He is a festival veteran in the true sense. As a festival curator, he has headed the biggest of international film festivals like Locarno, Venice and Rome. Marco Mueller recently set foot in India as a part of the jury of the first International Film Festival for Persons with Disabilities (IFFPwD) which took place in New Delhi from 1st to 3rd December 2015. The festival showcased 40 Indian and international films including 16 shorts, 14 documentaries and 10 feature films. Pandolin spoke to Mr.Mueller about choosing the Best Film at IFFPwD, the growing recognition of Indian cinema and importance of festivals as a marketing tool.

Marco Muller

Marco Muller

You were part of the jury for all feature length films (documentaries & feature films) at IFFPwD. Tell us about the experience.

We saw all the films and the verdict that came out was a unanimous one. In fact, that emphasizes on the importance of emotional films, which give you the possibility of seeing the world from the point of view of a person with disabilities. We chose a film that was very engaging not just cinematically but also emotionally absorbing so that you can understand the complexity of the process that has led people with disabilities to realise their objectives.

How do you think does it helps in terms of global awareness? In terms of empathy versus pity towards disabled people.

What is really important is that the most powerful films in the selection are films that are asking you to forget who you are for two hours, and try and see the world from the point of view of a person with disability. In that sense, it was also a process for us. The experience of ten films and three days of screening for Jayshree, Miramay and myself, have changed us because it’s the first time that we have had to confront different facets of the world in which people with different disabilities live.

Is such a platform only available in India? Are there any global festivals similar to IFFPwD?

No, absolutely not. And, here, I always appreciate the fact that in India everyone who has been an active ‘militant’ in these big social upheavals has always been talking about empowerment. Empowerment is a very strong board and it really gives you the possibility that it is not only a matter of access and accessibility but there is a process that leads to new realization.

You have been the director/jury for several international film festivals. What are your views on the global reach and importance of Indian cinema and how do you see it going further?

The importance of Indian cinema has always been recognized. For the past decade or so, every year has seen new filmmakers being introduced to a wider, global world. For me, the most important aspect is that maybe 20 years ago people abroad would imagine Indian cinema to correspond to one kind of film. But that has now changed because so many more personal and original filmmakers have come out and have assessed their way of looking at this part of the world, sharing a very personal and specific discourse about what happens here, about all things Indian. Everybody outside India will have to accept the idea that it’s multi-faceted cinema where nothing is predictable any longer. It’s a cinematic world full of surprises. A lot of people have already started to understand that.

Do you think that film festivals are creating a broader perspective of world cinema?

The important thing to note is that nobody gets discovered only because of film festivals. Festivals have been very useful in putting a filmmaker and his or her work on the right path for wider recognition. In that sense, film festivals have been very useful in making sure that the speed of this recognition process would be increased by a few times.

But is there a divide between the audiences of festival films and general Box Office films?

Depending on the festival, I have been striving everywhere to make sure that there is no difference between a festival audience and regular movie goers. I have always been fighting so that there are cheaper tickets for people who do not belong to one of the professional categories that would get an accreditation through the festival. That is also a way to prove through a festival that in addition to immediate static value of the film, there is a quality of market attraction that only a festival can reveal. That has happened with me also. In the last addition of the Rome International Film Festival, nobody was expecting an Indian film (Haider) to win an Audience award. So, in that sense, it’s a very special testing ground. Distributors can no longer imagine that viewers will always go for the same kind of experiences. It is testimony to the fact that viewers and particularly, sensitive viewers, are hungry for films that will give them news of the world, films that will give them the possibility of a dialogue and an exchange with people who come from different cultures and live in very different countries.

Would you say that film festivals are a good marketing tool for regional releases?

Of course, it is a good tool. And what is important is the global circuit. Today there are way too many festivals for the impact to be strong enough to guarantee an immediate release, but it does raise an awareness for those films and filmmakers and eventually, that does translate into market value.

How do you see a film festival as niche as IFFPwD creating an audience to come and look at films of people with disabilities, broadening its perspective and creating more content?

If you get enough emotional films, I am sure it will be accepted. When I was Siri Fort (Delhi, the venue), it was full of young people; and the way they participated in the festival, it’s a good intimation of what can happen. It proves that the right kind of films can talk in a very engrossing way about the problems of disabilities and reach out to a very different kind of audience. Therefore, it can play a very precise social role and also aim to be received as a box office success. I am not talking of the money aspect but I am talking about how they can transform the society by becoming popular.

-Transcribed by Saurabh Rathore