The 16th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), set to begin on April 11, will pay tribute to deceased actress Sridevi with a screening of the hit Bollywood film, Chandni. Started 16 years ago as a platform for Indian cinema in the United States, the film festival screens 30 films today, offers industry opportunities to filmmakers, organizes panel discussions and master classes as part of its itinerary, things that founder Christina Marouda believes make up the “sweet spot” for a festival.
“We are happy with the size, mix of films, and special programs we present, and our focus is to continue to present a high quality program and expand our audience,” Marouda tells Little India.
In 2001, when the idea of a film festival about Indian cinema germinated in her mind, Marouda was working at the American Film Institute Fest, which screened more than 150 films from across the world but overlooked Indian cinema.
“To me, this did not make sense given the volume, magnitude, and legacy of Indian cinema. I happened to love Indian cinema as I watched some Indian films in Greece as a teenager (I grew up in Crete). 2001-2002 was also an interesting time for Indian cinema crossing the boundaries, with Lagaan being nominated for Best Foreign film at the Academy Awards and the success of Monsoon Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham that I felt it was the right moment for IFFLA to launch,” she says.
IFFLA has long been “the only outlet for Indian independent cinema in Los Angeles,” Mike Dougherty, IFFLA’s director of programming, says. While audience members come expecting to watch Bollywood-style cinema, they are instead introduced to the diverse cinematic and cultural experience of India. IFFLA has also given space to diaspora cinema to show how Indian culture has made a global mark, Dougherty adds.
The festival in April, which will take place at Regal L.A. LIVE: A Barco Innovation Center in Los Angeles, will begin with the Manoj Bajpayee-starring In the Shadows, and will conclude with Village Rockstars, an Assamese coming-of-age film. In 2003, it began with 20 films and 3,000 attendees, and has grown to feature 30 films and more than 7,000 attendees. The 2018 chapter consists of films in 12 languages.
Besides their attempt at raising awareness about the culture of India, the organizers are also trying to connect the Indian and diaspora filmmakers with the industry in the United States.
The festival works with all the major studios, including HBO, Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, Sony, Amazon, and NBC Universal, and through their one-on-one program, brings top executives to the event to have brief meetings with filmmakers.
Since the festival is in Los Angeles, filmmakers have access to distributors, agents, managers, and executives and, meetings and collaborations are easier to hold, Dougherty adds.
Not only has the festival been a good platform for the filmmakers for trade purposes it has also had a positive reaction from the audience, the organizers believe.
“The Indian community, particularly the true cinephiles within the community, as well as the younger, second-generation Indian Americans, have embraced the festival,” says Marouda. “Though the core audience tends to be South Asian based in Los Angeles, it has expanded every year to include film lovers of all stripes.”