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Festival strives to be a gateway for Indian cinema, as well as a showcase for international films

The international film-festival ecosystem is a varied one. On one end, you have the big players: splashy festivals like Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and Venice that attract marquee stars and international headlines. On the other are the genre-driven events, such as South By Southwest and Fantasia.

And in between you have the emerging international players that aren't necessarily looking to act as a launching pad for films so much as they are designed to simply highlight cinema that would otherwise bypass their markets.

Somewhere between those worlds is Mumbai, whose international film festival is launching its 18th annual edition Oct. 20 – and just starting to contemplate its place in the film-festival landscape. On the eve of its 2016 launch, The Globe and Mail spoke with Anupama Chopra, director of the Jio MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Image) Mumbai Film Festival about programming, pleading and censorship.

It seems that MAMI is undertaking quite an expansion – if not in the number of films, than its scope – from previous years.

Well, I was part of a team of unofficial helpers in 2014, and then the team that was running things was sort of done and asked us to take over and run with it. For us, it's been a really steep learning curve. We're not really festival people. I'm a critic and a journalist, myself, so it's been an overwhelming experience of running it. But we do want to grow it every year. Last year, we were just learning the brass tacks of having to run a film festival with more than 200 movies. This year, our ambition has grown – but we don't want to bring in more movies, but rather more events, to expand the conversation and try new things.

You are my Sunday.

You are my Sunday.

Have you taken much inspiration from film festivals around the world?

Some of our team did a residency with the Toronto International Film Festival and, as a critic, I've been going to festivals for the past 20 years. But you know, you have little sense of operations when you're going as a journalist. But since we've taken it on, we've tried to go behind the scenes as many places as we can. Cameron Bailey at Toronto has always been a great mentor and friend. He came down here, too. And the team at Berlin has also been very accommodating, allowing us to sit in meetings with many different teams. We're students, and we're learning from every festival.

This year, you're honouring Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke with the "Excellence in Cinema Award." He's really one of the world's best filmmakers working today – how did you snag him?

Oh, we've been chasing him since last year. We had a contact in Beijing and through them we were trying to get the word to him, requesting him to come. Then I literally accosted him at Cannes this year and said, "Please come, we've been trying to get you forever." The poor man was in a restaurant having dinner and I said, "I'm so sorry to interrupt you, but, please come to Mumbai." I'm happy it all worked out.

Sand Storm

Sand Storm

How deliberate is the balance between highlighting international filmmakers like Zhangke and homegrown Indian artists?

Honestly, we've never sat down to say it has to be 50-50 or 60-40, but I think that we recognize we need to be a gateway to great Indian cinema, as well as showcasing world cinema. Because the truth is that the world is not going to look to Mumbai to showcase international cinema. We have two masters. First, the audience, because the market here is dominated by local movies and especially Bollywood, so there's a lot of films that never get the chance to be screened here. Plus, there's also the censorship issue. And we're also serving the filmmaking community, both in Mumbai and across the country. Mumbai audiences, we don't even get to see India's own movies. We make 1,000 a year.

Hema Hema

Hema Hema

Does the state censorship affect MAMI?

No, because as a festival we are exempt from all censorship, which is why our minimum screening age is 18. We tell the ministry these are the titles we are screening, and they are exempt. So festivals here have an even greater significance – you get to see the cinema as the filmmaker intended it to be seen.

The Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival runs Oct. 20-27 (