At Film Bazaar's Work In Progress lab, five feature films with potential are hand-picked and then moulded by some of the most accomplished directors, editors, critics and agents. When the films first come to curator Deepti D'Cunha, they are at a raw stage. Put simply, it's 3 hours of footage put on a timeline. Over the years, Deepti has developed a strong eye for spotting talent and finding untold stories from all over the country. She's worked with film festivals like Venice, Locarno and Pingyao. Last year, she was appointed the India and South Asia Correspondent by the Director's Fortnight, a sidebar at the Cannes Film Festival. Deepti was also on Film Companion's list of Disruptors this year. Here she shares some of her wisdom on India's independent cinema scene with us.
What can you tell us about the Work In Progress (WIP) Lab this year?
The WIP lab is a very exciting segment. I try to choose films that are at the right stage to be worked on.
You mean you can fix it?
No, it's not about fixing. It is about guiding the edit in a certain direction. What happens with indie films is that the team feels that you can't dispense with the director and cinematographer but if you know the editing software, you don't really need an editor. In most cases, the director learns the software himself. Their idea of a great film is to be able to achieve what is written in a script, and so they edit only according to the script. What the lab tries to tell them is: Tear the script and throw it. Instead look at what you've shot.
The wonderful thing about this lab is that our mentors are not new. They have been with us for almost a decade and they know India well. At the end of the lab, it's not like you get a complete film. You probably come closer to how you want to approach the edit of the film.
"You can never make a film in isolation, so don't think about it. Find one other person who wants to make this journey with you. It's a very emotional journey," says D'Cunha
I feel like no one understands the indie landscape like you do. You see every film at a nascent stage and can spot our next big talent. What concerns you and what makes you hopeful about the future of film?
I've been saying this for years. What concerns me is that we don't have enough producers who become more than line producers. We always talk about a film being a director's medium but it is important that the producer hones talent and develops the project. The producer should be here to produce more than just one film. You need someone who is able to strategise. Get partnerships and collaborators right from the script stage. If you see the future of your film in Europe then start reaching out to partners at the script level, not after the film is ready. Indian producers should travel more and interact with other producers around the world. That's how they'll learn how to pitch, how to be at an international market, how to hold a meeting… they need to get out of their shy shell.
And what makes you hopeful?
The talent! It's incredible. My own personal interest (in the WIP Lab) comes from understanding India better. I always get amazed at how incredibly diverse India is. The Gold-Laden Sheep & The Sacred Mountain (Ridham Janve) was at the WIP Lab here in 2016 and day before it won at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. It's amazing that the filmmaker took a camera to a mountain and lived there. You got to hear this new dialect and know these people. Look where this movie started and how it's moved all over the world.
"Films are more than just stories. You need to ask if they are pushing the boundaries. Are they making cinema new?" she says
You're now the South Asia consultant for Cannes Director's Fortnight. What's the experience been like?
It's been great fun. When I was first asked I was very surprised because I thought: Why would you want a consultant from India – it's clearly not an important country to program. This year I am the South Asia, and not India, consultant because last year I championed a film called Orphanage from Afghanistan. It spoke about how Indian cinema and Amitabh Bachchan in particular has had such a big impact on an entire generation that found the strength to fight the Mujahideen because they saw a hero in Bachchan. I remember having to explain to my colleagues what the Bachchan phenomenon means.
What I love about Director's Fortnight is that you're able to read reviews of your fellow programmers. Also they have an open policy that allows you to comment on any film. I don't have to stick to South Asia. So this way you keep learning and growing.
What have you learnt through this process about what Cannes is looking for? What does one need to do to break out internationally?
You cannot prescribe what a film should be like. What you have to be aware of is that when you're competing at the level of Cannes, you are competing with the best talent from around the world. The responsibility of the festival is to programme the best of the year and the audience trusts them to be able to make that decision for them.
For filmmakers, it's very important that they are working well with the medium of cinema. You're celebrating a medium, so you should be taking it one step further. Films are more than just stories. You need to ask if they are pushing the boundaries. Are they making cinema new? Films have a way of getting dated within a year. That's also what we are looking at while programming for MAMI.
This year someone asked me, 'There were such lovely films in India Story. Why were they not in competition?' This is a question we really grapple with. A film in India Gold should look like a film made in 2019.
"What happens with indie films is that the team feels that you can't dispense with the director and cinematographer but if you know the editing software, you don't really need an editor. In most cases, the director learns the software himself," says D'Cunha
What advice would you give a young filmmaker in the country looking to make his/her first movie?
It's important that they don't try to do everything alone. Yes, there are success stories like Rima Das but Rima is just one case. And there is a lot of support that she gets. Village Rockstars was first shown here at the Bazaar and from here it was picked up to go to Hong Kong. There has been support. You can never make a film in isolation, so don't think about it. Find one other person who wants to make this journey with you. It's a very emotional journey. There will be a lot of hurdles.
Secondly, in Bazaar I see a lot of filmmakers who may be conscious of how they are speaking English. I keep telling them, "You go international and no one can speak English. It's perfectly fine." Europe is so multi-cultural. I feel like the odd one out when I go to France because I am the only one who can't speak French. So I tell filmmakers: Don't have these imagined setbacks. These are your strengths. This is what makes you unique – that you can bring us films from different regions.
(In association with NFDC's Film Bazaar)