By Nita Deshmukh. Posted on April 01, 2016
The east, quite literally meets the west at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) every year. Christina Marouda has built an incredible festival over the last decade.
The festival is widely recognized as one of the leading international festivals to showcase ground breaking Indian cinema. Now in its 14th year, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) is a nonprofit organization devoted to a greater appreciation of Indian cinema and culture by showcasing films and promoting the diverse perspectives of the Indian diaspora. The 5-day festival also bridges the gap between the two of the largest entertainment industries in the world – Hollywood and India.
This years festival is set to run from 6-10th April with the announcement of its eclectic line-up of 27 films (16 features and 11 shorts). The festival is opening with Pan Nalin's Angry Indian Goddesses and closing with Anu Menon's Waiting. This year features award-wining prestige title from the festival circuit and more women filmmakers than ever.
In an exclusive interview with Jamuura, Christina Marouda, the founder of Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) spoke about her journey so far, line up at IFFLA this year and the future plans. Published below are excerpts from that interview.
I’m from Greece and been in the US for long time now. I won’t call myself a Greek-American as I wasn’t born in the US and neither did I grow up here. My roots are still very much in Greece. I always had an association and admiration for Indian cinema and culture. Indian films from 60s and 70s have lot of similarity with the Greek films.
As a teenager I watched a lot of Indian films back then in Greece. My sister had lot of Indian friends and they would send us Indian films, mainly Tamil movies. I studied international relation in Greece and then I went to Spain to study further. After that I moved to the US to study MBA in Marketing and that’s when I thought of working for the entertainment industry.
I started working in LionsGate and then I went to the AFI (American Film Institute). That’s when I realised they are not showing Indian films at all. In fact, Indian films were not even submitted to the festival despite the fact that India is one of the largest producers of films in the world and there was some outstanding work done, yet the most established festivals in LA were not highlighting any Indian films.
I decided to do something about it and spoke to the then director of AFI. I discussed with him the possibility of having a separate category for Indian films. The other option was to go independent. He suggested that I start an independent festival as it would ensure better visibility and also great amount of flexibility. Of course there were plenty of hurdles however when I look back I’m glad I had to do it the hard way.
I made it a point to come to India every year. I connected with some of the best people especially Uma Da Cunha whose articles and work I knew. She agreed to come on board and that gave me confidence that we would have a firm ground in Bombay to curate films and connect with filmmakers. So that’s how it all started!
We have 3 main programmers who help screen all the submissions. We lock the submission in Feb every year. We accept films from across categories and genres. We accept short, features, documentaries and experimental films. We like to leave it open and then react to what we have received. Our aim is to discover the hidden talent and so far we have managed that. Especially with short films we have done that successfully.
In 14 years we have discovered, premiered and screened some outstanding talents. These filmmakers went on to make features and travelled to some big festivals around the world. We try to find new & exciting voices and at the same time we try and get films that have travelled the world already. For example Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, was screened at Cannes in last May and we now have the opportunity to screen it here as we felt it has not been screened enough in the US and particularly in LA.
We haven’t really selected a theme. Like I said earlier, we keep it open and then react to the films that we have received. So women filmmakers are encouraged not only this year but every year. This year it just so happened that there were so many good films by women filmmakers. When we started programming, the films that we received had very strong female voices. It’s probably the outcome of what is happening in Indian cinema.
These voices are getting recognition not only in India but also at the international platform. And I hope it continues. I won’t like to call it a ‘trend’ as trends come and go. I hope these women filmmakers pave the way for others. We encourage first time filmmakers and hope something good comes out of it.
This year we have Tamil films and this is the region that has changed significantly over the years with regards to independent cinema. The films this year are very bold and these are the films that have taken a firm stand on issues that are happening in India. We are glad to have the opportunity to screen films like Angry Indian Goddess, Parched and others.
Make sure you know the deadline and DO NOT MISS THE DEADLINE! What is more important is to have a festival strategy. By festival strategy what I mean is to design your film’s journey. See where you want to submit the film and how a particular festival will help promote your film.
It would also be a good idea to discuss with filmmakers who have earlier submitted their work to IFFLA. You can learn a lot from their experiences and feedback.
Things have really changed over the years. Earlier it was difficult to get things done. Things like venue, permissions, and submissions were difficult to get through. With time things changed. People started recognizing our work and things became easier. Hollywood too recognizes IFFLA and understands its importance. Producers here who want to go to India, get in touch with us. We act as a bridge between the two worlds. Now we are more than just a festival. We do much more than what a typical festival does.
Looking at the films in recent years, I can certainly say Indian films have undergone a huge change. Stronger voices have emerged. There is definitely more experimentation done now. NDFC and similar organizations are doing a great job of promoting Indian films at international forums. Nina Lath Gupta’s efforts in the recent years are commendable. Also filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap who have been associated with IFFLA for a long time, encourage and promote young filmmakers. So I can say, over all things are changing and changing for better.
There are so many. It’s been a long run. We had the honour of highlighting and premiering some outstanding films. There are plenty of films that first went unnoticed and after their screenings at IFFLA became sensations. Like Black Friday by Anurag Kashyap is very special one because at that time nobody was touching that film. Here at IFFLA the film won the best feature and it helped him to make the case strong.
Another film that was very special was Dombivali Fast by Nishikant Kamat. We have also screened Vishal Bhardwaj's Maqbool as well as numerous films of Umesh Kulkarni. We also have had film tributes for actors like Naseeruddin Shah and Deepti Naval. The list goes on and on. It’s hard to select a few films. Fandry was very special, Haraamkhor did very well. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch right now but these are the names that come to my mind.
It’s a great feeling when young filmmakers win. We are like their parents and we are very proud of their achievements. IFFLA has given them everything that we could in terms of platform, choices and support and then it was up to them. Some of them have made it really big on the international stage. Most of the IFFLA alumni is still very closely connected with us. Some of them now have agencies to represent them! even after they are established if they need any support we are there for them.
It takes a lot of effort to be on the cutting edge. We want to continue to be a platform for Indian cinema in LA. Personally and professionally, our aim is to give out enough funds to filmmakers to make a film or complete their current films. We did have such funds in the past but couldn’t do it consistently due to cash crunch. In coming years we also want to bridge the gap between the two industries.