In Conversation with Christina Marouda about IFFLA – Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles

Most of you already know that I went to Los Angeles at the end of December 2014 to study screenwriting at the New York Film Academy in an 8 week program ending February. I spent about 10 weeks total in Los Angeles and I loved it! The city, made up of smaller counties, felt just like home. It was the “Hollywood” version of Mumbai. Everyone I met was aspiring to be a part of the film industry. Of course, it made me all nostalgic. I wouldn’t leave any opportunity to tell people about Bollywood – my first love.

Recently, I spoke with Christina Marouda, Founder of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Following are some snippets from our conversation:

Christina Marouda
Christina Marouda

Dhruvi: How do you want Indians to know IFFLA?
Christina: We are in our 14th year. We have established ourselves as the first Indian film fest to put Indian cinema on the global map. It is known to discover critically acclaimed filmmakers before the rest of the world did. Newer filmmakers are eager to submit their films. This year, we have an excellent programme and the festival is taking place from April 6th to 10th in L.A.

Dhruvi: How has the Indian press received IFFLA?
Christina: The Indian press usually reports on what happens locally and within the local film industry. Or commercial films that go international, either to awards or festivals with a presence of Indian films and filmmakers.
Dhruvi: That’s true. We read a lot about Cannes and recently, I’ve been following Anupama Chopra’s coverage of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and Berlinale (the Berlin Film Festival). But what, as the press, can we do differently to spread awareness about IFFLA to Indian film buffs residing in India?
Christina: What we’re doing this year is important. Based in Los Angeles, we’ve hired a publicist on the ground, to re-introduce the festival to Indians. The general approach of the Indian press has been that Indian filmmakers and films are getting a chance at exposure in the U.S. As a festival, we have realised that the same strategy cannot be adopted in the U.S. and in India. Especially, if you’re a film buff, you would like to know about a festival that was founded 14 years ago and has brought Indian independent cinema to the heart of Hollywood. A lot of emerging voices of Indian films have found their space here.

Guneet Monga, Christina Marouda, Bela Bajaria
Guneet Monga, Christina Marouda, Bela Bajaria

We began work on the festival in 2003. And right from the beginning, we’ve discovered a lot of talent that perhaps didn’t even get recognition in India. Good examples would be Anurag Kashyap, Nishikant Kamat, Ritesh Batra, Shashanka Ghosh.

Dhruvi: I’ve lived in L.A. and everyone in the city is aspiring to be a part of Hollywood!
Christina: That is true. L.A. as a place can be very daunting. Filmmakers obviously wonder how to get the industry to pay attention to them. There are producers, distributors, agents, etc. who’ve made a film in the hardest circumstances. As festival programmers, we tackle marketing an Indian films to studios in Hollywood. We approach studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Fox Searchlight, HBO, Netflix with these films. We connect the studios with filmmakers – because there may be a market here for their films.

Christina: The months of December and January are exhausting. We pay a lot of attention to the selection process. Our programme is not very big and the days are not very long. We provide a taste of what’s exciting coming out of India. This year, there was quite an abundance of filmmakers and films. That made the process even harder.

IndianFilmFest-70-2458966525-O

Dhruvi: Over the last few years, the conversation has been about women in film. Not only have there been women protagonists leading roles in films, but also women filmmakers, women technicians winning national awards. Women have been at the helm of film affairs.
Christina: That has definitely been the trend and I hope it stays. We’ve always been sensitive about these women voices. This has been a record year – with women filmmakers leading both features and shorts. Although there is no theme, it is quite an evident feature. For example, Nalin (Pan), the director of Angry Indian Goddesses must have had a tough time. You just don’t find good roles for women. These struggles exist everywhere.

2012 IFFLA.April 15 Closing Night Red Carpet

Dhruvi: Let’s talk about short films. I recently attended a preview of Love Shots, the short films produced by Y Films, a division of Yash Raj Films. I think it’s refreshing that a production house as prolific as YRF can give a medium like short films a bigger platform and a larger audience. I like to believe that most filmmakers have dabbled in short films, some time or the other, especially at the beginning of their careers. It is something that should definitely be encouraged.
Christina: We’ve always had and showcased a lot of short films coming out of India. A large chunk come from the Film Institute in Pune. We have a history of featuring short films. Recently, Google put together India In A Day through YouTube. That was an important development.

Dhruvi: As the founder of IFFLA, what is your opinion of the Mumbai Film Festival organised by MAMI?
Christina: I remember being in Mumbai in 2005 and the festival going on. But it didn’t garner much interest from the local film industry at the time. In the last couple of years though, that has changed. There was a lot of buzz about it in the U.S. last year. I got the feeling that it had successfully highlighted Indian films and blended them in the programme.

Christina Marouda
Christina Marouda

Dhruvi: What’s next for you and IFFLA?
Christina: We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing. We’re trying to raise more funds, so we can give better cash awards and grants to deserving filmmakers. I believe that is the way forward.

It was an absolute pleasure speaking with Christina who made time for me over a Skype call even though she was in New York. It’s absolutely thrilling to know and hear of Indian films getting so much love from Hollywood and the Indian community abroad. More power to such women and festivals.