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by Utpal Datta June 27 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 58 secs

From cherished memories at MIFF to engaging discussions with filmmakers across India, Utpal Datta’s journey highlights the vibrant spirit of documentary filmmaking and the importance of audience support.  

Johns Moholia, a renowned film director from Assam, worked at the film division and was a well-wisher of mine. He sent me a beautiful catalogue from the first edition of the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) in 1992. The catalogue, a treasure trove of film information, opened up a world of short films, documentaries, and animation films for me. It was a revelation, sparking my eagerness to dive deeper into the world of cinema.

That was the beginning of my association with MIFF. My two short films were not just screened at MIFF but celebrated. I have participated in MIFF on several occasions. However, the 2024 edition was special for me because I was invited not as a filmmaker but as a professor. I was asked to participate in a discussion about funding problems in documentary films, a testament to the recognition and respect my work had garnered.

When I reached MIFF, it was almost the end of the first day of the festival, which meant the atmosphere was a bit subdued. However, I realized that this time, MIFF was organized on a very grand scale. There seemed to be an effort to elevate the image of documentary films, which are generally neglected outside the Indian Panorama. The festival's vibrant colours and impressive arrangements were striking compared to previous editions.

Another interesting aspect I noticed was the size of the film catalogue. It was published in book form, a convenient decision that made it more accessible to read and carry. I must thank whoever decided to avoid the conventional size of the catalogue.

The Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA) invited me to an open session on "Creating New Opportunities for Documentary". One of the panellists, Premendra Majumdar, secretary of FIPRESCI India, made an important point: "An open forum is truly open, allowing the audience to interact directly with the panellists, share their views, and engage in open thinking and interaction, supporting the festival's environment." This panel discussion was both exciting and essential for upcoming filmmakers

The panellists included Dr Dev Kanya Thakur, a filmmaker from Shimla; eminent cinematographer Dharam Gulati from Mumbai; senior journalist Sanjit Nawerkar from Mumbai; and moderator Maya Chandra, a reputed filmmaker from Bengaluru. Premendra Majumdar is from Kolkata, and I am from Guwahati.

The president of the IDPA, Mr. Sanskar Desai, told me they wanted a pan-Indian panel to bring together diverse perspectives from across India. We all shared our views and sought ways to find hope for documentary filmmakers in securing funding. An environment should be created where people would come to watch documentaries by buying tickets. Otherwise, documentaries will struggle to sustain themselves. Financial assistance or grants alone cannot support documentary films; audience support is the most crucial aspect for their growth.

The inclusion of several films from Northeast India was inspiring news for upcoming filmmakers in the region. Regardless of where they come from, short filmmakers need a supportive audience to continue their filmmaking journey. I unexpectedly met a girl from Japan, Nachiko Mori. Knowing I was from Assam, she congratulated me on a wonderful film from Assam. I felt happy and asked her the name of the film. Ignoring my question, she continued saying that she thought Assam was a peaceful state and had no idea about the human-elephant conflict. She wanted to know more about this and felt that the film had enhanced her general knowledge. I told her the film's name is "Caretaker," directed by Biswajit Das.

A young Tamil filmmaker mentioned that he loved the film Sibuk, a "River Film" that journeys along the Brahmaputra, directed by Ashutosh Kashyap, an excellent cinematographer. He said, "Making a documentary film is a struggle, and the film's director has doubled his struggle with the subject he had chosen. I loved the team's spirit, reflected in every frame of the film." This moment made me proud, as hearing words of praise from an unknown person for a film from my region is something I cherish.

Vidyut Latay is an NRI filmmaker whom I've known on Facebook since 2012. Her first film, “Beyond Silence”, was screened at the Roopkar Film Festival in 2013. She is attending MIFF for her movie “Aliens”, which addresses the visa problems faced by Indians in the USA. We discussed meeting at MIFF after 12 years. I was on the dais when I saw her entering and taking a seat among the audience. What a moment it was! We connected through films and finally met in a cinematic environment.

A film festival is not only about films; it's about the emotions we carry along with cinema.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.