I was 14 years old when Goa first hosted the International Film Festival of India in 2004, and IFFI become an annual pilgrimage from the moment I turned 18. From the beginning, I found the experience simply overwhelming. The festival pulled me out from the realm of mainstream Hindi cinema and Hollywood, and transported me down a rabbit hole to Wonderland.
While my first year was occupied with struggles over the logistics of ticket bookings and making tough choices between multiple screenings, the next year I cracked the code. In 2009, I watched 61 feature length films, over 100 short films (and had to take an appointment at the ophthalmologist!) Just like serious drinkers who measure their capacity in the number of pegs they can hold down; cinephiles, ‘phillum-baaz’ as I like to call them, measure capacity by the number of films that can be consumed back-to-back.
Many IFFI films will stay with me till I die. The Romanian Tales From The Golden Age—an anthology of stories about life under communism, the quirky, dark King’s Road from Finland, beautiful Iranian cinema like Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtains. IFFI 2015 will probably add to that list, I see so many scheduled films that have won global laurels and been nominated for Academy Awards. But there are also movies I’ve never heard of before, which may well end up being my favourites.
In recent years, I have attended other film festivals, but it is only IFFI that I attend compulsively. It takes place in my home town (although I don’t live here anymore). And while other festivals feature good movies, draw bigger crowds, and – some may argue – are better managed, IFFI for me is the only one that truly feels like a festival of films and not just an organised mass-screening. With more than 200 films of diverse content, it has become a tableau of thoughts, a canvas of memories. Like Goa itself, our festival stands for free expression, for tolerance of ideas that are different than your own. I am proud that IFFI is a platform for dissent as much as it is a platform for appreciation, and remains a place for solidarity among the film fraternity and all the people who stand for cinema.
I can think of so many of my contemporaries in Goa who, like me, were given the gift of cinema by IFFI and they have never stopped playing with it. Goan cinema itself may be at a very nascent stage right now, but I am sure my generation will make its mark on this sparsely painted canvas. Here, I have made friends. Some of them I meet once a year when we come to IFFI, and some I met once at the festival and we have now become close, only because of our mutual love for films.
More than friends, IFFI has mentored and tutored me. It has made me a cinephile, it improved my taste and interest in cinema, and kept changing it. It has taught me that cinema is not just for entertainment, but if it is done right can be for enlightenment as well. Because of IFFI, I have it in me to argue in favour of a film nobody else likes. My experiences here have taught me to question the work of masters and to respect them, not blindly, but by understanding their work. I love IFFI because it gives me the chance to be among people who love cinema, and after all those who love cinema are the best people!
Omkar Rege is an incorrigible phillum-baaz, who grew up in Goa and at IFFI.