For every edition of the Festival,our work starts as soon as the Berlin Film Festival concludes in February and we gather a good body of DVDs. A team of seven (from the film selection panel) plus officials from the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI) and the programmers start watching films. Every weekend we see at least 7-8 films.
This year alone,we watched over 400 films for a period of eight months from February,and brought down the list to 200 (across all categories). Every year the number of films has been increasing. Last year,we watched 300 films. And what helps us in this process is the attitude of members of the film selection panel who gather dedicatedly 15 minutes before time for each screening.
As for the films,some are acclaimed having won awards in festivals, and then there are those made by award-winning directors. These usually make it to the selection list. Our main focus at the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) is to select the films for International Competition (first feature films of directors in the competition section) and Above The Cut (entries from across the world in the non-competitive section). It is in these two categories that the number of entries is improving yearly. It is because debutant filmmakers are looking at cinema from their individual perspective. What is remarkable about their work is the depth of understanding of life,besides their grasp over the medium.
This year we saw about 214 films for the International Competition section besides 50 films from select film festivals,from which we finally selected 14.
In other competition categories like India Gold we selected 11 films (from 130 films). And in the Celebrate Age,(a competition section in its second edition,showcases short fiction films,short documentaries,feature-length fiction films on the issues around growing older) there are 14 films,which were shortlisted from 75-76 films. These films are from the ones we have scouted for,in addition to the DVD copies received by us. We also keep a track of the production scene all over the world and our research includes combing magazines,newspapers,websites for films being shown and being made.
As the head of the panel,my role is to maintain the sanity of viewpoints. But when it comes to explaining why a film should be selected for World Cinema,International Competition,Above the Cut or any other category,then my articulation is important. For the World Cinema category,the criterion is that mainly the films should be audience-friendly and the story is the main focus,but when it comes to International Competition and Above the Cut,then the criteria is the cinematic merit of a filmmaker and how they are using the language of cinema.
Occassionally,due to the limitations in the number of films in the International Competition section,we need to debate which films should be selected. At times it becomes delicate and tricky because even if two films have the same merit they could be made in the same country. We try not to take two films from one country. And this year we had to choose between two British productions for the International Competition section.
We try to keep our personal biases out of the selection process. If there are six panelists and some members out of that have more exposure to cinema,then the other members concede their opinion. Its important that the films should have an insightful quality.