Monday, February 8, 2010

The Economics of Short Film Making in India

By Lissa Chazot

The Kala Ghoda Festival 2010 has a dedicated team of experts who have shortlisted a list of films that will be screened in different areas of the Kala Ghoda Art District. An emerging trend in India which can be felt at the art festival is the increasing presence of short films and documentaries which in recent times have had a spurt of growth. On the 8th, 10th and the 14th February 2010, a short film club called Shamiana will be screening shorts from across the county to a medley of people who throng the area to dabble in the experience of art that comes alive during the festival. The founder of Shamiana, Cyrus Dastur was happy to announce the screening of films from Ahmedabad- Ahmedabad Promenade, Live Wire and Rahim. Many professionals, producers and distributors are beginning to take interest in the emergence of short films and documentaries, as a medium of expression. Although this trend is still at its nascent stage, a panel discussion was conducted near the Kala Ghoda precinct, at the NCPA on 7th February 2010 to inform the junta and the press about existing platforms of alternative cinema available which are not mainstream cinema. The panelists were Niko Nicolaidis, Rada Secic, Cyrus Dastur, Gargi Sen, Kuldeep Sinha and Raji Barjatya.

In order to understand the surge in interest in film making, it is important to consider the impact of the advent of decreased cognitive and financial cost of film making, the mobile and internet revolution and the increasing presence of the young generation in India. For example, many mobile phones are equipped with a camera making it easy and to experiment. Moreover, as Nicolaidis mentioned, “there is a proliferation of film festivals” and film clubs. Barjatya on the other hand emphasized the role of the internet, “3G connectivity is available in the market for users but as of now mobile phones can only screen films under three minutes, the touch screen has however increased the scope of mobile screening manifold.” Whatever be the reason why people are turning to filmmaking, be it for sales, due to passion or just to communicate, film making remains an expensive medium of communication.

Given the production cost of making a film, the question ‘How to bring about a model to ensure a sustainable and economically viable option to continue making more films?’ was explored and discussed by the panelists, citing examples from their own experience. Secic mentioned the financial and intellectual support lent by the Government of Holland to established as well as aspiring filmmakers. Barjatya added that “online viewing needed to be considered seriously as it has the capacity to bring in a paradigmatic shift in the way people view and consume films’, his efforts to provide video streaming of Bollywood films not only helps increase the viewership base but is also a good revenue model for the film makers and the distributers. This was strongly countered by some of the panelists present and the audience as well. Nicolaidis believed that viewing a film alone, online is not an authentic cinematic experience, while Sen believed that ‘documentaries have their own audience and need a dedicated platform to be able to remain sustainable.” But who do you screen for and where do you screen the short films? The answers are diverse and fast evolving.

Giving feedback about the panel discussion, Mr. B.B. Nagpal, a noted journalist who was present in the audience felt that although the learnt a lot, “there was no collaboration between the panelists and/or the audience”, restricting the impact of such forums. Pinaki Chatterji, an upcoming producer who was present in the audience however felt that the forum was very encouraging as it provided a platform for networking and was very informative as it “showcased the business side of the filmmaking business of documentary filmmaking which is fast emerging and has an international future.”

Between Shamiana screening films with an enviable flexibility, Magic Lantern bringing documentaries to the rural areas of India and infusing the taste for shorts through video streaming, the opportunities are almost endless. Yet documentary film makers find it difficult to have theatrical releases and financial support. This is in part due to the fact that film makers still need to create and market. But with film festivals, online platforms, archiving and libraries of universities interested in the good quality short films being made, the scope and the sustainability of this trend remains unanswered but there are positive indications that hint towards a continued zest for short filmmaking.

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