Indian Oscars Are On The Way- Milton Shefter

By Jonathan Rodrigues

It won’t be long before India wins Academy Awards, says Milton Shefter, the pioneering film archivist whose master class on November 23rd was an early highlight of IFFI 2015. He told The Peacock “ I love the work of Indian actors and directors. But the choice of films you send is in your hands, and we [Shefter is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which selects the annual Oscars] evaluate what is chosen by you. If India sends its second best film, then Indians cannot blame the Academy for not recognizing a film that was more popular with the audiences than the one you sent to compete.”
There was a time when the California resident’s knowledge of Indian cinema was limited to Bollywood. But then he attended the Pune International Film Festival a few years ago. Shefter says, “It was a totally different atmosphere. The films that got past the censor board to be screened there were simply amazing. I saw girls and boys roaming around holding hands, kissing and acting naturally in a free environment.”
Shefter says it’s only events like International Film Festival of India that genuinely showcase Indian film-making talent, as these platforms do not need approval from the Censor Board. He says, “this country has some really heavy censorship and it does hinder the final product of the film. I wouldn’t want to comment on a government policy, but it is important to have an open society for communication where people are respected and acknowledged for narrating a real life story.”
A trailblazer in the field of archiving, restoring and preserving film, Shefter says, “preservation of cinema is key. It is a medium whereby the culture and tradition of a community or country is transferred from grandparents to grandchildren. Older films tell different stories of their time. The themes may stay the same – romance, crime, war – but the storytelling is peculiar to the user community for which they were written.”
Shefter’s private consultancy specializes in media asset preservation, and he has also co-authored two major industry reports for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences entitled ‘The Digital Dilemma I & II’. He also spends a good part of his year watching and evaluating entries submitted from around the world for cinema’s most prestigious honour.
When the Peacock asked Shefter if our favourite Leo di Caprio would finally win an Oscar, for his role in ‘The Revenant’ (2015), he reacted with a roar of laughter. “The Academy has agreed only twice with my vote in the past 25 years,” he said. “we are 6,300-odd members, and it all depends on how the votes get split among some very strong individual performances.”

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