Shivani Pandya, Managing Director, Dubai International Film festival talks to Manju Ramanan on her tryst with cinema
Every year I interview Shivani Pandya in December for the Dubai International Film Festival’s line up for that year. This year though, I decided to speak to her about her passion for cinema – that drives her ambition. Shivani Pandya is the face of the Dubai International Film Festival as one of its forerunners. You can say she is one of the lucky few who get paid to watch movies. Raised in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, her passion for media took her to the world of advertising and cinema production before her tryst with Dubai. “I worked with Ronnie Screwala at UTV that was then USL studios. I ran the studio and was involved in the production of commercials. I learnt a lot on the job.”
“When I came to work for Dubai Media City ten years ago, there was hardly anything here. I was looking after their broadcast department and a lot of signage that you see around Dubai now was created then. We had an office in Crown Plaza,” she says. The initial years of the Dubai Media City, would see a meager number of clients. “About five-seven,” she says. “However in the first year we got 27 broadcasters on board. At the same time were looking towards developing aspects of the media and entertainment industry such as setting up facilities here – places such as Studio City. That’s how the film festival evolved.”
While her day job involved working for Media city, the evenings were devoted towards working for Dubai’s first ever film festival that was a project then. “I have watched a project became a festival. It became so big that we had to choose between working for Media City or the Festival and many of us chose the festival,” she recounts.
Ask her about the first Dubai International Film Festival and she’ll tell you that it was nowhere close to what it is today. “The Madinat Jumeirah (the venue of the festival) had just opened and we were the biggest event that year. Since then the festival has always happened in December there. The red carpet was much smaller then and the area was much less than what it is today. We had six films from India apart from other films,” she states.
The next year onwards, the festival started gaining momentum. Today it is internationally known to be one of the most looked forward to festivals in the region. It has been a mission to take the festival to greater levels. At one point of time before the festival started when we approached our sponsors they wouldn’t know about Dubai or wouldn’t take the festival seriously. Today it is extremely well known throughout the world and also paved way to other festivals in the country,” she says.
It is a great time now. DIFF is known internationally and you don’t really explain to people about the festival. “We get very new films to the festival and people are happy to give it to us. It is a reputation we have built across the years and it is heartening to see the films we have showcased at DIFF go on to win other awards including national awards in the countries of their origin,” she adds.
Ask her about DIFF 2014 and she states that the festival will have125 films this year from different countries and genres. “The festival has five- six Indian films this year. As part of the IWC programme, there will be Dolphins directed by Waleed al Shehhi,” she adds. The festival has several new things this year- one of the most important being the screenings at the Beach at JBR. “DIFF’s ‘Cinema for Children’ segment will be held at THE BEACH. The films are BBC’s 3D nature adventure Enchanted Kingdom, Paper Planes directed by Robert Connolly, Le Père Noël’(‘Santa Claus’) directed by Alexandre Coffre, The Crow’s Egg (Kaaka Muttai’) directed by M. Manikandan and Fiddlesticks (Quatsch) directed and written by Veit Helmer.
She reinstates that the selection of the films this year have been eclectic. The Price of Fame starring Benoît Poelvoorde, Roschdy Zem and Nadine Labaki follows the true story of two crooks who exhume Charlie Chaplin’s body to hold it ransom. Theodore Melfi brings St Vincent to thattars Bill Murray as the cantankerous Vincent, a man set in his anti-social ways who is suddenly plagued by the presence of his young neighbor Oliver. Ruben Östlund’s fourth feature film Turist focuses on the plight of a Swedish family who encounters an avalanche in the French Alps, the film is also the Swedish entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Oscars.From Christian Petzold, the acclaimed German filmmaker comes the gripping drama Phoenix – the story of a concentrationcamp survivor who searches Berlin for her husband. In Tigers, awardwinning director Danis Tanovic weaves the story of a man’s inner struggle as he realises what effects that infant formula milk he’s selling are having on Pakistani children. The film stars Emraan Hashmi”.
“Confronting the problem of China’s child abductions is the theme of top director Peter Ho-sun Chan’s box office hit in China Dearest. The history of French house music is depicted elegantly in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden, which chronicles the life and times of her brother Sven, who co-wrote the script. With a focus on the recent Ukrainian unrest, Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary Maidan chronicles the events surrounding the early days of the uprising in Ukraine that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. François Girard’s Boychoiris an inspiring family drama that the entire family can enjoy starring Academy Award-winners Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates. Gabe Polsky’s latest film Red Army is a documentary centered on the Soviet ice hockey team, thought by many to be the greatest team ever assembled. This documentary, however, is about much more than a game. Meet the Patels is a comedic look at a man’s struggle to find a wife through traditional Indian means. Directed by Indian-American brother and sister duo Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel, the film highlights cultural and social trials and tribulations, and won the audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival.”