“To select films, quality is the main thing. And when choosing we also try and give a 360 degree idea of India.”
Selvaggia Velo is the director of River to River. Florence Indian Film Festival (www.rivertoriver.it), that will have its 11th edition in December 2011.
In 2001 she founded and directed in Florence, Italy, this first film festival in the world totally devoted to Indian cinema and films about India.
Selvaggia has been a member of a few International Juries: at the 10th International Film Festival of Mumbai in Mumbai, India, in March 2008, for the Indian feature films; at the 7th Bollywood and Beyond Film Festival in Stuttgard, Germany, in July 2008, for the Indian documentary films; at the 9th Pune International Film Festival in Pune, India, in January 2011, for the worldwide films.
Amitava Nag, editor, Silhouette was engaged in a conversation with her about River to River and her future plans.
Amitava: Tell something about River to River. Why and how did you start this?
Selvaggia: I started in 1998 organising an exhibition of Indian movie banners, and then in 1999 inviting those Indian artists to Florence for a live show.
Then I realised that there were no festivals devoted to Indian films in the world, so I said: why not? And went for it, putting together my passion for India and for cinema. The first edition of the Festival took place in October 2001.
Amitava: Who is your audience – mainly Italian or Indian? What is the participation volume like?
Selvaggia: Florence is an international city with an international crowd. Our audience is multi-language and multi-age group. Not too many Indians live here.
On a one screen venue for one week (no morning screenings) we had 3000 people.
Amitava: What’s the budget like and how you raise that? What viable economic model you follow?
Selvaggia: We are now in a very difficult moment for budget issues. Our government has been cutting money for culture therefore we are in a difficult situation.
Our main sponsors have been up to now: the Cinema Department of the Ministry for Cultural Affairs, the Region Tuscany, Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Klopman, the India Tourism Office. We have also always had the Patronage of the Embassy of India in Rome
Amitava: How many varied films you get from diff parts and languages in India? In the 10th edition most of the competition films are Bollywood mainstream. Do you get most like that? Though few of the previous winners are regional films as well.
Selvaggia: We receive entries from all over India, but mostly from Mumbai and Kolkata. We did not have mainly mainstream Bollywood films in 2010! We opened and closed with Aparna Sen’s last two films, and screened also Onir’s I Am, Anusha Rizwi Peepli Live, as well as a Satyajit Ray retrospective, and feature and short films.
Amitava: How you choose the short films and documentaries? You have people selecting films for you or you do everything yourself?
Selvaggia: To select films, quality is the main thing. And when choosing we also try and give a 360 degree idea of India.
The film searching job is done by myself, and I also do the first screening of the films. Then we have a Selection Panel.
Amitava: Normally how many films you get every year and how many you select? Just on an average.
Selvaggia: We see roughly 350 films and select 35, among features, shorts and documentaries.
Amitava: What is the process of submitting films to River to River festival?
Selvaggia: There is a Film Entries section on the fest website (www.rivertoriver.it), where all is clearly explained. Our deadline for entries is September 30th and we accept 2010 and 2010 works. Filmmakers need to fill in our online entry form and send their bio+film synopsis, as well as sending a screener with English subtitles.
Amitava: How do you rate the short film and documentary scene in India and internationally as well?
Selvaggia: I feel that both the short films and the documentaries scene are growing, maybe more in some countries than in others.
Amitava: Do you plan to extend the festival to honour/felicitate other areas like film criticism, etc?
Selvaggia: Please explain better the question. In the past years we have had morning talks on and around India and its cinema.
Amitava: What I mean is, that the competition is only for films of different types now. But is there a competition for film writing as well – if not now, may be in future you can plan?
Selvaggia: No, up to now there has never been a competition for film writing. We could plan it, but we would need a bigger budget that we do not have at the moment.
Amitava: With respect to cinema distribution – what is your idea. Do you believe that the mainstream distribution system is workable now or you think it needs to change based on the new media possibilities like the Internet.
Selvaggia: In which country?
Amitava: In India particularly but this can be a generic question across the globe as well, since going to theatres have drastically reduced world-wide.
Selvaggia: Well, Italy is in a dramatic moment of its history so nothing is working here, and theatres are closing down. All Europe is not in a good situation.
There are more and more possibilities on internet and I believe that they can and have to be used, without forgetting that seeing a film on 35 mm. is a unique sensation that can not be replicated in any other way.
Amitava: Historically as well as now, how do you place Indian films vis-a-vis the greatest ones of the world?
Selvaggia: There are some Indian filmmakers – Ghatak, Ray, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor – that are as big as the big Masters of the rest of the world.
Amitava: What are the future plans of River to River?
Selvaggia: If the festival survives, it wants to have a leap forward and grow having also an Industry part.
Amitava: Can you please explain further?
Selvaggia: More sections, more guests, and having a market/industry section for distributors.
Amitava: Finally, this is the 150th birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore. He is our national poet and one of the greatest creative persons of the world of all times. Any plans in River to River with his work?
Selvaggia: Yes, we are working on a Tagore focus.
Amitava: Selvaggia Velo, we wish you good health and best luck for all your future endeavours. Thank you.
Selvaggia: Thank you Amitava.
Actor Rahul Bose, Filmmaker Aparna Sen and Selvaggia Velo at River to River, Florence Indian Film Festival 2010
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