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Mumbai's Industry Program Initiative Discusses Role of Festivals in Age of Streaming

The Mumbai Film Festival's special session, held at Soho House Mumbai, included contributions from executive directors Joana Vicente from Toronto and Julie Huntsinger from Telluride as well as Clare Stewart, the former head of festivals, British Film Institute and former director of Sydney festival.

The Mumbai Film Festival has launched its new Industry Program initiative in a bid to facilitate an exchange of ideas and knowledge about key issues faced by Indian film-makers.

Mumbai Film Festival artistic director Smriti Kiran told The Hollywood Reporter that she created and curated the Industry Program starting this year with "sharply curated small sessions where people could connect with people they don't have access to. The idea is to fill a massive knowledge gap." As an example she pointed that "there is not enough knowledge on how to navigate festivals and what to do when a film is selected."

To address this particular issue, the program included a discussion Sunday titled "Living on the Edge: Keeping Film Festivals Relevant" which featured Toronto International Film Festival executive director Joana Vicente, Telluride executive director Julie Huntsinger and Clare Stewart, the former head of festivals at the British Film Institute and former head of the Sydney festival.

Held at the Mumbai outpost of Soho House, the session was attended by a small curated group of film professionals which included producer Guneet Monga, (credits include the Oscar winning short Period. End of Sentence), actor-producer Arfi Lamba of Bombay Berlin Productions (LOEV) cinematographer Manoj Lobo, producer Payal Dhoke and director Vinod Kamble of The Musk (Kasturi) which is playing in the festival's India Story section and Deepti Gupta whose directorial debut Shut Up Sona bows in the India Spotlight section, along with the film's co-producer, the singer Sona Mohapatra.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the session covered such topics as the challenges faced by Indian film-makers in developing their festival strategies, negotiating with sales agents and the role of festivals in the age of digital platforms.

"You have to know which is the right festival for your film," explained Vicente adding that "it really depends on who is your target audience. So many films actually get discovered at smaller festivals and then they go to big festivals. Also, you have to really put your best work forward and ensure that you are satisfied with the quality of the film. Don't send the film if its not done."

Stewart pointed out that the London festival "is really important for India given the city has a strong Indian population."

As for the issue of films vying for global premiers, often at the cost of letting go of a premier in their home countries, Huntsinger pointed out that festivals should allow national premiers. She gave the example of how Pedro Almodovar's latest Pain and Glory first bowed in Spain before Cannes where the film's lead actor Antonio Banderas won the best actor trophy.

As the discussion moved to the subject of streamers, Stewart said that "festivals are becoming more important in the digital age because festivals can be the only time when a film is actually playing in the context of a physical audience."

When asked by THR on how festivals were also becoming platforms for bidding wars between rival streamers, Vicente said that the biggest sale in Toronto this year was Bad Education which sold to HBO and not to a digital platform. "That tells you a lot how things are shifting because maybe for that film, HBO is the best platform even if it doesn't go theatrical and probably they will get a much bigger audience."

Directed by Cory Finley and starring Hugh Jackman, the film chronicles an infamous school-larceny scandal that rocked Long Island in the early 2000s. The film was picked up by HBO for $20 million according to a source.

As for how festivals were curating episodic series content and new media such as VR, Huntsinger noted how Telluride "has been doing TV for decades - we showed The Singing Detective in the nineties. If the story is good, that's what we are going to show." She also pointed out that last year, the festival featured its first VR series, Spheres which was executive produced by Darren Aronofosky.

Similarly, Vicente said that Toronto's Prime Time section features series which have not yet launched. "These days so many filmmakers are working on series and moving fluidly between film and TV - at the end of day its about storytelling," she said, adding, "I think that is the challenge for festivals, to adapt to new media. We have to always be a platform for new talent and create a theatrical experience."

The Mumbai festival's Industry Program also included an earlier similar session with Cannes festival's Marche du Film executive director Jérôme Paillard where he covered various issues regarding the film market. Smriti pointed out that a final session on Wednesday will be conducted by Netflix's former director of international original films, Funa Maduka, who departed the streaming giant after six years in August. Maduka will conduct a creative session titled What Story to Tell.

via The Hollywood Reporter

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