As we count down the days to Jio MAMI’s Mumbai Film Festival 2015, we can’t help but admire the tenacity with which the festival has bounced back — there’s an inside joke among many that it stands, today, one of the more democratic things we’ve seen recently in the country. One of India’s most prestigious film festivals, it ran into a few major hiccups last year, with the chief sponsor backing out, and the festival turning to crowdfunding to materialize.

In its upcoming 17th edition, a new management team and a renewed dedication to quality cinema from around the world, has witnessed the passing of the baton from the veterans on the festival board of trustees helmed by Shyam Benegal, to the next generation, that has been working tirelessly towards a festival that promises to be an inclusive and stimulating feat in storytelling.


MAMI PRess Conference (L-R) - Vishal Bhardawaj, Gayatri Yadav, Niharika Bijli, Dibakar Banerjee, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Kiran Rao, Anupama Chopra, Smriti Kiran

MAMI PRess Conference (L-R) – Vishal Bhardawaj, Gayatri Yadav, Niharika Bijli, Dibakar Banerjee, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Kiran Rao, Anupama Chopra, Smriti Kiran

Passing the Mantle

With filmmaker Kiran Rao taking the helm as Chairperson, and film critic Anupama Chopra as Festival Director, other board members include a delightful mixed bag; Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Vikramaditya Motwane, Dibaker Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar are accompanied by actors Riteish Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone, Siddharth Roy Kapur, MD, Disney and Manish Mundra, Founder and CEO, Drishyam Films. More recently, Mrs Nita Ambani was also appointed as co-chair.

“The appointments for the new board were simple: a set of accomplished individuals who feel passionately about cinema and are willing to lend their time and support to build it,” shares Smriti Kiran, Creative Director of Jio MAMI, 2015. “These are some of the best creative and business minds in the country and they are actively shaping the future of the festival.”

She elaborates, “Anupama, Kiran, Seema Mohapatra (Marketing Head) and I started pitching to corporate houses and investors the moment the last edition of the festival got over. But it took us almost 8 months to find funding and the two sponsors who showed faith in our vision are Jio and Star, the sponsor partners enabling the festival.”

Crowdfunding & Filmmakers: Dream Team Material?  

Tapping into a means of raising funds that’s quickly gaining popularity amongst independent filmmakers, Wishberry is the film festival’s crowdfunding partner to help dream projects materialize. While it is important for Wishberry to be in the festival space to reach out to creators, Smriti admits that it has no role to play in funding this year’s edition of the festival. “Crowdfunding is not a sustainable model for running a festival of this scale and ambition. Last year was an exception. We knew that we needed to find a stable source of funds so that we can take the long view on the festival and build it keeping in mind the next five years instead of the next six months. What we are doing today will reflect in 2016.”

Mumbai Film Festival was sustained last year through the film community and cinema enthusiasts who rallied together for a festival they weren’t ready to see obliterated from Mumbai’s cultural landscape yet. And while it might not be a sustainable model for it — it is incredible that it was able to help tide the festival over and stay true to its vision until it could regroup and return this year, with a stellar line-up and a host of events in tow.


Smriti Kiran, Creative Director, Jio MAMI 2015

Smriti Kiran, Creative Director, Jio MAMI 2015

What’s In Store This Year

Besides the cutting-edge cinema we’ve come to expect from it, this 17th edition of the festival with Star India has a lot of other things going for it — starting from the opening film itself, Hansal Mehta’s ‘Aligarh’ featuring Manoj Bajpai and Rajkummar Rao, which packs a punch and tackles the issue of sexual orientation, and the value society holds by it.

In a tip of the hat to the written word, a new award category, the Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema, has been announced that includes works of fiction, creative non-fiction, reportage, analysis, graphic novel and screenplay, written in English or translated into English, carrying a hefty cash prize of Rs 5 lakh.

“As a journalist and book author, it gives me pleasure to introduce the book award at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. My hope is that this will help support and produce some stellar writing on Cinema,” Anupama Chopra, said in a press release.

An initiative of Drishyam Films is also a shot in the arm for the promotion of films, with the winner of the India Gold category this year to receive an average print and advertising investment of Rs 50 lakh from the production house, as well as support in terms of securing Indian theatrical distribution, international sales as well as festival management.


Manoj Bajpai in Aligarh

Manoj Bajpai in Aligarh

Drishyam Presents is just incredible,” Smriti Kiran gushes. “This offer by Manish Mundra truly gladdens my heart because distribution or dissemination of independent content is a hurdle that people have not been able to crack. Great films get made, and then just sit in cans or languish for years looking for platforms, because P & A is too expensive.

“I remember that even after sweeping awards across festivals and getting resounding acclaim, Chaitanya Tamhane and Vivek Gomber — who made the outstanding Court — had to struggle to get their film to release. Distribution is a beast that filmmakers grapple with, and by instituting this award, Manish Mundra is opening an invaluable avenue for a movie to see the light of day. It is the best gift any filmmaker can hope for.”

