Cinema. The word evokes wonderful feelings and thoughts in the minds of almost everyone in our country. We are a nation that religiously follow our actors. Our movies are watched, critiqued, and appreciated with utmost reverence. So as to say, Movies and the people involved in it, are perhaps a singular part of our lives. And the appreciation is not lost anywhere. Our filmmakers make movies which appeal to us, speak out to us in ways that we live them. Such is the magnificence of the cinema industry in our country. With almost 20 odd regional cinema industries today existing parellely, our range of ideas and stories are as versatile and far reaching as any. However, one thing that perhaps our movies lack is a Global stage to perform. This has nothing to do with the quality of filmmaking. The simpler reason is that many of our movies fail remain unaware of the procedures and vehicles, through which they are in a position to place their work in front of the international film analysts and audience. This glaring gap in communication results in our movies rarely getting celebrated world-wide. ViewFinder Film Consultancy looks to bridge this gap by providing a platform which will bring Indian cinema to Global Film Circuits. VoxSpace had the opportunity to talk to ViewFinder’s CEO Ms. Dilani Rabindran, and tried to understand the whole story…
I had a chance of going through your presentation ( Press Release Material ) Dilani, and one thing that immediately piqued my interest ( and that becomes my first question ) as well is, When you speak of lending a platform to South Asian movies to make it to film festivals, are you specifically concentrating on just them? And more importantly why them specifically?
Right now, our primary focus is indeed helping South Asian films reach international film festivals, but it is not all we do. The company was founded on this goal, purely because we saw a need for guidance amongst Indian (particularly regional) filmmakers on how to navigate the global film festival circuit. There are practically an infinite number of festivals today, and it requires a lot of time, patience, connections, effective communication skills and attention to detail to diligently send a film for consideration in many markets. Also, without having an idea of what festivals may suit your film, and vice versa, you could easily end up spending unnecessary funds on applications that may go unnoticed, purely because a certain market is not yet a right fit for your film. Film festivals are also our primary focus right now because it’s where my skill set lies, and it capitalizes on the expertise I’ve come to be known for within the South Indian film industry, which I earned from working for the Toronto International Film Festival for a few years. ViewFinder Film Consulting, combines inner knowledge of the film festival industry, along with curation skills for Indian cinema to connect great films with suitable festivals.
However, VFC’s overall mission is to help take regional Indian films around the world in general, and that can be done in several ways; film festivals are just one method. That’s why we also offer affordable subtitling & translation services, to help prepare films for wider international distribution opportunities, and other consulting services related to helping new filmmakers connect to international investors/co-producers/media to drum up interest in a new project. In the coming year we also hope to partner with businesses and other arts organizations to plan more international premiere or special screening events for South Indian films in foreign markets, such as my hometown of Toronto, and other parts of North America where there has always been a huge audience for Indian cinema.
The above answer brings me to another thought – where would you say Indian movies specifically lack in terms of Global accolades. Why is that even Iranian, or Korean movies are touted as critical darlings, and India or even for that matter China lags behind, ironically even after producing a much higher number of movies when compared? As a film analyser where do you think the problem lies, and would suggest any particular change that needs to come?
I would have to say that (speaking strictly in terms of film festival & international awards circuits, and not overseas distribution) the “lag” for high film producing countries like India and China is caused by both sides of the situation. In the case of Indian filmmakers, I don’t think it was until recently that producers & directors started seeing the “value” in participating in festivals. Naturally, for most studios, the primary goal with their films are to rake in as much revenue as possible, and so a profitable theatrical release is their primary focus. Only in the past few years have studios and directors begun expanding their notions of ‘success’ for a film and recognizing the commercial and creative rewards of having a film partake in a festival, as well. When it comes to those responsible for selecting movies for festivals – I think we have to understand that there are obvious stereotypes about the cinema from various parts of the world. Many people without in-depth knowledge of the industry still equate all Indian films to “song and dance Bollywood”. So naturally it takes time for people to gain recognize the wide variety of strong, content oriented films coming out of so many regions of India, in various languages.
Talking more of the vision statements of the organisation – ViewFinder, you mentioned earlier that you were looking to provide for a one stop shop for movies who’d like to eventually go to the International film circuits. Of Course the most common wondering here is, How would you take in the entries? What are perhaps the five things that you look in a feature before lapping it up. Any quality checks in place? Afterall, your selections will end up representing a whole nation and it’s ideologies in the long run?
I don’t think we can provide a “5 point checklist” for what it takes to have a film that we believe would fare well in international film circuits! In fact when you look at the roster of clients we have now (some of whom we have announced already & more who you will come to hear about soon) you can see that the films are all vastly different – of various genres, production scales and directorial styles. But the one thing I would say that is common amidst them all is that the quality of the films are first rooted in their scripts, before any of their lavish (or perhaps not so lavish) production values are even factored in. When it comes to accepting entries – yes, we only accept to represent films we believe have a true shot at a place in global festival circuits. We are making decisions based on our knowledge of what many international programmers are looking for, and our honest critique of the story and its execution. That being said, we have clients whose core film we liked but felt needed tweaking to better suit international arenas, and so we worked with them to create international cuts of the film.
I had the opportunity to go through your website as it were, and observed many innovative and intuitive things, such as Screenplay consultation, story treatments, digital press kits and so forth. Now, you majorly refer to the enterprise as a mediator than a facilitator. In a facilitator’s role, how well is ViewFinder loaded? Who will be the people perhaps who shall be working over this and what’s their take on it?
