Think of all the wildly inventive and hard-hitting independent films you have ever watched. A majority of them would have remained as ideas in dog-eared scripts or wound up in dusty corners of DVD stores if not for the film markets in film festivals worldwide.
Every year, only a lucky few have their films selected for screening at the festivals, while the rest flock to the film markets that run parallel to them. From pitching of scripts to finding overseas distributors, these see films in various stages of production looking to expand their markets.
The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) experimented with film markets for the first time in 2011 with its ‘Marketing Malayalam Cinema’ initiative. But due to its smaller scale and lack of focus, it has not taken off on the scale intended in the two years of its existence.
In the past years, the ‘market’ was confined to three halls in a city hotel with a single projector and a handful of staff to oversee the proceedings. Predictably, it did not have anything to project as achievement in the end.
Actor Raveendran, who has been the coordinator of the programme from the first edition, says that barring minor successes such as a week-long package of Malayalam cinema at the New York Film School, the market initiative was a bit of a disappointment.
However, he says, things are set for a change this year.
“We are not looking at generating any sales this year. The focus will be on creating visibility for our cinema with effective packaging. Seminars and other avenues of networking will be organised for producers, scriptwriters, and distributors. Another important factor is tie-up with universities in Europe and elsewhere for screenings, discussions, and even serious studies at a later stage,” Mr. Raveendran says.
One of the major impediments, he says, is the lack of serious studies in English language on Malayalam cinema.
“Our cinema literature has been confined either to political studies or the publishing of scripts. A proper study which can serve as an all-encompassing introduction to Malayalam cinema can go a long way in kindling interest in our films in foreign universities and even in interested funding agencies,” he says.
The lack of a funding agency like the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF), an initiative of the Rotterdam International Film Festival that provides grants to independent cinema projects, has been a problem in India. Barring the Film Bazaar run by the National Film Development Corporation at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, even the film markets at some other major festivals in the country are corporate shows where independent films lack space.
Film director Vipin Vijay, who found success at the Goa Film Bazaar last year when his film ‘Chaavunilam’ won the Incredible India Development award, says more localised stories told in a crafty way could be one of the recipes for attracting foreign investors. “Be it our writers, musicians or painters, we have been able to find acceptance abroad. But when it comes to films, that level of acceptance could never be reached. This does not mean that we make films according to a set style accepted there. It is all about catching their eye while playing to our strengths,” says Mr. Vijay.
Role of critics
He says that interventions from curators and critics could be of importance in taking our cinema to a wider audience. He cites the example of the famous critic Andre Bazin who was instrumental in ‘Pather Panchali’ being seen by most of the jury members at Cannes in 1956, paving the way for it winning the special jury prize for ‘the Best Human Document.’
“Co-productions with other countries are yet to take off in a big way here. That could change the scene for the better,” he says.