IFFLA was born when most American film festivals ignored Indian cinema: Christina Marouda
Christina Marouda, founder and executive director of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), which is celebrating its 20th anniversaryand birthday this year returning to screenings and in-person events from April 28 to May 1, was born in Greece and has no Indian or South Asian roots.
But growing up on the island of Crete, Christina watched a lot of Indian films, mostly in Hindi, and fell so in love with them that she eventually gave birth to this festival after moving to the United States.
In a conversation with indica, Marouda recalled that in 2001-2002 she felt the time had come to introduce Bollywood to the homeland of the American mainstream and explained how the festival has grown over the past 20 years, offering being extended to South Asia this year. Excerpts:
What led you to create IFFLA? What do you like about Indian cinema?
I watched Indian movies growing up in Crete, Greece, and loved them. However, the idea of an Indian film festival in Los Angeles developed around 2001. At that time, there was no platform for Indian cinema in the United States.
I worked at AFI Fest, which screened more than 150 films from all over the world each year, but Indian films were always ignored. It was the same with other international film festivals across the country.
To me, that made no sense given the volume, scale and legacy of Indian cinema. Moreover, 2001-02 was an interesting period for Indian cinema which crossed borders with Lagaan (2001) being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and the success of monsoon wedding (2001) and Play it like Beckham (2002). I felt that the time had come to launch IFFLA.
I am fascinated by the cultural diversity and nuances of regional Indian films. And these emerging filmmakers tell their deep, rich stories with depth and skill.
This is the year of IFFLA’s 20th anniversary. If you remember the two decades of your journey with Indian cinema, what has changed? And does that surprise you?
It was an amazing journey, informative for me and everyone involved in IFFLA, and full of surprises.
As for what has changed, when we started this journey in 2002, the international film community didn’t pay much attention to South Asian filmmakers and talent. This has changed dramatically, especially in the past five years. South Asian filmmakers, actors and executives are increasingly becoming the norm everywhere you look.
Of course, the viewing experience and the options people have have played a key role in giving festivals access to new films and also in the importance of a festival as a forum to bring the film community together.
As we return to an in-person festival after nearly three years, the importance of such community gathering and live interaction with the creators behind the films is exciting and essential.
How many films did you start with 20 years ago, and how does that compare to today’s attendance?
IFFLA was established in 2003 at ArcLight Hollywood presenting 20 films from or about India to nearly 3,000 attendees. This year’s festival features 26 films and six South Asian films. The last in-person festival in 2019 attracted over 5,000 attendees. Films from the vast and talented Diaspora filmmakers were also included and have now become a major draw at the festival.
The number of films has varied between 20 and 30. But our ancillary programs have grown and evolved over the years to include workshops, industry events, post-screening discussions, live musical performances and receptions, allowing festival-goers to watch films in a community environment. and a dynamic framework.
We have started working with all studios including HBO, Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, Sony, Amazon, NBC Universal, and through our One-on-One program we bring top executives to the festival and connect them with our filmmakers.
This year, we are going further. Our closing party will feature an event, not a movie, and it’s a live script reading of Alim’s uncle, a feature film by Kahlil Maskati, one of IFFLA’s Diaspora alumni, directed by Fawzia Mirza with well-known Diaspora actors reading the roles. We are also announcing a year-round mentorship initiative for filmmakers this year.
This year you also added South Asian films. Are you expanding and why? Is there a demand, need or greater participation of South Asians?
South Asian countries are all deeply interconnected due to similarities in their cultures, lifestyles, lived experiences and histories.
Indian cinema is of course the most evolved, but Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are also emerging, offering beautiful avant-garde works. For example, the movie Rehana at the top of our “Spotlight on South Asia” segment, is the very first Bangladeshi film to premiere in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a captivating film.
We are also screening five outstanding short films from other South Asian countries. We believe this is the right time to broaden IFFLA’s reach and focus on South Asian cinema.