Similar to the production issues in getting an independent movie made, putting on a festival highlighting these films is no simple task. It involves fundraising, curating and creativity. Which all simply translates to a lot of late nights for Sakti Sengupta, Director of the New Jersey International South Asian Cinefest, and his staff. Mr. Sengupta was kind enough to discuss the process of putting on a festival like this, his attraction to independent films and much more with IIF recently.
IIF: How would you describe the success of the festival this year in comparison to previous years?
Sakti Sengupta: Every year is different. Availability of a sufficient number of good films to program the festival varies from year to year and so does the funding. But, still, what I can confirm is that this year the festival attracted many more first-time audiences besides our loyal group of audience. So, we have been able to extend our reach to the South Asian and non-South Asian audiences. More people now know about the festival and are talking about how much they regret they couldn’t watch certain films premiered at the festival this year. Now, we have become an integral part of the cultural landscape (non-Desi and Desi) on the east coast of USA. More filmmakers were eager to premiere their films at the NJISACF 2012.
IIF: What is your attraction to independent films?
Sengupta: I’m not a fan of commercialized “assembly-line” movies coming out of Bollywood and, in the last ten years, I have struggled to watch no more than ten such films. For me, the future of Indian and South Asian cinema is being shaped elsewhere – through the works of young and established filmmakers who don’t lack imagination, creativity, courage and originality. For me, cinema is not merely “spectacle” and “magic” – the “cinema” I like and support is cinema which interests me, stimulates me, enriches me, engages me, fulfills my emotional and intellectual needs and helps me interpret life and meet and watch stories of people (on the screen) from around the world which, otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered just as a tourist. And, that cinema is “Independent Cinema”.
My exposure to the world of Independent cinema started when I was growing up in Kolkata in the 50’s and 60’s and started writing about them and got involved in film societies. After coming to the USA, I got to watch more European-Latin American-South American films, became a devotee of and believer in Independent films, became part of the community of Independent filmmakers in New York and finally found myself. Once I was an avid reader of literature. Then I discovered Independent cinema being the new literature on celluloid. Now, one may consider me to be a “cultist”, but, I’m obsessed with and addicted to Independent cinema. I believe another golden age of Indian Independent cinema is imminent judging by the quality and virtuosity of some films and filmmakers – some of which are being showcased at NJISACF 2012. (Bollywood? I feel embarrassed when I read reviews of those films in New York Times – how they are ridiculed!)
IIF: What are the challenges of putting on a festival like this?
Sengupta: Too many to list here! It’s a challenge to start a film festival with a serious agenda and as a non-money making project; it’s a challenge to sustain the festival as it keeps on growing and demands more funding; difficulties in winning sponsorship from local media whose existence and survival are totally dependent on products coming out of Bollywood; it’s a challenge to program the festival in such a way that no film is diminished or overshadowed. The other challenge for our film festival has been getting an increasing number of audience for films from South Asian countries other than India. Such films make our festival unique among the area (Indian) film festivals. It’s quite difficult to sustain a “no-Celibrity” (you know what I mean by “Celebrity” here – not somebody like IMTIAZ ALI who turns out to be a cheerleader for independent filmmakers) film festival unless we can find a couple of philanthropists to support us. We’ve been somewhat lucky so far!
IIF: What are the plans for next year? Anything different you wish to incorporate?
Sengupta: A market for filmmakers that will connect them to producers and distributors of films. We’d like to help the filmmakers in all possible ways to get finance and buyers(s).
IIF: What was your favorite movie at the festival this year?
Sengupta: All of these amazing films were my favorites.
Next year we won’t let Mr. Sengupta get away with that last answer! He will pick a favorite!
For more information on the NJISACF, please visit www.njisacf.com.