IFFI’s fluctuating selection quality at Goa 2016

The selection panels for these sections are squarely responsible for the dismal scenario. Quite evidently, the IFFI bureaucrats and politicians are jointly responsible for the downward spiral. And it is not that 2016 has seen a poor crop of films worldwide
"The Russian film "Leviathan" that won the Golden Peacock in 2014"

One of the best parameters to evaluate an international film festival is the quality of films that get included in its Competition Section. The Competition Section of IFFI Goa 2016 is remarkably weak when compared to the previous five editions of IFFI. None of the films in the Competition Section is a product of a director of repute. None of the films in the Competition Section was selected to the prestigious Competition Sections of Cannes, Berlin or Venice—the premier international festivals of the world–unlike the commendable selections in this category in recent IFFI editions. Only one film in this Section comes to Goa in 2016 with some prior credibility, Poland’s “The Last Family,” which won the best actor award at Locarno festival. All the other competing films are minor entries.

There was a time in the history of the Indian International Film Festivals (IFFIs) when master-filmmakers such as the Italian director Luchino Visconti competed in the Competition Section of IFFI. In 1969, his film “The Damned” competed and won the best actress Silver Peacock for the Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin. In those days, the IFFI was held in New Delhi and films from all over the world could compete. Though made in Italian, the film was also nominated for the best screenplay Oscar. That was definitely a high point in the chequered history of IFFI.
In the Seventies, when an eventual Oscar-winning US film—Bruce Beresford’s “Tender Mercies” (1983) was selected in the Competition Section of IFFI New Delhi, the competition jury headed by British director Lindsay Anderson found the contesting films to be of low quality and withheld the Golden Peacock from being awarded to any film. Ironically a few months later, “Tender Mercies,” which went empty-handed from New Delhi, went on to win two Oscars—for Robert Duvall as Best Actor and for Horton Foote for his screenplay.

The Competition Section was scrapped for several later editions on a very questionable premise that IFFI could not attract good films in competition. Then some bureaucrats and a coterie of film critics came up with the idea of a competition section open to the Third World countries alone. This did not help the image of IFFI either.
After IFFI moved to Goa, its new permanent venue, from 2010 IFFI once again opened up its Competition Section to the whole wide world, including USA, Europe, and Australia. Once again films of repute started to compete and win Peacocks.
A recent high-point in the history of IFFI was in 2014 when the Russian film “Leviathan,” competed in IFFI Goa and collected the highest award—the Golden Peacock—after it had won the best screenplay award at Cannes Film Festival. It went on to win some 30 odd awards including the Gold Globe and for the Best Foreign film. Its director Andrei Zvyagintsev came to Goa to receive the prize even though the media by and large ignored his presence there.
In recent years, IFFI’s Competition Section had attracted very important films which include China’s “Apart, Together” (a Berlin Festival winner), Denmark’s “In a Better World” (an Oscar winner, a Golden Globe winner, an European Film Awards winner), and Thailand’s “Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives” (Cannes festival’s Golden Palm winner).
In 2015, IFFI-Goa attracted very laudable films in the Competition Section—Columbia’s “Embrace of the Serpent” (winner of the Golden Peacock at IFFI-Goa, a Cannes award and some 30 other awards worldwide), France’s “The Measure of a Man” (winner of the Silver Peacock for best actor at IFFI-Goa, and Best Actor prize at Cannes), Turkey’s “Mustang” (winner of the Silver Peacock for best actress at IFFI-Goa jointly to the actresses in the film, and a Cannes winner), and British director Peter Greenaway’s “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” (winner of the Silver Peacock for Best Director, nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin festival).

This sudden decline in quality of the line-up of competition films needs to be put in the context of the controversial selection of the Indian Panorama sections which has ignored the latest works of Adoor Goplakrishnan , a film which was selected to the Toronto film festival, and of Buddhadeb Dasgupta. The selection panels for these sections are squarely responsible for the dismal scenario. Quite evidently, the IFFI bureaucrats and politicians are jointly responsible for the downward spiral. And it is not that 2016 has seen a poor crop of films worldwide.

For the IFFI-Goa film delegate, all is not lost. The other sections of IFFI provide interesting fare—a brilliant choice for the opening film (the late Polish maestro’s last film “Afterimage”), a lovely homage to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and some eight major award winners from the three major European festivals. One hopes IFFI can regain the momentum of quality it had built up that has been lost this year.