Mumbai Festival in a Nutshell

in 18th Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short Fiction and Animation Films

by Meghachandra Kongbam

The curtain closed on 21 June at the 18th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2024, South Asia’s oldest and largest festival dedicated to documentary, short fiction, and animation films. The week-long event featured screenings, film market activities, and scholarly discussions, attracting avid cinephiles, particularly young delegates. Both opening and closing ceremony were held at the 1109-seater Jamshed Bhabha Theatre of the National Centre for Performing Arts at Nariman Point in Mumbai. 

The grand event was inaugurated on 15 June by Dr L. Murugan, Union Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, alongside Sudhir Mungantiwar, Culture Minister, Government of Maharashtra. 

Underlining MIFF’s role in bringing together filmmakers from all over the world, Dr Murugan said that documentary films played a vital role in showcasing the unique abilities, emotions, and human bonds in an authentic and natural way. He also highlighted the government’s efforts to make India a content hub of the world. 

At the opening ceremony, the renowned award-winning Wildlife filmmaker Shri Subbiah Nallamuthu received the coveted V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Dr Murugan and Sudhir Mungantiwar. The prestigious award is presented at every edition of MIFF to a filmmaker for their seminal contribution to documentary film and its movement in India. The award carries a cash prize of Rs 10 lakhs, a trophy and a citation, and was established in memory of the legendary filmmaker V. Shantaram (1901-1990), who was closely associated with the Films Division as Honorary Chief Producer during the 1950s. Shri Subbiah Nallamuthu dedicated the award to his parents and family, who supported him throughout his film-making journey.

Established in 1990 (originally as the Bombay International Film Festival), MIFF has evolved into a dynamic platform that highlights outstanding works from Indian and international filmmakers. Held bi-annually under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, and administered by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), MIFF honours the most exceptional documentaries, short films, and animations with prestigious awards such as the Golden Conch and Silver Conch, along with trophies and cash prizes.

Recognizing the significance of the FIPRESCI Prize, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, has reintroduced this prestigious award starting from the 18th edition of the festival. The FIPRESCI International Jury, comprising three members – myself (Meghachandra Kongbam) from India, Axel Timo Purr from Germany and Alexandra Porshneva from Kazakhstan – was tasked with selecting the Best Indian Documentary from the National Competition. In addition to the customary citation, the Ministry also presented the FIPRESCI prize winner with a trophy and a cash prize of 100,000 INR, acknowledging its exceptional contribution to fostering global film culture and cinematic art. We extend heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry for honouring FIPRESCI’s efforts in promoting cinema worldwide.

MIFF 2024 in a nutshell

This edition of MIFF proudly showcased a diverse array of 314 films from 59 countries, presented in 61 languages. The festival featured an impressive lineup, including 8 world premieres, 5 international premieres, 18 Asia premieres, and 21 India premieres, highlighting the global appeal and unique storytelling prowess of filmmakers worldwide.

In addition to the festival’s main venue at the Films Division-NFDC Complex in Mumbai, for the first time ever, this edition of MIFF spread its wings to other cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Pune with parallel screenings. This innovative move is driven by NFDC’s commitment to making high-quality documentary filmmaking more accessible to a wider Indian audience.

A significant highlight of MIFF 2024 was the introduction of the Documentary Film Bazaar, a groundbreaking initiative that offered filmmakers an exceptional platform to engage with buyers, sponsors, and collaborators. This innovative event attracted nearly 200 projects from 10 countries, spanning 27 languages and fostering a vibrant exchange of ideas and opportunities.

Festival attendees were also treated to masterclasses by renowned filmmakers such as Alphonse Roy, Nemil Shah, Shaji N. Karun, Audrius Stonys, Santhosh Sivan, and Subbiah Nallamuthu, among others. These sessions provided invaluable insights into the art of filmmaking, enriching the knowledge and skills of aspiring and established filmmakers alike.

Panel discussions at MIFF 2024 delved into contemporary and innovative topics related to documentary, short fiction, and animation filmmaking. Delegates explored new facets of filmmaking, promotion, and distribution, broadening their understanding of the industry’s evolving landscape.

Additionally, a workshop on Animation and VFX pipeline, led by a senior animator from Warner Brothers, captivated participants with its in-depth exploration of cutting-edge techniques.

The Open Forums, organized by the Indian Documentary Producers Association, sparked engaging and heated discussions on pertinent issues such as documentary funding, artificial intelligence, OTT platforms, and filmmaking in the era of social media. These forums provided a dynamic space for professionals to debate and share insights on the challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

Special showcases included packages on films with Academy Awards (Oscar) and from the Berlinale, animations, student films from prestigious institutes, and restored classics from NFDC-National Film Archives of India.

Additionally, “Special Country Focus Packages” were presented in collaboration with seven nations: Russia, Japan, Belarus, Italy, Iran, Vietnam, and Mali.

