa has thus provided a healthy cocktail of artistic, social
and commer-cial interests that should help it to acquire new dimensions like a
workshop on screenplay for film institute students and collaboration with
Unesco to allow films to be shown for a visually impaired audience.        There may be a long way to go to match
the power of Cannes, Berlin and Venice. But with healthy new ideas and initiatives,
there are clear signs of the festival being on the right track.