What was the experience like for those who organised the recent mammoth-scale Chennai International Film Festival?

Five thousand delegates. 192 films. Eight screens. A huge surplus in terms of sponsorships.

E. Thangaraj, Festival Director of the Chennai International Film Festival was a very pleased man, as the festival came to an end with a bang — an unexpected surprise gift from Amitabh Bachchan, who not only gave Rs.11 lakh as sponsorship during the closing ceremony but also pledged support as a volunteer for the festival.

A few problems remain, like the holes in the walls of Woodlands theatre and broken seats, we tell him.

“They were kind enough to whitewash the whole place just for the festival. And Woodlands has the most number of seats in all of Chennai,” Thangaraj clarifies. “We have asked the government for a permanent venue. The Chief Minister has already agreed to look into it and an estimate is being prepared. If that comes also comes through, we will have nothing more to ask,” he adds.

Using space optimally

While all big film festivals in the world have the best cinema screens with the highest seating capacity, CIFF has managed by making the best use of available spaces. Like the whitewashing of Woodlands or renovation of Casino theatre specifically for the event. The executive committee from the film industry chipped in by hiring Rani Seetha Hall and INOX screens while Sathyam Cinemas provided the 10 a.m. slot on weekdays.

“More than 60 per cent of the films were projected digitally,” says P. Jayendra of Real Image Media Technologies, that took care of all the technical support the festival needed. “Our technicians were up till 4 a.m. every morning co-ordinating with labs from around the world given the volume of films and KDMs generated to make sure we didn't have to cancel any shows. Except for just one slot when we had to cancel a show, we always had a back-up film ready.”

Key Delivery Message (KDM) is a password that allows theatres equipped with digital projection systems to screen encrypted content. “This year in every festival, whether in Mumbai or Goa, we faced the same issues with KDMs failing and this has resulted in rescheduling of shows,” S. Santhanam, Programmer and Advisor of CIFF, explains.

Santhanam programmes or curates at least seven film festivals in India including Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Bangalore and Pune. “KDMs fail because sometimes labs get them mixed up given the volume of digital prints they handle. Each KDM is unique and is assigned to a specific screening and theatre to control piracy and control of their intellectual property,” he adds.

Mind-boggling task

The logistics of the event are mind-boggling given that content needs to be co-ordinated from 57 different countries across eight screens around the city.

Given that S.Kannan, the President of ICAF and Chairman of CIFF, is the commissioner of Customs, the physical copies of prints arriving from different countries were cleared without any red tape or bureaucracy.

Then, there were the registrations that Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation, the organisers of the festival, handled themselves. And most of the office-bearers are over 70 years old.

“V.Srinivasan, joint secretary, is one of our oldest members and he handled all the 2500 registrations. We gave away another 2500 passes complimentary to sponsors and media,” says S.Murali, treasurer of ICAF, who also handled the finances and accounts of the festival.

Accounts were balanced at the end of every day to avoid confusion. B.Ramakrishnan, one of the younger office-bearers, vice-president of ICAF and a chartered accountant, would help with the accounts when needed and co-ordinated on a daily basis with the advisory panel from the film industry headed by Suhasini Mani Ratnam and R.Sarath Kumar.

With the venues being scattered around the city, the 10th edition of CIFF was a beast that had to be reined in, to ensure only those with valid delegate passes walked in. The department of visual communication at New College rose to the occasion and the boys chipped in daily event management chores, always the first to report to work and the last to leave.