Personality of the Month

selvaggia_veloSelvaggia Velo
Director, River to River. Florence Indian Film Festival (Italy)strong>

The River to River Florence Indian Film Festival is unique in several ways. It is a film festival in Florence, Italy, dedicated to Indian films and organized by an all-Italian committee, and started as the first festival in the world totally devoted to Indian cinema and films about India. With a great vision, tremendous enthusiasm and hard work, the festival founder and director Selvaggia Velo started this festival in October 2001. As the festival steps into its ninth year, we interview Velo to find out more about what attracted her to Indian cinema, her experiences and her visions.

When and how did you start the River to River Indian film festival? Also, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did your love affair with Indian films start?

SV: The first edition of the Festival took place in October 2001, and the reason was that I realized that at that time there were no festivals in the world totally devoted to Indian cinema. I knew a little bit of Indian cinema – the classics, and also a bit more – but not too much, but I firmly believed that Indian cinema deserved a festival all for itself.
I liked India, and I liked cinema, and I united the two things.

As for myself, I have studied history of Music, Theatre and Cinema at University. I have lived in Paris as a child with my family, in Bruxelles when I was a teenager, and studied at the University of Bologna near Florence. I used to play the piano.

Then since 1998 my love has completely been towards India and it’s culture, and it is since then that I have been travelling to Mumbai, where I have many friends and where I feel at home. I am 36 years old, and I remember that during the first meetings for the Festival, people would look at me a bit strangely, perhaps thinking that a woman would not be able to run a festival, but I am happy that I have am slowly managing all this!

Are there theatres in Florence screening Indian films on a regular basis? Are they Bollywood films?

The theatres do not screen Indian films in Italy at all. The only Indian films that are screened here are those by NRI filmmakers, such as Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha and Deepa Mehta. Lagaan was screened here after winning the Audience Award in Locarno Film Festival in 2001, but it was not much of a success.

What are your mission and goals?

To showcase the best of recent Indian independent cinema

What kind of response do you get from the Italian audience?

The response is very good, and through the years it has been growing in numbers and quality, taking also into account that we are the only festival of this kind in Italy.

What percentage of the festival audience is Indian? Do you have any person of Indian origin associated with this festival?

Unfortunately, since we do not screen Bollywood films, the Indian audience is very little.

And yes, we have Mrs. Uma da Cunha who is associated with the Festival – she is a film programmer, journalist and casting director based in Mumbai, and she has always supported us since the beginning.

Tell us a little about your experiences in the first couple of years of the festival. What kind of challenges did you face?

During the first couple of years all was new, and I learnt running the Festival as time went by. It is not only the job of selecting films, but also of looking for the sponsors, thinking of the graphics with the graphic designer, deciding the entire film program and side events, the press office and the guests, and all that is needed for the implementation of a film festival. As I said before, I did not study this in any school or university, nor did I have any experiences in other film festivals, so I learnt from my own mistakes and by seeing how things went on every passing year.

How did you go about assembling a film programming team interested and informed in Indian films?

This takes time. I used to be the only person going to India and to festivals, and watching the films that are then sent here. Now, I have people selecting the films with me.

How do you raise funds for this festival?

Most of the sponsors are institutional ones. I am still not that good at finding private sponsors, apart from small ones.

Is there any other film-related event you produce during the year?

I am also a freelance consultant for Indian films in Italy, so often I am called to organize screenings out of the Festival.

What’s your future vision for the festival?

This year will be the 9th year of the festival, and 2010 there will be the 10th year – something that I never imagined would ever materialize, sincerely!

The Festival wants to become THE place in Europe where to watch Indian films, and be also a marketplace where future collaborations can begin

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