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Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) is redundant; shut it, save nation’s resources

Last week, in the first instalment of ‘A Call to I&B Ministry’ series of articles, we talked about the Films Division of India (FD) and recommended its permanent closure, sale of its prime real estate and use of the proceeds to subsidize pulse and onion cultivation and ‘guashalas’.

The Union Finance Minister recently announced that he would invoke the ‘price stabilization fund (PSF)’ of Rs.500 crores to keep the runaway prices of pulses under control. Needless to say, this allocation is totally inadequate and by scrapping FD alone, he can save and generate a few thousand crores to augment PSF.

The Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) is another department operating under the I&B Ministry. It’s mandated to organize the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and the National Awards functions. It was created more than six decades ago. Let us examine its relevance in the present age.

What does a film festival do?

It creates awareness among the masses about good cinema and provides a platform to promote and market a certain kind of films known as ‘festival films’ that may not otherwise find an audience. It caters to a tiny ‘elite’ among cinema audiences that has highly refined artistic sensibilities and can appreciate the finer things of life. Swami Vivekananda termed them as ‘antique pieces maintained at the cost of hungry millions’.

A society must nurture art as a form of human expression notwithstanding the anguished rebuke of this highly sensitive soul and patriot saint who cried tears of blood when he saw his countrymen suffering and dying, while a desensitized elite indulged in callous profligacy. 

However, there is a very thin line between genuinely promoting art and culture and sustaining a ‘moribund’ and decadent ‘art & culture’ establishment with  public funds that is presided over by imperious, self-obsessed, and self-serving cultural czars and czarinas. The Sahitya Academy Awards and the controversy around them is a stark illustration of this malaise.

Why should the government organize films festivals and awards functions?

More than 60 years ago, DFF may have had some relevance. You needed it when India did not have a film festival of its own and the art house cinema ‘eco-system’ was not yet in place and the film society movement was still shaping up. That has changed. We have a plethora of film festivals today, one in almost every big city and state capital. DFF serves no national purpose any more. In fact, it has begun to compete unnecessarily with other film festivals in Mumbai, Kerala, Kolkata, and elsewhere. Such competition only helps international distributors make more money out of film festival organizers and programmers. If you look at the film selection and programmes held under the aegis of various Indian film festivals, they are nearly identical since their sources are the same. A small group of Indian programmers help curate all these festivals. The award winners of four major film festivals - Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Venice – are the most coveted titles.

Likewise, we have so many independently organized, sponsored and promoted film awards functions today. Why should the Government of India occupy this space when state governments and independent bodies can do it probably better and far more effectively without putting any financial burden on the taxpayer? Why should it involve itself in an activity where it’s not needed?

DFF is an example of public-funded profligacy

It is perpetuation of ‘durbar culture’ wherein ministers and bureaucracy behave like royalty and dispense favours to ‘hangers-on’ and parasites that polish off the cream and enjoy their cocktails and multi-cuisine dinners in five-star hotels while the lay people of India live off crumbs. DFF is an abhorrent example of horrible and unpardonable decadence. Ironically, it’s one of the vestiges of the socialist era that promoted elitism and crony culture instead of egalitarianism.

The beneficiaries of the DFF regime

It’s a tiny coterie. If the I&B Minister calls for a list of the members of various jury, selection committees, programmers, experts, speakers, panelists, special guests, the dinner and cocktail party invitees, and even the award winners of the past 25 years, he will be able to discover the scam. This is the entire ‘film festival’ establishment of India, consisting of a few hundred people, who have been at the helm for decades. DFF spends crores to keep this establishment running. Now, this is not unique to India. This is how things are done all over the world, particularly in the erstwhile Soviet Bloc countries. The ‘festival cinema’ establishment by nature is parasitical. Though it claims to promote art, it generally provides for itself. Promotion of art is by and large an incidental activity. 

IFFI and other international film festivals

Though IFFI was the first international film festival in the Asian region, it could not grow in stature for various reasons. Other Asian region film festivals like the Busan International Film Festival have grown in stature with a strong competition line-up of Asian films and world cinema titles. IFFI could not even become an effective launch vehicle for art-house films and filmmakers in the Indian market place. Even after it got a permanent venue in Goa, nothing much changed. It does not attract international delegates. Though the IFFI officials may claim otherwise, it’s nowhere near the high standards of other international film festivals in the Asian region thanks to bureaucratic shortsightedness, micro-corruption, and cronyism. 

What would this writer do if he were the I&B Minister?

He would have his task cut out.

  1. Scrap DFF and have a ‘facilitation’ officer in the ministry who helps other Indian film festivals deal with legal formalities related to entertainment tax and CBFC matters.
  2. Do away with the National Awards completely. The Government of India (GOI) already has Padma Awards for distinguished civilians.
  3. Entrust the task of curating ‘the Indian Panorama’ selection to an independent programmer and selection committee funded by Prasar Bharati.

In the next issue of Bollywood & TV Reporter, we shall be discussing the relevance of the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI). Keep reading.