Festivals have become a parallel market for films
Consultant to the Artistic Director of the prestigious Venice Film Festival, Paolo Bertolin – an Italian film critic, journalist & festival programmer, who was recently at NFDC’s Film Bazaar talks to Pandolin about his experience at the Bazaar, his association with Court – India’s entry for the Oscars, and many exciting experiences from various other festivals.
You were at Film Bazaar last year as well and picked up a film then too. Tell us about it.
I haven’t been directly picking up films from Film Bazaar. Usually when I come here, I hold meetings at the Film Bazaar market. I meet producers and makers of the films and try to follow up on the projects that are here. As for the films that are being screened, it is a bit too late in terms of any selection as the Film Bazaar takes place in November and Venice occurs in September. And it’s still a long way for the next edition. So I focus on knowing more about what is coming up later. And you have to understand that it may take few years before the film actually gets completed and comes to festivals. For example, I always like to mention Court because it is a film that I first heard of here in Film Bazaar in 2012 when the director and the producer were present at the Co-Production Market. I thought the project was interesting so I later got in touch with them in early 2014 when the film was about to get complete. So it took a long time till the film actually reached screenings.
Tell us about your association with Court.
There was a first meeting in 2012 and that’s when I met Chaitanya (Tamhane, Director) and the producer Vivek Gomber. We had a next meeting at the Co-Production Market. I felt that there was something interesting about the project. We actually talked not only about the project but cinema in general so that was also a conversation that gave me an insight about Chaitanya’s understanding of films. Then we kept in touch and he sent me links to his short films and got in touch again when Court was ready. I knew that the film was unique and really wanted to support it. It was actually a quite stressful moment for me because I knew that the committee in Venice liked the film pretty much. But at the same time the invitation was sent very late.
Often at such film festivals what happens is that the decision has to be taken quickly because a concurrent even could be inviting the film too. At that time other films were getting invitations but when I asked Chaitanya if he had got any invitation, he mentioned that other festivals were actually rejecting the film. So I was in a difficult situation because we have to be quick in taking a decision. But in this case Court was kept on hold. We had to wait until the very last moment, which made it pretty stressful for me. And then it started getting invited and did so well.
At the official screenings at Cannes or Venice, everybody is applauding as an act of courtesy. But in the case of Court, you could see that people were really standing up and showing their passion for the film. In fact, during one of the moments I saw that the jury stood up and kept applauding while looking at the director. Of course the director didn’t know where the jury is sitting, but I saw the jury reacting so warmly.
At that time you must have been very proud of your decision?
It is never nice to say that you are proud of something because it makes you sound like you are pretentious. But in this case, y I’m proud that I brought the film to Venice especially because they were initially getting so many refusals. And I was really desperate to understand why is the film not getting attention and registering amongst viewers. It was such a relief when things changed. After the Venice premiere and the film getting various awards, everybody said yes to it.
What really attracts you to the Film Bazaar?
Film Bazaar is a really well organized event. The footfall and market events is one of the best amongst the ones I usually attend. It is a very important platform to connect with the industry in India and also an important place for the Indian industry to connect with people from abroad who are interested in cinema of this region. It is a place of communication for makers and producers. I guess what Film Bazaar has managed to establish is a kind of communication, which for the longest time was missing. And that has brought India back on the map of festivals, sale representatives and co-producers.
Venice is such a prestigious film festival. How do you maintain that status?
That’s a difficult question because I’m only taking care of specific things. Venice is a festival that is part of a bigger cultural foundation. It is part of Venice Biennial that includes various events such as art exhibitions, international music, theatre festival, kids carnival etc. We are in a way less independent as Cannes and Berlin because they have their own statutory organization. The director in Venice only runs for four years as compared to others where directors work for a much longer stretch. And four years is actually a very short time on an event which happens once in a year but for instance a film like Court can take a couple of years.
So I think what can keep a festival like Venice afloat is the attempt of delivering the programme in the best possible way. And at the same time keep the accountability and credibility constant.
How did you first get on board with the Venice film festival?
I started working with Venice in 2008 and got on board because of the former Director, Marco Mueller who called me to be part of the committee at the end of 2007. Honestly I wasn’t really expecting it. Back then I was in Kuala Lumpur to visit a friend. I opened my email and found an email from him saying that he had been trying to call me. I was literally jumping. That’s how I originally joined the festival. It happened because some of the people who were working for the Venice film festival at that time had recommended my name because I was part of a group of people who had helped a certain film get into Venice. And Mr. Mueller was quite appreciative of the fact that we have helped this film, which was quite an unusual choice. I guess that is why he chose me and some others to join the festival.
Once you were on board, what were your goals?
It was a very exciting and special experience. And that was because I brought the films and directors that I believed in. There was very open and frank conversation. It was the best year with Mr Mueller and the committee because the main goal was to bring the cinema that we liked. For the past eight years, that was also the main goal for me.
Since bringing good films has always been your goal, what exactly is the criteria in judging the films?
There is no such thing as criteria since cinema is closer to alchemy rather than to mathematics. There is no precise formula that you can add up to get a good film. There has to be something that speaks to you and may be doesn’t speak to someone else. It is really very subjective at a certain level. I think it is something very specific and at the same time unpredictable. I guess it is the same when you talk about any other art form – say painting. Often artists whose works were rejected at the time when they were creating, became the most expensive painters in the world after a century. I think cinema also follows the same track. You just follow your personal instinct.
Do you think a film festival is an important platform for independent films to get that kind of market?
Realistically yes! Because the independent and the art house market is shrinking – if you compare the situation now with twenty years ago, it is saddening. There has been a radical shift in the structure of exhibition market. The multiplexes system is a fake addition of variety. They tell you that they have 12 screens and out of those 8 have been occupied. In my opinion, festivals have become a parallel market because at times they are the only platforms where certain films can be screened. And an audience of a certain city can have access to those films. Many of the films that you see here at IFFI – Goa, MAMI – Mumbai or the Kerala film festival etc. are the only places where one can watch some international films.
What are the similar markets like Film Bazaar that attract you?
That depends upon my specific work or if I’m following some specific territories. Similar events that I follow include the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum, Busan Film Festival with Asian Project market and Meetings on the Bridge which is part of Istanbul Film Festival.
-Transcribed by Navleen Kaur Lakhi