Taking quality cinema to smaller cities

BY MANJULAA| IN Regional Media | 30/06/2017
There has always been a disconnect between good cinema and B towns. The Jagran Film Festival which begins in Delhi on July 1 aims to end that
JFF's MANOJ SRIVASTAVA tells MANJULAA

 

The Jagran Film Festival was launched by one of India’s leading media platforms Jagran Prakashan Ltd in 2010. Today, it is the only festival in the world which travels with its films across 16 Indian cities over 3 months and has a footprint in millions. Manoj Srivastava, Festival Head of JFF, talks to Manjulaa. 

 

 

What made a media house turn to organizing a film festival? And how many people does the festival reach?

Typically the job of a media house is not just to inform and educate the masses, it is also to entertain them. A film festival serves the same purpose. So, for Jagran to get into organizing a film festival was a natural progression. Plus, there has always been a disconnect between good cinema and B-towns. There was nobody to take care of the audiences which remained outside the purview of good cinematic fare. So we combined Jagran’s reach in smaller cities and filled an existing void by taking these films to them. Reaching out to 16 cities including Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi and Mumbai among others, we have an audience running into some millions. Take the entire readership of Jagran; their listenership (the group owns Radio City which has a presence in over 20 cities); and their viewership. It’s tough to estimate but we’re talking of some 50 million plus people who turn up for the festival physically.  

 

Can you describe the contribution that this festival makes in today’s times of multi-media entertainment? 

JFF began eight years ago as a small video film festival and was confined to only Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow. The first two-three editions were small and experimental. In 2013, we took the festival to 14 cities, the last being Mumbai. Now, when a young filmmaker walks up and says, ‘JFF screened my first film’, or a young aspirant says, ‘I’ve written a script’ and hopes that he will find ways to get it funded because he learned about financing at JFF, you feel satisfied and then the journey seems worth it all. For example, if a small actor from say, Ranchi has met a casting director at the festival, he may learn a lot more about what it takes to be in mainstream Bollywood. He may know acting or he may have been doing plays in his hometown but if a casting director is holding a masterclass on what is needed to get a break in mainstream cinema, that is important for the young actor. We also have screen writing workshops which inform participants of certain factors, like scriptwriters talking to them about how to adapt to the needs of cinema; how to mould their kind of writing to make it suitable for screen etc. They mentor students; other classes talk to them about the process of bringing in resources; there are classes on costume design – some youngsters may have done fashion design but costume design is entirely different. They learn how to understand the needs of the period the film is set in and so much more. So the contribution is qualitative. 

"The filmmakers who send their work need to trust that their film will be handled well - technically too. So each year you keep setting the bar higher and up the standards and keep improving."

 

How has the festival evolved over the years? What are the conscious changes that you have made to give it its current direction? 

When you organize a film festival, you constantly work to make it better. Some youngsters felt that it would encourage them more if there was prize money. So we introduced prize money this year. In 2013, we introduced a section called Cinema of the Sellers where we include Public Service Advertisements or ad films because we believe they tell stories too. Their content too is rich and conveys a message. Besides, people who make feature films also make PSAs. They are moving back and forth between the two formats. We got about a 100 ad films this year and there are awards in the category. We give away awards in 23 categories. I don’t think any other international film festival gives away so many awards. 

But, the most important thing that a film festival needs is credibility. So the content needs to be handled with care. The filmmakers who send their work need to trust that their film will be handled well - technically too. So each year you keep setting the bar higher and up the standards and keep improving.  

 

What are the special features of the festival?

We have a section wherein the cast and crew of some specific films travel to smaller cities to discuss different aspects of their film with the audiences. This year those films are ‘Anarkali of Aarah’, ‘Dr Rakhmabai’, a Marathi film ‘Charandas Chor’, ‘Hindi Medium’, ‘Sachin – A Billion Dreams’ and ‘MuktiBhavan’ along with some more. For instance, Anarkali of Aarah is a film about a small town and will now be going back to a small city audience. These are films which may not reach these cities, so our effort is to connect the filmmaker and audiences. It helps if the filmmaker meets his audience and gets immediate feedback and the audience in turn learns more about the craft. The effort is multifold.

 

What is the USP of Jagran Film Festival given that it includes all genres and formats of cinema – including shorts and documentaries?

USP by its very definition means a single selling proposition. Here, at Jagran Film Festival there are multiple propositions! First, it is the largest travelling film festival anywhere in the world. Nowhere else do you have a single film festival which travels to 16 cities over a span of 3-4 months. It has never happened in the history of cinema.

Second, it promotes Knowledge Series and Jagran Shorts. In the former, our audiences attend masterclasses conducted by veterans from the industry. This year for instance, Barry John Acting Studio will be at the forefront of this section wherein their faculty will be conducting classes in different cities. Another very important aspect of JFF is that students and young filmmakers get a chance to showcase their films and it’s not just an exposition but also promotion of their cinema to get funding. Having made shorts, they get exposure on how to approach feature length films. 

For me, personally a festival is just that – celebration of cinema. It should include films from all genres and across formats. There are enough niche festivals in the world, so why should we confine ourselves too? All fields of cinema are important regardless. They are a composite entity. The exchange of ideas that takes place in a festival is huge, and by covering the entire gamut of filmmaking, the exposure to multiple methodologies, formats, styles and genres is a great learning experience besides being entertaining too. For me, that spells a good and sound film festival. 

 

In what way does the Jagran readership benefit from the festival apart from being exposed to different kinds of cinema?

Last year for the first time, Jagran brought out a special booklet - a collection of 50 essays written by film personalities starting right from Mr Bachchan to Mahesh Bhatt and so many others, which was distributed free to the readers and visitors at the festival. That is a great value add to the general readership.

"A festival is just that – celebration of cinema. It should include films from all genres and across formats. There are enough niche festivals in the world, so why should we confine ourselves too"

 

How many entries has the festival had this year and how many have been selected? 
We have received over 3000 films till now and so far we have picked 122 for Delhi of which 22 are international; 19 Indian and 46 shorts in competition and the rest are in other categories like Country Focus, Retrospective, Special Screenings etc. More films will be added for the later editions.

 

 

Manoj Srivastava has over three decades of experience as a film professional and is Strategic Consultant and Festival Head of JFF.

Manjulaa is managing director of the Woodpecker International film festival and was  formerly a senior editor with The Times of India.

 

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