Independent Cinema Needs Patronage and Subsidy
A petition to redirect funds allocated for the preservation of cinematic heritage towards the creation of a current one, is gaining momentum. ASHVIN KUMAR bolsters the case
INA show of solidarity, over 30 international award-winning filmmakers, including an Oscar winner, two Oscar nominees and a plethora of National Award winners have lent their names to a movement called ‘Save Indie Cinema’. This comes shortly after an announcement by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting earmarking 600 crore for the preservation of Indian cinematic heritage. As independent filmmakers, we contend that while it’s critical to preserve the past, what about nurturing and fertilising our present and the future? If 200 crore from the 600 crore is appropriately allocated, it could bring about a microrevolution in developing a new culture of art-house or parallel cinema driven by so-called “smaller films”.
The role of the State in patronage of the arts is settled. Countries like the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Italy and Spain provide subsidies, tax breaks and grants for indigenous fare and cinema from other countries. In doing so, they recognise that cinema is THE cultural glue of the 21st century. Interestingly, some films from India would not have been made if it were not for grants from such countries. Yet, we are found wanting in our own efforts to do the same, despite the fact that the Government of India has well-conceived institutions with strong mandates to develop and sustain independent cinema. Over the years, some of these institutions have slipped into decay or dysfunction. A good example is that of Doordarshan, our State-sponsored channel. For starters, it could get out of the business of subsidising studio-driven, self-sustaining films. It could focus on offering a platter of diverse films across the Indian nation, thereby helping revenue generation for smaller independent films, as our petition eloquently argues.
Equally, the International Film Festival of India ( IFFI) in Goa is an excellent example of a highly-funded film festival that is firing so below its potential that it is not taken seriously by the international film community. IFFI could become a premier film festival of the Asian world, a slot presently occupied by Busan and Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE that, till recently, did not have film industry of its own. Osian’s Cinefan, a private and self-funded Delhi-based filmfestival, has made a convincing claim for the space abdicated by IFFI Goa, and, despite troubles, has bounced back with a successful edition in 2012.
The National Film Development Corporation ( NFDC), on the other hand, is an example of the government’s success. Languishing and losing money for over three decades, the recently revived NFDC has now demonstrated what can be achieved if good intentions are allowed to inform the practice of patronage and subsidy. Not only is it posting profit, in three short years, it has engaged filmmakers across a broad spectrum on the basis of their body of work or singular promise. It is an example of the kind of enlightened patronage needed for the cultivation of cinematic arts in India.
The petition we have jointly signed is an attempt to explain to the Government of India what indie cinema is and what it could become, if support and patronage is properly channelled. Our point is premised on a simple idea: all art requires patronage to survive and do all the good things that art does in civilised society — push boundaries of the medium, offer variety to audiences, incubate fiercely original voices, foster a spirit of experimentation, depict the human condition, reflect recent trends in culture and ultimately morph into chronicler, archivist and educational tools of the future.
It is unfortunate that in our country, cinema is unerringly confused with self-sustaining businesses that only provide entertainment, ones that do not require support or subsidy. Indeed, a business that can be subjected to a usurious tax structure, articulated through taxes on everything from film materials to entertainment tax, or to an exorbitant fee charged by, for example, the Central Board of Film Certification to vet films. The present climate is decidedly unfriendly and a deterrent for smaller filmmakers.
Not only do we independent filmmakers tend to produce films that challenge norms of cinema and storytelling, at the very least, our films play that vital role of portraying an