In 1997, filmmakers under the leadership of Hrishikesh Mukherjee founded the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) for the purpose of conducting an annual international film festival. However, the festival, which is now in its 16th edition, is on the verge of being called off due to a shortage of funds and lack of sponsors. Commonly referred to as the MAMI or MFF, the festival was sponsored by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment for the last five years. It also received a sum of Rs 10 lakh every year from the Maharshtra Government. As Reliance Entertainment pulled out this year as the title sponsors, MFF found itself grappling for funds and finally even coming to sending out a statement about how the festival may be scrapped this year. In a city that is hailed as the financial capital of the country and which is the hub of the money-churning monster that is Bollywood, it is quite a shame that an international film festival meets with such a fate.
Srinivasan Narayanan, festival director, MFF, says that MAMI is the only festival which is not funded by a government. “The IFFI in Goa is funded by the centre, the IFFK in Kerala is funded by the state, so is the Kolkata International Film Festival,” he says. “The state government gives almost a crore to the Pune International Film Festival, which is why when such a funds crisis arose, I did not want to ask them for money. I wanted the film industry to own the festival.” The news that the festival might not take place as scheduled this year did cause a bit of a flutter on Twitter, but observers say that this buzz was created by the common public and a group of journalists and not by the festival authorities. Narayanan dismisses this calling the campaign one that was born out of “both accident and design”. One of the firsts to extend support to the festival was National Award-winning author and film critic Anupama Chopra who says she heard the news on Twitter. “I have seen MAMI grow in these years and it was a shame to hear that the city of films couldn’t host it because we didn’t have the money,” she says. “Film festivals like MAMI is necessary in a culture like ours as they shape a certain sensibility, influences filmmakers and helps the audience acquire a cinematic taste.”
Soon, support started pouring in and hashtags like #SaveMAMI and #pledge4MAMI started trending on social media. In three days, the festival collected Rs 1.5 crores through less than 10 individual contributions. Apart from Chopra, the others who have contributed till now are her husband and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, filmmakers Hansal Mehta and Rajkumar Hirani, producers Manish Mundra, Vivek Kajaria and Nilesh Navlakha, and Cinestaan Film Company, promoted by Anand Mahindra and Rohit Khattar.
Narayan sees this financial support as a translation of the emotion impact MAMI has on Mumbai’s film lovers and says that it is a statement that the city needs the festival. “We have brought so many international filmmakers to the city,” he says. “We brought Jane Campion, who headed the Cannes Jury this year, way back in 2010. Just last year we had French filmmaker Costa Gavras, Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford and Iranian filmmaker Asgar Farhadi here. Without MAMI, the young filmmakers of Mumbai wouldn’t have got a chance to interact with these big names.”
However, a lot of pieces don’t seem to fit right in this equation. None of the trustees of MAMI, which include famous names like Shyam Benegal, Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan, have come out in support of the festival. This is also not the first time that the MAMI has run into a funds crunch. The very second year after its inception, the festival had to be scrapped due to inability to raise finances. The fact that the organisers have still not come up with a feasible and sustainable plan to run the festival is alarming. Crowdfunding has saved their face this time, but it is defenitely not an option to sustain the festival in the years to come, feels Chopra. “We are looking at a more sustainable solution to this and are in the process of charting a 10-year business plan,” says Narayanan.
As pointed out by a post on the popular indie film blog MoiFightClub, the contribution page on the MAMI website was far from user-friendly. Firstly, the minimum amount to contribute was set to Rs 10,000, thus proving as a hindrance to many who wanted to contribute to the cause. There was no mission statement or explanation of how the funds they are collecting will be used on the site, both of which are the norm in crowd funding exercises. An industry professional who has worked closely with the festival but wishes to be anonymous says that there are huge logistical and organisational problems that MAMI suffers from. “From an investor point of view, other than the fact that it is located in Mumbai, the festival has no good properties and no hyped events to put your money in,” he says. “Despite being in the hub of films, unlike the Cannes festival, there is minimum or no presence of stars and glamour in MAMI, which makes it even less lucrative.”
According to the funds breakup given on the festival web site, it spends Rs 1.15 crore in prize money, about another crore in hospitality that includes hotel rents and air tickets for guests, Rs 90 lakh in screen bookings and Rs 15 lakh in publicity. Deepika Suseelan, Festivals Programme Manager of IFFK, says that the 8-day long government funded festival, which sees an annual footfall of over 12,000 delegates, is run on a budget of Rs 4 crore. “Unlike most festivals which offer guest accomodation for only 4 days, we offer it for the whole duration of the festival, still our hospitality bills come to around Rs 75 lakh,” she says. “Last year, we spent around Rs 42 lakh on theatre rents and Rs 24 lakh on prize money.” This points to the suggestion put forward by Mundra that it is high time that MAMI scaled down its activities and made the festival more affordable. “The amount for running this festival can be brought down and this might help in getting out of this sticky situation easily,” he says.
A film festival is more than just films, says Khattar. “It is a meeting point for artitstes to watch each others’ work, get inspired and collaborate,” he says, as the reason he chose to put his weight behind the festival. “As now the festival is owned by the people, there will no constraints as opposed to if it was run by a single private sponsor.” Narayanan says that the festival’s reach has gone beyond Mumbai and he is confident that the required funds will be raised. “I have received a lot of mails from Thailand, France and Netherlands from film professionals, film distributors and journalists who attend the festival expressing their willingness to contribute,” he says. “MAMI’s vision is to ignite passion for good films, cross boundaries with films and bring international cinema to Mumbai and take our films to an international audience. It is about creating a cinematic sensibility.” The campaign will be open till September 8 and the line-up of films and guests is expected to be unveiled on September 17.