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Film fest boycott against censors

New Delhi, Aug. 20: Documentary filmmakers campaigning against a new rule to subject their work to censorship before entering them in the country’s premier short film festival are planning to boycott the event and run a series of parallel screenings.

The information and broadcasting ministry has asked the filmmakers to get certificates from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) before seeking entry into the Mumbai International Short Film Festival (MIFF). The festival is usually held in February.

An I&B official said the ministry was aware of the demand raised by the filmmakers, but “we want to ensure that all entries are vetted”. The minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, was himself aware of the row and had made it clear that films with incendiary content — such as those supporting secessionism — would not be permitted at official festivals. The I & B official said: “We are still considering the demand. Even if we do not insist on a CBFC certificate, there has to be a body that will preview the films and decide.”

A total of 129 documentary filmmakers have petitioned the government seeking that the rule be lifted to allow MIFF to continue “as a forum of unfettered expression”. Pankaj Butalia, speaking for The Campaign against Censorship at MIFF, said if the rule was not withdrawn, “we will boycott MIFF and hold a parallel festival”.

Butalia said that seven Indian documentaries that would be screened at MIFF would also be screened at another festival, “Open Frame ’03”, organised by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) that is to be inaugurated by Prasad here tomorrow. While the PSBT had also at first insisted on a CBFC certification, it has now waived the rule, Butalia said.

This is the first time that Films Division, the I&B media outfit which hosts MIFF, has made censorship mandatory.

In a letter to Shabana Azmi, whose support the filmmakers have sought to put pressure on the ministry, the filmmakers said: “For the first time since its inception in 1990, the Mumbai International Film Festival... has introduced a clause in its prospectus which makes it mandatory for an Indian documentary to be censored before it can be considered for entry. This clause is not applicable to foreign filmmakers. This is therefore an unfair and discriminatory practice targeting only Indian filmmakers. This clause places Indian documentaries at a disadvantage at the festival. The festival is a competitive one where films of international filmmakers are not subjected to any control but those of Indian filmmakers are.”

The festival authority has told the filmmakers that certification was necessary to fix the date of completion of an Indian film and required under the Cinematograph Act. “But they do not seek similar proof from international filmmakers. Does this imply that it is possible to take the word of a foreign filmmaker but not of an Indian one'” the filmmakers have asked.

In another memorandum to the chief producer, Films Division, the filmmakers said: “Subjecting Indian films to this requirement amounts to muffling the voice of Indian documentaries.… it may also be pointed out that the seven previous MIFF festivals did not have this discriminatory practice and were conducted without any problem whatsoever.”

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