Tuesday, May 30, 2023

NE Film Festival controversy: Directors, Ministry, organisers weigh in

It all started with a poster featuring yesteryears Bollywood celebs like Mahima Chaudhry, Padmini Kolhapure, Poonam Dhillon and Gulshan Grover. All stars in their own right but do they represent North East India?, reports The Quint.
The poster was on display at the venue in the recently concluded North-East Film Festival (NEFF) 2023 in Mumbai. An initiative by the Sikkim Film Promotion Board and National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC).
It’s being alleged that there were no posters with cutouts of artistes and filmmakers from North East. The three-day festival showcased feature-length movies, short films and documentaries from the region.
To start out with, The Quint highlighted about the misrepresentation. While speaking to filmmakers and other participants, it emerged that the poster controversy was the so called tip of the iceberg, while they also alleged the North East Film Festival had many more problems.
Addressing the poster controversy National Award-winning filmmaker and film critic Utpal Borpujari, whose documentary won an award at the festival, said, “The poster in question comprised of guests who were invited to the opening and closing ceremonies. There was one person from the North East in the poster, a Naga singer who compered the opening ceremony and also sang. In that case, it should have been mentioned. I feel that there should have been posters in the venue with cutouts of film personalities from the North East like Danny Denzongpa, Adil Hussain and Seema Biswas, who have contributed in a big way to Indian cinema”.
Borpujari said, “This is not the first time that a North East film festival has been organised by the ministry- it was done in 2014-16 too in Delhi and Pune, with a different name. It’s a good initiative, but there can be a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the organisation and execution. I understand that there was a time constraint, but as filmmakers we expect it to be done in a professional and comfortable way”.
“Also, if there’s a budget available, there should have been a prize money for films that have won. A lot of young filmmakers who come from remote areas don’t make any money from their movies, this prize money encourages them to pursue with their filmmaking endevours “, the director added.
Pooja Sharma, Chairperson of the Sikkim Film Promotion Board, said that the organisers were quite happy with the outcome given that there was a huge time constraint.
“…We had a very short time to put the festival together, and we are happy with the outcome. We had celebrities like Randeep Hooda, Poonam Dhillon, Padmini Kolhapure attending the festival and around 1000 people turned up every day,” she said.
However, a director, on the condition of anonymity, told The Quint that just seven people who he had invited for the screening of his movie had turned up.
National award winning filmmaker Pradip Kurbah, who’s based out of Shillong, was not very pleased with the lack of communication from the organisers. “I got a call from the organisers to be a part of the jury. I was surprised because the call came around 17 March, and the festival was supposed to start from the 24th. I thought I had to watch around six movies, but when they sent me the films, they were 31 of them! There were short films, feature length ones as well as documentaries”.
Pradip added that he was also unaware that he was supposed to be a panelist for a session.
Pradip continued, “It’s a good initiative by the I&B ministry. But outsourcing the management to people who have no clue how to organise a film festival is a problem. You are getting films from the North East and screening them in Bombay, so at least consult us”.
He also touched upon the selection criteria of films. “I was surprised seeing the list of short films that were sent to me. Most of the movies are already there on YouTube, so why would they be a part of a festival?”
“Also, there were no films from Meghalaya! When NFDC is a part of this festival, why did they outsource it?”
Another Assamese filmmaker, Shantanu Sen, who won the best director (bronze) award at the festival, highlighted the problems that the invited filmmakers faced in Mumbai. “I had to share my room with another filmmaker. I am perfectly okay with that but how can I be made to share the same bed with a person I don’t even know?”
He added, “I got a phone call from the festival organisers, and there was no official email from them. I have been a part of several festivals before but that’s never been the case”.
“But I must say that Armstrong Pame was gracious enough to apologise to the filmmakers at the festivals for any inconvenience, and said that it had to be hurriedly organized before the end of this financial year. He has promised that all these issues would be addressed and rectified in the future edition,” Shantanu responded.
Rebecca Changkija Sema, founder of Find Studioz, has been in the event management space for a decade and was in charge of organising the festival. She refuted Pradip Kurbah’s claims about not being very communicative about the panel.
“An official mail had gone from our end. We didn’t have enough time and it took us at least ten days to collect over 200 films. We had called Pradip Kurbah and he said he was keen to attend. But we had to replace him because we didn’t get any further confirmation from him”.
She even addressed claims of jury members not being given enough time to watch the movies. “We didn’t force the jury to do anything. We were being pressurized by the ministry to get the results from the jury, but whoever asked for more time we gave it to them. We didn’t interfere”.
About the poster controversy Rebecca said, “It was part of the creative design. Those were the guests we had invited because we wanted to fill up the gap. We had been asked by the I&B ministry and the NDFC to invite as many celebrities as possible”.
Manipuri filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar, while appreciating the efforts, also highlighted that there’s a lot that can be improved.
Armstrong Pame, director Films at the Information and Broadcasting Ministry explained why there was such a hurry to organise the festival. “Most of us work in the government sector and March, being the end of the financial year, is an extremely busy month. Also, budget allocations had to be utilised by 31 March 2023. We had been planning the festival since January, but other things came up so we had to put this together in a hurry”.
Speaking about the budget Pame said “For the North East Film Festival, we were allocated a budget of around one crore. It includes travel, accommodation, screening of films and the entire execution. Considering the constraints, I was quite happy with the participation – most of the panel discussions had great attendance.
(Exclusive report by Tridip Mandal & Swati Chopra, originally published in The Quint)

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