As National Film Development Corporation’s (NFDC) showcase annual event Film Bazaar completes a decade, in an e-mail interview NFDC’s managing director Nina Lath Gupta shares her thoughts on Film Bazaar’s journey and the global impact of Indian independent cinema. Edited excerpts:
How would you describe the journey of Film Bazaar in the last decade? What have been highs and lows?
Film Bazaar has been a work of passion for us in NFDC and also for all those amazing consultants and interns who invest a great deal of their time into setting up this event every year. I believe the journey has been one of tremendous growth and learning for us.
There are many highs—the fact that the WIP Labs, the Screenwriters Labs, and the Viewing Room have been such a success; the fact that the number of applicants for each lab is rising every year; the fact that almost every film in the WIP Lab makes it to international film festivals (starting with the year Miss Lovely made it to Un Certain Regard at Cannes); the fact that film-makers pitch their projects so professionally and competently (the transition from the culture of a film narration to a short effective five minute pitch has been a significant achievement); and our latest successful endeavour in encouraging states to position themselves as film-friendly destinations.
Of course there are many lows as well. Perhaps the greatest, in retrospect was the first edition of FB that was so amateurish and ill planned that we scared away some sales agents who didn’t return for a few years. The fact that in the first three or four editions we faced a great deal of criticism on the ratio of investment to output; the fact that we could not entice studios to participate; and so on. But all of the above are part of a story of an event that has built up over time. Personally I would assess the journey so far as a work-in-progress.
How much of a role does Film Bazaar play in expanding the reach of indie films?
Sales agents, buyers, festival programmers routinely scour film producing countries for the latest movies that can be presented internationally. Prior to the setting up of Film Bazaar, identifying Indian films was a challenge for festival programmers and sales agents as there is no one filmmaking centre in India. Film Bazaar has played an extremely important role in amalgamating content from across the country, curating it, and presenting it under the Viewing Room, WIP Labs, Co-Production Market and the Screenwriters Labs. This has made selection of films far easier for the global market, as evident from the significantly increased presence of Indian cinema in international festivals in recent years.
Looking back, are there Film Bazaar initiatives that didn’t work out and why?
I would have certainly liked to have seen a better record from the Co-production Market in over the past nine years. We are constantly reviewing the performance of this (and other sections) and hope that outputs will be greater in the coming editions with the changes we are making to the section. This year’s pitching session of the Co-production Market has been, by all accounts, a great success.
How effective have the Children’s and Romance Writer’s Labs been? Not many projects appear to have progressed to completion?
Ultimately the fruition of a project depends upon market dynamics and demand for such stories. We have great faith that Children’s films will grow in the years ahead and the Lab will yield results, especially as some of the submitted works were exceptional. With regard to the Romance Lab, I have to confess to being somewhat disappointed. Given that the romantic genre is so popular in India, we expected greater success with this Lab, and a host of interesting scripts that would be market worthy. This is one Lab we would like to review going forward.
The Work In Progress (WIP) Lab is a highly appreciated and effective format. Why not expand it?
Yes, it is highly effective but it involves intensive effort in meeting the targets of the workshop. If six feature films that are in the workshop break into the international market and festival circuit, we have reason to be satisfied, since I do believe that Indian cinema is still only a work in progress and has yet to tap its potential optimally. The WIP Lab is also linked to the Screenwriters Labs that are run by NFDC. Good scripts lead to good films and good films make their way to the WIP Lab. It is imperative that there is greater focus on the development of content (and skills) in the industry. This would ensure Indian cinema a permanent place in international markets, especially since we have a diversity of stories and experiences.
With some top sales agencies like Fortissimo and Metrodome shutting shop this year, what are prospects for Indian projects looking for international sales agents?
I don’t see anything to worry about in that respect. With the end of an old order, new avenues invariably emerge. There would be a transition period, of course, and change brings its own challenges, but I believe this change will create an environment that is more empathetic to the needs of both the film-maker and the agents with a view to increasing profitability as well as giving greater consideration to audience demands.
Many independent filmmakers have said they rue the fact that NFDC has slowed down (or halted) film production.
NFDC also rues the fact that it is not producing films at present. As you know, NFDC does not have sufficient working capital to invest in production of films. It was therefore executing production of films for the Government under a Plan scheme aimed at producing films in various languages of India. This scheme is currently under review and we are hopeful that production of films shall commence sooner rather than later.
Do you think that there is a place for independent cinema in a market dominated by mass-appeal Rs100 crore films?
That change is already happening with films like BA Pass, Fandry, The Lunchbox, Miss Lovely, Masaan, Dum Laga Ke Haisha attracting audiences. This trend will only increase with time, as audiences are slowly changing their tastes and looking for increasingly diverse and interesting story telling from our country.
Where do you see Film Bazaar in the next decade?
Hopefully doing what it is at present—assessing areas where development by and the support of NFDC is required by the industry and constantly reviewing and reinventing the functioning of the market accordingly.