SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Fest with a difference

Buzz about BYOFF: Gurpal Singh on the the festival. Photo: Nassif Ahmed  



HARIHARAN BALAKRISHNAN

A freewheeling chat with the founders of "Bring Your Own Film" Festival in Puri, which has carved a special place for itself.

SUSANT MISRA and Gurpal Singh graduated from FTII in 1989. Susant's debut film won the Grand Pearl at the Sochi Festival in 1995. Gurpal's TV serial "Chhupa Rustam" made him a household name. Two years ago, they launched "Bring Your Own Film" Festival. The third edition ended on February 25 with no awards, no jury, no limits. Gurpal and Susant spoke freely about their ideas and the spirit behind BYOFF. How did BYOFF take off?Gurpal: We had the idea for a few years. We met several times, sometimes in wayside dhabas till wee hours. Finally, we e-mailed our thoughts to others. It caught on. Soon we were a bit alarmed by the response. Initially we thought we'd have 30-40 films, but the response was stupendous. The budget was ridiculously low but I must say the first BYOFF was a thumping success. What are the basics of BYOFFPURI?Susant: During the past 10 years, technological changes have enabled young filmmakers to pursue cinema as a profession. Festivals are fine, but these talents were not getting a chance. So, we decided to create a platform for them. While I was shooting a film here, we found a place on the beach that was perfect for a festival. In a way, BYOFF formed itself and we decided that ours would be a festival with a difference. Do you know of any other festival of this kind anywhere in the world?Gurpal: I, for one, don't know of anything similar anywhere else. I'd be happy if people replicate this idea, maybe with some changes. It's the spirit that has worked. I am thinking of organising something like this in the Andamans during October this year, with limited films and viewers.Susant: Independent filmmakers all over the world have always tried to be independent. This is a reaction to established film festivals. In essence, there may be such festivals somewhere, but certainly none in India. What was your budget?Susant: For BYOFF 2004, it was Rs. 250,000. We were too idealistic and didn't want any sponsorship. Last year's budget was 25 per cent higher, and we were banking on some sponsorship without strings. We try and keep the budget low. You had fewer films last year compared to this and the first year. Why?Susant: From experience I can say that those who turned up the first year tend to come again on the third. The great thing is that we could maintain continuity. But we have always had enough films to cover all five days. The Tsunami did prevent participation from the South last year, but I won't give that as an excuse. Gurpal: A lot of goodwill was built up the last couple of years and there is a buzz about BYOFF. I think we should plan things much in advance, budget and arrange sponsors. What do you say about participation from abroad?Susant: In an open system like ours, nobody dictates to anyone and there is no clear delegation of responsibility. We expect more of them, particularly since the dates are fixed from now on.Gurpal: It is wonderful to interact with filmmakers from different countries - Scotland, Holland, Germany, Iran or Israel. This kind of a festival is a dream for any filmmaker anywhere. Besides the e-mail route, we make use of blogs. What is the response of the youth?Gurpal: From the beginning, we were aware that for many youngsters, BYOFF would be their first screening. The discussions that follow screenings are also worthwhile. Right now, 45 young students of filmmaking are here from Delhi alone! You started this festival with a lot of negatives. After three years, are you thinking of giving it some organisational base?Susant: Amidst disorder, we must have some order. This is time-bound and everything must happen within a timeframe. That is happening. Though we don't want to have a formal inauguration, we do have something informal. But we certainly don't want awards to come in. We don't want a Chairman, Director or Convenor in the picture. If that happens, the very spirit of BYOFF will be called to question. Here, each one of us is a convenor. Gurpal: One thing we are certain about is that we shall never have government funding or big corporate sponsorship. In fact, to the extent possible, we have seen to it that individual participants could choose their own slot. You also wanted to package the culture and art of Puri during your festivals. How far have you succeeded?Susant: We have helped outsiders explore the area, know the place and people first-hand. We had some classical dance and served ethnic food to delegates. We organised tours to villages and showed handicrafts in their making. How many films and delegates do you expect next year?Susant: Realistically about 300 filmmakers. You had a fisherman/lifeguard to inaugurate this year's festival. Susant: Lokanath has been a great help. More than anything else, he saved filmmaker Kapilas Bhuyan's life by rescuing him from a huge wave. You can still see Kapilas out there with his crutches. Lokanath is poor but truly deserved the honour. Contact the writer at fabalas02@yahoo.com