MAMI days are here again! Interview with Creative Director Smriti Kiran

The Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival with Star will regale Mumbaikars from October 12 to 18, 2017, offering a packed film week that will dot key pockets spread across the city. MAMI’s Creative Director Smriti Kiran talks to Uma da Cunha about how MAMI’s trajectory has spiralled to become a week-long weighty, feisty film fiesta.

“What we are doing is institution-building.
It is hard work that requires unwavering passion and commitment”

Smriti, you alongside Chairperson Kiran Rao and Festival Director Anupama Chopra as a team, wanted to give MAMI a new avatar. Your directives here?

The idea was to create value. Not to do things just to tick boxes. What we are doing is institution-building. It is hard work that requires unwavering passion and commitment. Therefore, for us it was critical to work on ideas in the film space that will fill chasms and build bridges where there are none.

What are the innovations and incentives in MAMI’s programming that make it distinctive?

We have three Competitive sections — International Competition (open to debutant filmmakers worldwide, including India), India Gold (for Indian features and documentaries)and Dimensions Mumbai (short films by Mumbai-based filmmakers under 25). The intention is to discover the best talent available in India, and not just in the Hindi space. We have 22 official languages and many more dialects. As a film culture we have so much to offer. Our sections enable us to find some of the strongest voices across the country.

India’s restricted market for foreign fare can deter entries from abroad from participating. How do you counter this?

By co-opting them to our cause. Yes, we do not have a robust market in India for most of the content that we show at the festival. But does that mean that we should stop trying to change that? We are doing active audience development through our Year Round Programme. We screen almost 240 films at the festival. It is a slow burn because this is a philosophy altering exercise. I feel that the consistent supply of a certain kind of content will one day move the needle. It is this vision that people internationally have begun to get behind slowly.We have made considerable headway.


“I feel that the consistent supply of a certain kind of content will one day move the needle”


The popular section Half Ticket which you inducted, is exclusively for children. What was the impetus here?

With no content for children in India, it is tragic that they grow up watching bad TV shows, cartoons and only the limited fares available to them. How can tastes develop when you are feeding on the same dish, day after day? Films are vehicles of empathy and the cheapest mode of travel. They spark imagination and are voices for those who have none. We felt that introducing a section called Half Ticket solely for children is cardinal and could be life-changing. Half Ticket will also have a strong year round imprint next year.

MAMI has taken film criticism as well as books on cinema as an allied field to propagate. You also just concluded the second edition of the Word to Screen Market. Your vision for the same?

We want to connect two worlds that we see have a natural organic synergy. One is the world of writing and literature, and the other is cinema. The Young Critics Lab, the Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema and the Word to Screen Market are all initiatives borne out of
that vision.

2017 is the first year we have gone all-India with the Young Critics Lab and opened it up for entries. The Lab is not for regular seasoned reviewers and writers. It is for people who want to write on cinema or become film critics.

The assumption at the Lab is not that they are writers whose skills we are honing. We have two levels before that. We help the attendees find out if they want to write about cinema and what it takes to do it. We are going year round with the Lab next year so that we can go deeper with our engagement with the people selected for mentorship.
The Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema, an award we instituted in 2015, was started to recognise great writing on cinema because we realised it was a category that was mostly overlooked. It is also our way of encouraging people to write on cinema. For a country that copiously produces films, the documenting of it is so poor and sparse that it is alarming. We wanted to do whatever we can to encourage that area.

The Word to Screen Market was started because there was no organised conduit that connected written works to content platforms for adaptations. We just concluded the second edition which saw an amazing lineup of publishers and authors pitching their titles to production houses, studios and digital content creators. The response has been just staggering! Mining literature for cinema is routine in the west. Therefore a solid ecosystem has evolved around this exchange. We want the same to happen in India.


MAMI leads again in extending its annual film festival into a year-long bonanza, with screenings, events, discussions, master classes, et al.

It is challenging at the moment because we don’t have a home. We are at the mercy of venues that we have no control over and that are driven by commercial considerations. It is a dream to have a TIFF Bell Lightbox, the BFI building or an entity like Curzon Cinema and the like who support independent cinema and see value in it. But we have an overwhelming response to the programme. We have found lovely partners who have parted with films and talent that has come out to support our screening. It is a programme that has tremendous value. It is the best thing we could have done. This is the only reason we have managed to carry on despite difficulties.

MAMI seems to have exemplary sponsors. The Jio tie-up gives MAMI a survival tag and Star offers a welcome boost. How key are your sponsors?

Censorship in India makes it impossible for MAMI to become self-sustaining. If you ticket the festival, you will have to censor every film and that would mean we will have nothing to show. Therefore, we cannot survive without sponsorship. Jio and Star along with a host of wonderful sponsors are the reason we are alive. There can never be enough gratitude expressed for them.


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