The popular ones in the country have it. But not the Chennai International Film Festival. We are talking about valuable government and media support that will help keep the event going

As the curtains came down on the 11th edition of the Chennai International Film Festival last week, the organisers started to ponder upon the future of the festival and the inherent challenges in organising something of this scale with just volunteer support.

It was one of the most thankless jobs, done purely out of passion for cinema. Unlike other film festivals around the country, this isn’t a festival organised by the State or the Central government.

The State government does help out and cover a small part of the cost, but the rest of the cost is largely subsidised by sponsorships and contributions from celebrity volunteers themselves, who have been bearing the brunt of unsubstantiated allegations and baseless criticism in a regional publication that there was mismanagement of funds.

“First of all, this year, we haven’t even got a cheque from the government. Not yet. We believe it will come even if late because the government is committed. All the money spent so far has been from sponsors and from the pockets of volunteers themselves,” one of the members of the Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation (ICAF) told The Hindu on the condition of anonymity during the closing party.

So how exactly are the funds managed?

All money raised as sponsorship directly goes to ICAF and not to the celebrity volunteers. ICAF spends a huge portion of this money to acquire films. “This year alone, we spent Rs. 35 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh, acquiring about 60 out of the 165 films screened at the festival,” festival director E. Thangaraj revealed. “A film like The Great Beauty cost us nearly 800 Euros. And we are not even including the cost of shipping and transport in this. A festival of this scale would ideally require Rs. 2 crore. Festivals around the country get generous support from either the government or corporates.”

International Film Festival of India, Goa, is organised by the Directorate of Film Festivals, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in association with the Goa State government. The Mumbai Film Festival is a Reliance initiative organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Image further supported by the government of Maharashtra. The International Film Festival of Kerala is organised by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy for the Department of Cultural Affairs. The Chennai International Film Festival that has managed to screen as many as three 2014 Oscar-nominated films — Omar, The Great Beauty and The Hunt — as red carpet screenings and half-a-dozen other official Oscar entries has managed to bring some of the best films from festivals around the world — including all the festival hits from Cannes — despite not being a government initiative.

Srinivasa Santhanam, festival consultant, adds, “All the popular festival films are managed by agents who bargain really hard. They know that India is a market where there is demand. We are not able to afford all the films at the price they quote.” As many as 30 films — including Inside Llewyn Davis and Before Midnight — this year were lost because the price was too high.

Says Shylaja Chetlur, who manages the festival newsletters and all official communication, “We volunteer two months of our time — full time — without getting paid a single rupee. Around the world, festival management is a paid job. Sarath Kumar put in Rs. 8 lakh, Mani Ratnam, Rs. 7 lakh on behalf of Madras Talkies, Poornima Bhagyaraj sent her vehicles, Revathy started the tradition of rewarding film-buffs, Rohini managed all the forums, Jayendra got the logo done, Sripriya and the Pradhan family hosted parties, and Suhasini takes all the blame for everything that goes wrong. It is unfair for responsible media to make allegations without even understanding how the show is run... without any basis,” she rants.

“It is the business of making enemies,” as Suhasini puts it. “Every time we call for entries, the people who don’t submit or get selected become our enemies. After the shortlist, one film wins and 10 films don’t. Those 10 films also become our enemies. We have been doing this Tamil film competition for a while now. So, half the film industry has turned enemies. Which is why this year we made sure Kadal did not even submit since Madras Talkies was a sponsor, Kamal Haasan didn’t send his Vishwaroopam, Mysskin didn’t send Onaayyum Aattukuttiyum so that other young filmmakers get a chance to compete,” she explains.

Actor Mohan who is part of the organising committee every year makes it a point to contribute in whatever way he can. “All the after-parties are sponsored by the team of volunteers. Every night, a different volunteer takes up the responsibility of hosting the festival guests. So it is a little hurtful to allege that we make money out of the festival when we are only spending,” says the actor.

Students of SRM University took up the responsibility of event management in terms of on-ground support and crowd control. “From next year, we have to be able to pay for talent. We barely manage with volunteers. But if we have to improve quality, we need to be able to pay because unless we pay them, we cannot question them if they don’t deliver,” Shylaja points out.

What is the solution then?

“It is a festival that belongs to the people of Chennai. So, maybe we should go for crowdfunding to raise at least a portion of the Rs. 2 crore we need. Or, we would need the State to play a bigger role and media support to manage the rest,” Suhasini suggests.

(This year’s edition was presented jointly by The Hindu and Puthuyugam)