In other news, critically acclaimed filmmaker Ava Duvernay, who has been previously nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and been the recipient of 2012 Sundance Film Festival Best Director Award, is to head the International Competition Jury.

“I still remember the day when Ava DuVernay said yes,” Smriti recalls. “I jumped so hard that I almost knocked one of my knees out. It was a heady moment when pictures of them were released together.

“An ideal jury is a mix of credibility, diversity in terms of the roles they play in the world of movies and the countries they represent. We have an incredible Jury this year.”


Director Ava DuVernay

Director Ava DuVernay

The list of exciting screenings and events on the itinerary is truly endless, but other highlights of the festival include the Half Ticket section for kids who love films as much as we do, a special After Dark section tackling intriguing genres, a restored version of the ‘Apu trilogy’ by Satyajit Ray being screened, and renowned film critic Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian conducting a two-day workshop for budding critics. The festival wraps up with a one-day Movie Mela at Mehboob Studio, complete with movie-related merchandising and panel discussions.

Getting With The Digital Revolution

Online youth entertainment behemoth The Viral Fever also recently came on board as a media partner for the Movie Mela, a step that testifies to the festival evolving in tandem with the changing times.

Anupama and I also run a digital channel called Film Companion so my induction happened in this medium a year ago,” Smriti shares her views on the shift. “It took some time to get used to it, but I love the work that is happening on digital. I feel we have now moved to the next level on this fast-evolving piece.

“There are original series, short films, long format content being made only for the digital space; big names from the industry have started to see the potential in this medium. Everyone is talking digital today. In fact, this year we are introducing a new segment at the festival on digital content called PLAY which is curated by Nikhil Taneja, one of the sharpest producers of digital content I’ve met.”

As far as TVF goes, she confirms with a smile that they are ‘one of the hottest digital content creators in the country’ and that she could think of no one better to collaborate with to make their long-cherished dream of Movie Mela go viral. “We are very excited about them coming on board as our new media partner to promote the Mela.”


Movie Mela

Movie Mela

Getting By With A Little Help

A team from Toronto International Film Festival recently came down to conduct a workshop with the new management team and give them a few pointers on creating a new blueprint for the festival, as a part of an ongoing Indian-Canadian collaboration.

“This workshop was such a blessing,” Smriti says. “We kind of floated the idea on a Skype call with Cameron Bailey, the Artistic Director of TIFF and he — in conjunction with the Canadian Consulate — made it happen. Cameron got his VP of Production and Visitor Experience Natalie Lue down with him. Their processes are thorough and collaborative, and there was so much we gained as a team from those five intense days.

“It would be hard to put this down with any brevity, but I think what I came away with was their attention to detail, their deep understanding of their audience, their approach to the festival as an experience, and not just a screening event and their immaculate systems. I still refer to my notes from that workshop to deal with situations that are new to me,” adds Smriti.


Dibakar Banerjee at the MAMI Press Conference

Dibakar Banerjee at the MAMI Press Conference

Festival Director Smriti Kiran Doesn’t Play Favourites

When asked to choose some of her personal top picks of films being screened, Smriti laughs, “You cannot choose between your babies! It is will be unfair.”

She continues, “Each and every film that has been programmed is special and has been hand-picked by the best programmers on the job. I am so happy with the selection that I cannot wait for everyone to watch! Despite being hysterical and exhausted, I have butterflies in my stomach and am eager for delegates to start watching and talking about the titles. It is almost like being part of putting together a surprise birthday party!”

A party we’ve certainly marked our dates for! With the new generation of board trustees taking over, and so many exciting treats on offer, we must take a moment to realise that we have been a part of a paradigm shift, in which what is perhaps India’s biggest film festival has sought to reinvent itself. Driven by a shared passion for cinema, it is not just those behind the festival who are contributing to it, though.

The festival received a staggering 248 feature film submissions in 29 languages this year, including Pashto, Wanchu and Jaunsari. Filmmaker Dibaker Banerjee said in a release, “The selection of Indian films includes 14 World Premieres, and 17 India Premieres. Audiences at Jio MAMI will get a chance to watch 31 Indian films that have never been shown before in India. Thirteen films are competing for the Best Film award in the India gold Section, and there are 15 fiction features and five documentaries in the India story section.”

Smriti Kiran mentioned, over the course of our conversation, that this is the one opportunity we have to create a world class film festival in India — and it is empowering to see the kind of immense dedication, love and hard work has gone into it. There is no doubt that in its 17th edition, Jio MAMI festival manifests itself as a labor of love yet again.

“Though I have not slept for six straight hours in the last six months, I think it is one of the best and most satisfying things to have happened to me,” Smriti concludes. “We all have a chance at building something that can be life changing for the members of the film community, as well as the cultural ethos of Mumbai and the country.”

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