Actually the mediation part of our company mainly refers to the subtitling and translation division – where we are acting as a bridge between freelance subtitlers and production studios whom we are encouraging to try out new talent. When it comes to press kits, investor presentations, etc. – the content for those are all done by me, supported by our design team to help make them look fantastic. I have extensive experience doing this as an independent consultant to filmmakers in Canada and India, and am incorporating much of what I learned from working for in the Canadian film industry in several positions, interacting with media, producers, government-funders, etc. Screenplay consultation and story treatments are also things I have done for several filmmakers and some studios in India so far, including directors Manikandan and Eros International, for both their completed and upcoming projects, for example.
Now to somethings about the firm. ViewFinder seems to have been started on a very ambitious idea, of one that provides service to the movie industry as they strive for a bigger arena to showcase their work. What would you describe your role in it and how it has changed your role. Also a word or two about your team members and what they bring to the table?
My role in ViewFinder is to lead this company in both its big picture vision, as well as through all the nitty, gritty details! We are still a very small team, so I still work on every service and project we receive myself. I have a great team to support me as I plan to roll out new divisions/responsibilities for the company over the next year, hopefully. My co-ordinator Karthik is wonderful at helping to run the subtitling/translations part of our company, and is integral in helping to manage the freelance help we employ for that division. Ram Pandian, our in-house designer, helps turn the content I write for clients into unique marketing pieces that they are proud to have represent their films, and he helps to style our own company branding and help position us as a sleek, modern firm, which I am very proud of. Our current board of advisors, Anucharan, Bramma and Manikandan naturally bring connections to the film industry to our organization, but they also give me great guidance when it comes to looking at new ways to expand our reach. They will also be helping some of our clients in a big way by offering their own consultation services to those who’d like their advice on new projects brought to ViewFinder.
Since, we’ve talked about the organization and it’s ethos, now let’s talk about you. Where does the story of Dilani start? Where do you hail from. And where does your passion lie ( apart from of course the media and marketing ) What are the five things that not many know about you and also about ViewFinder?
I was born and raised in Canada, but my mother was always very adamant that I be brought up with Tamil culture. At the time they moved here there still wasn’t a large Tamil population (unlike today) so she says that the only ‘evidence’ of our culture she had with her after moving here were some of her favorite old Indian movies on VHS, so I grew up with Indian cinema & music! My mother was and still is a diehard fan of Kamal Haasan sir, so his movies are the first ones I remember as a child. I started learning Bharathanatyam when I was very young, and later on Carnatic music as well, so even though I was growing up in Canada, with English as a first language and all the luxuries of western life, I was still very much rooted in South Asian culture and arts. I think I subconsciously knew I wanted to work in cinema, in some capacity, after seeing “Jeans” 4 times in the theatres with my dad. I was enveloped by the grandeur of it all, and felt like I too had traveled the world by simply watching a fun story unfold on screen. Although, like many youth, I was confused about what to study in university and leaned towards subjects I excelled in, but not necessarily my strongest interests. But by the time I finished my undergrad I knew I my passion for world cinema, writing, music and dance were just too strong to remain simply as hobbies, and I pursued my MBA as a means to break into the world of entertainment/arts management.
5 things that many may not know about me and/or ViewFinder:
1) My Bachelors degree is in Genetic Biology and Mathematics and Statistics
2) I am a graduate & certified teacher of Carnatic Veena and Bharathanatyam (but I cannot sing well!)
3) I think I was only convinced I could fare well in the Indian film industry when I met Padma Bhusan Kamal Haasan in January 2015 and was able to make him laugh
4) I love public speaking; I used to compete in and win speech competitions when I was in school, so I really love when I get to be on stage at festivals & events to speak about films I represent and am passionate about; MC-ing events is one of my absolute favorite things to do
5) I am a huge fan of actor Siddharth and we have crossed paths at events (see the infamous Jigarthanda session of the 2015 Behindwoods Film Festival) and run into each other at the offices’ of mutual friends at least 4 times since 2012, and yet to this day I do not have a single photo with him…and thus no one believes me!
Before we wrap up our feature, now that you’ve established a platform to lend support to movies on an international circuit, where to now? Where do you think ViewFinder will go to in the near future. And for people trying to establish new startups in media space, what would be your advice to them?
My 2 ultimate, personal goals in the film business are to be an international programmer for noteworthy global festivals, and a producer one day. I’m happy to say that the former goal is already in the midst of being accomplished. And given the latter goal, this means that ViewFinder will likely head towards film production in the near-to-distant future…I don’t want to be overconfident & jump the gun! But we are a hardworking and passionate bunch, and I have already received some opportunities for co-productions. We are just taking things one step at a time for now; I firmly believe in the long-haul and risk mitigation, so we’ll get there smartly and efficiently.
I’m not sure how valuable my advice would be for people trying to establish new startups in the media space in particular – but I’m happy to say my other venture that I am very passionate about, my podcast titled “1 by 2”, has picked up an important media sponsor we’ll be revealing in early 2017 – so maybe we are doing something right! So in that case, my advice would be to find a unique selling point for your brand or idea and own up to that individuality. I firmly believe that if you are passionate enough about something it will bring you success eventually, as long as you stay true to the core idea on which you first started it with. I’d also advise new startups to recognize early on that ‘success’ is a very relative term, which can be measured in many different ways! So if you are aiming to do something unique you have to realize that you may not be able to compare yourself with ‘competitors’ using the same markers. So don’t rely on only statistics, or revenue margins, to tell you if you’re doing things ‘successfully’; base that decision on if you are accomplishing what you initially set out to do.
So that was all about ViewFinder, and their vision for Indian Cinema. If you are an Indie director looking to bring your movie to International stage, Be sure to follow VFC on their Facebook page and their business website. Happy Cinema To You..!!