In the Oscar--winning film Slumdog Millionaire, a young Muslim man from the slums of Mumbai -triumphs over probability and his past to win a jackpot on television as the country watches.
In Los Angeles, a festival of Indian film is now offering its own modest jackpot to the scriptwriter, Indian or non-Indian, who best reflects universal themes inherent in -Indian culture. The goal is for that script to end up as a film, perhaps one that many countries will watch.
The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles begins taking applications on September 1 for its Film Fund -development prize of $10,000 (Dh36,7000 - nowhere near -Slumdog level, of course - as the capitals of the two largest film industries, -Hollywood and -Bollywood, draw closer than ever. The deadline for submissions is November 2.
The initiative is starting small; its ambitions are anything but. For the IFFLA director Christina -Marouda, the fund's goal is not simply to help a script get written and a film get made, but to bring the talent of the Indian diaspora and stories about India to the -attention of the US film industry.
---- "Given the recent co-operations between Hollywood and Bollywood over the last few years, it just seemed like the right time," she says.
Marouda listed some of those co-ventures - the CG-animated -Roadside Romeo that Disney made for the Indian market, Sony's Saarawiya (2007) produced by -Hollywood for Indian audiences and a financing deal between India's -Reliance ADA and -DreamWorks.
"We are definitely trying to -position the festival as a bridge -between the two largest film -industries in the world," says the filmmaker Verendra Prasad, who is one of the festival's programmers.
Script submissions will be -narrowed to 10 finalists, all of whom will receive notes on their projects from a three-person jury. (Writers with more than one feature film credit are ineligible.) IFFLA will stage a reading of the winning work at the festival next April. It will also send a dossier of all 10 final scripts to agents and -distributors.
"We want to help them develop their projects into something that can be made and be successful. That's why we start from the script level, because it's really the first stage and if that stage doesn't go well it creates issues that can't be fixed later on," says Marouda.
The festival's success at bridging film cultures is unusual, -particularly because Marouda is not Indian. Born in Greece, she came to Los Angeles for a marketing MBA and worked in distribution for Lion's Gate.
After stints at other film -festivals, she founded IFFLA in 2002. Its first season came a year later. The festival has doubled the size of its -audience since then and its budget has expanded ten-fold, she says.
"Their breadth of taste is -impressive. Christina Marouda must have the best taste of any film programmer in LA, because there's quality to what she picks in every genre," says David Chute, a critic for LA Weekly and an Asian film specialist who has covered IFFLA since it opened.
Could the IFFLA Film Fund bring that taste to -commissioning -movies? The initiative is applauded by Vikram Jayanti, an Indian-born filmmaker in Los Angeles. -Jayanti's latest -documentary, -Snowblind, -premieres at the -Toronto -International Film Festival next month.
"I think America is terribly good at incorporating hyphenated -ethnicity - Indian-American, Pakistani-American - they're very good at -giving them a way into popular -culture in America. That is the kind of -investment that will result in some valuable cross-cultural -product," he says.
Marouda says that part of her -festival's mission is nurturing talent: "The festival highlights -emerging filmmakers from India as well as from the diaspora, whether that exists in the US, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, wherever they are," she says.
"Given that we are in Los -Angeles and there are so many Indian-American filmmakers living here, we want to make sure that there is a platform for them."
Support from Indian filmmakers is to be expected at a film festival committed to showcasing work by emerging directors of Indian -descent. Support from Hollywood studios is another thing, but IFFLA has that as well.
"It has gradually been growing to the point that this year all the major studios participated in some -capacity," says Marouda. "It has been an educational process for them and it continues to be. But at this point we see many studios -having established a division or having hired people that focus on India. For those people, the festival is a great portal to India."
It is now an essential portal, given the success of Slumdog Millionaire, which earned $362 million (Dh1.3bn) worldwide, in addition to eight Academy Awards. But -Marouda denies that Slumdog was the impetus for the Film Fund.
"Of course, the success of -Slumdog helps, but we would have done it -either way," she says, noting that the Film Fund had been -under -discussion for several years.
"Having an example that worked perfectly would make -production companies and agencies and -distributors here pay more -attention to the project that we select," she concedes. "They might be looking for the next Slumdog Millionaire."
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