The British director of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and its sequel is back in India, this time as the jury head at the Mumbai Film Festival.
John Madden, whose credits include the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), spoke to Reuters about film festival juries and whether getting along with other jurors is essential.
Q: Have you been on many festival juries before?
A: Yes, I have. I was president of the jury at the London Film Festival a number of years ago, and before that I was on the jury of the San Sebastian film festival.
Q: What is it like being on a festival jury?
A: It is extraordinarily stimulating. In one sense, to be in a darkened room, watching three films a day can sound like an arduous task, but I find it exhilarating. In the situation I am in, in Mumbai, it is particularly interesting and exciting to see 12 debut films I think have already garnered a reputation. It is so fascinating to watch those films with peers and to get to talk about them and deconstruct them. The only part which is difficult is to select a winner. Because films can be so many different things and it implies by selecting one that the others are disqualified and that is a difficult process.
Q: A festival jury is also about your other jurors. Is getting along the criteria for a good jury?
A: I think you have to respect and welcome each other’s views. I have also had the experience of being a jury in the judicial sense, in the UK and that is an even more onerous task. In the case of a festival, you are dealing across cultures, which is completely fascinating. This is a very particular example of it, and a very stimulating one.
Q: What happens when you are on the other side, as in when your film is competing at a festival?
A: Well, there is BAFTA. Even now, the majority of awards given out there, other than the two acting awards and the Best Film award, are decided by jury and large juries of peers. I am very used to that part of the process. I was in competition with “Mrs Brown” at Un Certain Regard in Cannes and with “Shakespeare in Love” at Berlin … the answer is that it’s exciting if you win, and it is still an honour if you don’t. You don’t feel resentful. The most extreme example is that of “Shakespeare in Love”. None of us had any expectation that it would win the kind of nominations that it did or that it would win what it did.
Q: Would the criteria for a film at festivals be different from one competing at an award ceremony? Would you judge a film differently depending on where you were judging it?
A: Not from where I was judging it, definitely. At the Mumbai Film Festival, I am in the jury [for] the international competition. So by definition, they come from all over the world. Also, they are debut films. So when one assesses those films, you are looking for the distinctiveness of a voice. You don’t come with any preconceptions about what the film or what the filmmakers’ reputations might be, which is the purest and cleanest way you can approach a film. Basically, just try and keep aside any preconceptions you might have and see the film for what it is.
Q: What do you make of the rule that the international competition this year has only films from debut filmmakers?
A: I think what you are asking is: should there be a competition which has a wider remit, considering all the films that would be considered elsewhere? I think it is totally welcome that the international competition focuses on debut films. It’s more exciting to identify distinctive voices at the beginning of someone’s career. I can see that from the point of view that Mumbai’s presence on the festival map might be heightened by a competition that is considering the same films as other major festivals all over the world. But the London Film Festival, for example, doesn’t see itself that way. The competition in London is not the most significant thing about the festival. In some ways, it is more like Toronto. It has some awards, but they are not what capture the imagination of the public.