Officials said nearly a 1000 people across the country watched movies online, and around 3500 registered themselves to be physically present at one of the seven screens near ESG, officials who managed the festival said.
The pastel yellow and white, colonial style building that houses the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) is on a street in Panaji that runs parallel to the Mandovi river till it meets the Arabian Sea. For the last ten days or so, the street was lit up, with lights dangling from electric poles and trees all along it.
It seemed like an earnest attempt to brighten the venue that annually hosts the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), because barring the lights, little else suggested the festival is on.
The pall of the pandemic sat heavy on this year’s edition of IFFI, which concluded on Sunday. It was visible in the absence of any large crowds near any of the seven venues where the movies were screened. To compare, queues were longer outside the entrances to the several offshore casinos in Goa, just a few hundred meters north on Mandovi.
Officials however, insisted that crowds were present, though virtually. Because of the pandemic, the objective this year wasn’t to get the crowds, an official said, but to ensure that “people who matter”, like movie critics and students, among others were present.
It is the first time IFFI was conducted in this hybrid fashion of physical and virtual screenings. Officials said nearly a 1000 people across the country watched movies online, and around 3500 registered themselves to be physically present at one of the seven screens near ESG, officials who managed the festival said.
IFFI director Chaitanya Prasad said the festival was “very meticulously planned”.
“The way Covid progressed, our planning also took that into account. If the cases were unfortunately increasing at some point of time, that was a time we kept our work together. We also kept options — if the festival is stopped or postponed, what will we do.” He added that once it was decided to postpone the festival, they zeroed in on the dates — January 16-24 — and stuck to them.
According to Prasad, they organisers had decided on holding virtual screenings even before the postponement plan was finalised. “When we invited applications for cinema, we gave the option for entries to be virtual only, physical only, or both. At that point of time, that was for November, we had an overwhelming response for virtual,” said Prasad.
Finally, a mixed, format was selected. Prasad said around 85 movies premiered in the festival, including some which were “world premieres”.
Though the total registrations were less than half those in 2019 — when around 10,000 people had registered — last year’s edition also marked it’s golden jubilee.
The number of entries however didn’t take a very big hit this year. A total of 224 movies from across 60 countries hit the screens this year, compared to the 300 in 2019.
Officials said that even as the pandemic disrupted lives around the world, the participation of international films and their crew is not disheartening. At least 46 international directors, actors and actresses, whose movies were screened at the festival managed to make it.
Several Indian filmmakers, including Madhur Bhandarkar, Rahul Rawail and Hariharan also conducted virtual “masterclasses” on filmmaking.
“What we feel is that this hybrid version is going to stay. Will definitely happen in the next edition, with more improvement. This was a trial phase, where hopefully, we have done well.” Prasad said.
Speaking more about the new format and it’s challenges, Prasad said, the experience of screening films only online was new, as “we have to be very careful because the streaming process, where the rights are given to us”.
He explained that “there are issues as far as streaming of films virtually are concerned for world premieres” as they are largely for the “the Indian audience”. Further, Prasad said if the movies were intended for global audience, then the parameters would be different. “Next time, we will pitch for that,” he said. “Because we were doing the first time here, we had to be a little cautious and not overambitious. Our focus was to reach out to people who matter in cinema — students, film critics, among others.”
Though “there were no ticket sales” and nobody can enter the screening unless they had registered beforehand, but “people who matter for cinema are here”, Prasad reiterated.
For the new format, the organisers cut down the number of screenings per day to 28. Prasad added, “The quality of cinema is no less this year.”
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