The festival also provided a dedicated platform for student filmmakers from various film schools across India, featuring a selection of NFDC home productions and a special student film package from Konrad Wolf Film University in Babelsberg, Germany, showcasing over 40 short films to delight film aficionados and enthusiasts alike.

The festival kicked off with the Indian premiere of National Geographic’s documentary, Billy and Molly: An Otter Love Story, which enchanted the audience with its heartfelt narrative. In the midst of the festival, Daniela Volker’s Commandant’s Shadow, offering a fresh perspective on the Holocaust, garnered critical acclaim.

Drawing a record-breaking attendance of 12,000 delegates, the grand event concluded on a resounding high.

During the closing ceremony, 6-A, Akash Ganga by Nirmal Chander Dandriyal was honoured as the best Indian documentary, while the top international award went to The Golden Thread directed by Nishtha Jain. The FIPRESCI prize was awarded to Sreemoyee Singh for her documentary And, Towards Happy Alleys.

As a juror, I gained invaluable experience delving into a wide array of topics, such as child abuse, child trafficking, wildlife conservation, cultural heritage, adventures, challenges faced by the physically challenged, human rights, biographical sketches of eminent personalities, blind faith, and natural calamities. I was captivated by the compelling narratives presented in all 30 documentaries in the national competition, each offering a unique perspective from diverse regions of the country, rich in culture and language diversity.

In her debut documentary And, Towards Happy Alleys, Sreemoyee Singh fearlessly captures the daily struggles of Iranian women within their own country, while exploring Iran’s vibrant film culture and the feminist poetry of Forough Farrokhzad. The poignant verse of Farrokhzad “I speak out the depth of night, out of the depth of darkness I speak. If you come to my house, friend! Bring me a lamp and a window through which I can look at the crowd in the happy alley” —illuminates the screen as the young filmmaker endeavours to shed light on the bustling life within the happy alley. The citation says: “This is a unique film by a young filmmaker who has crossed not only cultural, linguistic but also political boundaries to show, without anger but with passion, how to survive as an artist in a country ruled by harsh regulations. It shows an Iran usually hidden from Western eyes, the complex daily lives of filmmakers and women, and how they manoeuvre through the existing depths of darkness. She transforms the film into exactly what the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad wrote: ‘Bring me a lamp and a window through which I can see the crowd in the happy alley’”.

Miriam Chandy Menacherry’s From the Shadows vividly depicts the plight of survivors of child sex trafficking in India, a deeply complex and unresolved issue. Social activist Leena Kejriwal adds her voice through a poignant campaign where she spray-paints black silhouettes of girls on walls, marked with the hashtag #MissingGirls. This artistic protest serves as a powerful call to action, aiming to bring attention and resolution to the pressing issue at hand.

Nirmal Chander’s 6-A Akash Ganga delves into the life of a legendary but intensely private figure in 20th-century Hindustani classical music: Annapurna Devi, renowned Surbahar player. Daughter and disciple of Sarod maestro Ustad Allauddin Khan and sister to Sarod virtuoso Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, she was also the first wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar, with whom she had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, a noted artist and Sitar player. The documentary’s title refers to the Mumbai home where Annapurna Devi resided. In the mid-1950s, she made a solemn vow to cease public performances in a bid to preserve her marriage to Ravi Shankar, who struggled with her growing acclaim. Through the intimate insights of her disciple, Nityanand Haldipur, the film poignantly unravels the myths surrounding her life, weaving a deeply touching narrative.

In his directorial debut documentary Life in Loom, Edmond Ranson showcases with meticulous detail the rich tapestry of Indian handloom traditions. Serving as cinematographer and editor as well, Ranson explores diverse cultural threads across India: from the intricate Patan Patola of Gujarat in the west to the bark cloth fabrics of the Bonda tribes in Odisha’s coastal regions; from the iconic Banaras sarees of Varanasi in central India to the luxurious Pashmina of Ladakh’s nomadic Changpa tribes in the Himalayas; and from the fine muslin fabrics of West Bengal in the east to the silk fabrics of Assam in the northeast, and the elegant Kanchipuram sarees of Tamil Nadu in the south. Spanning 100 minutes, this finely crafted film traces the historical significance of textiles in human civilization and charts the evolution and challenges of the Indian handloom industry. Through its storytelling, Life in Loom seeks to inspire and instil hope among handloom weavers, navigating an industry increasingly dominated by mechanized looms.

These are a few remarkable films that captivated me from among those in the competition.

During the closing ceremony, Festival Director and Managing Director of the NFDC, Pritul Kumar, expressed his satisfaction with the enthusiastic response to this year’s MIFF. “The exceptional turnout reflects the increasing interest in documentaries, shorts, and animation among a dedicated audience. The success of MIFF can be credited to its strong programming, which sets new benchmarks for future editions.”

MIFF 2024 has once again affirmed its status as a premier platform for global cinematic exchange, fostering creativity, collaboration, and the celebration of diverse storytelling traditions from around the world.

Meghachandra Kongbam
Edited by Birgit Beumers