In 2022, I attended for the first time the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), perhaps the biggest film festival in India by scale. By then, I believe I was a film fest veteran, having regularly attended the MAMI Film Festival since 2017, the IFFK, the EUFF, BIFFes, and others. That made things easier for me. IFFI was uncharted territory because it takes place in Goa which is stereotyped as a tippler’s paradise. I remember I had made plans to attend IFFI Goa in 2021 but then got cold feet and cancelled. For anyone who is not in or from Goa, attending IFFI can be a challenge. Even more so, if you’ve never attended a film festival before. An IFFI guide is then a must-have.
Most film festivals in India and around the world have more or less the same setup and ambition. Films are scheduled over a few days, which you can book and watch at designated theatres. There are also panel discussions, fairs (such as Film Bazaar at IFFI), workshops, red carpet events, and networking events meant for cinema artists. Film festivals are generally filled with such artists who attend to watch films and get inspired and interact with fellow artists from the industry.
Therefore, I will not talk about those extra bits here. Instead, this guide will give you a detailed take on how you can navigate the International Film Festival of Goa as a film enthusiast like me. Apart from the year when I attended MAMI MFF to also interview artists for The Review Monk, I have mostly stuck to my enthusiast role. I attend film festivals to simply check out movie premieres, rare films, indie films that may never release theatrically, world cinema, and restored classics, almost like a silent spectator. I stopped taking selfies after this one time with Anurag Kashyap at the Young Critics Lab. Otherwise, I would have requested Darshana Rajendran and Vinay Forrt for one each during the screening of Aattam (2023) at MAMI MFF 2023.
This guide will help you navigate the Goa film festival, as it is also known in the coastal state and elsewhere, especially if you are planning to travel from another city. In my case, I travelled from Mumbai to Panaji (Panjim) in November 2022. I was in the city for four days, purposely kept it short because attending a film festival in another city can be expensive.
What is IFFI?
The International Film Festival of India or IFFI is the biggest film festival in India, and perhaps the oldest too. It began in 1952 and is today one of the most sought-after film fests in the country. It’s kind of a big deal because it is jointly bankrolled by the Government of India, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), and the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG). The last one must have come on board after Goa became IFFI’s permanent venue in 2004.
The government’s participation makes it an influential event, even in the global stage. If I had to compare IFFI, MAMI, and IFFK – three of the most extravagant film events in India, I would say IFFI clinches the “biggest” tag, MAMI the “most glamourous”, and IFFK the “most cultural”. IFFI’s International Competition, Indian Panorama, and Festival Kaleidoscope are the most influential categories, with their awards coveted by even the who’s who of international cinema.
BIFFes, DIFF, PIFF, KIFF, and even EUFF do not come in the same league.
Attending IFFI is, therefore, a must-do for any film enthusiast. It being in Goa only adds to the fun.
What to Expect at IFFI?
You can expect to watch film screenings, spectate panel discussions, and interact with veteran and up-and-coming cine artists from across India.
A film festival also doubles up as a competition where some categories have eponymous awards given to the best film as voted by a jury. There are special awards, the Satyajit Ray Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Indian Film Personality of the Year. For the 2023 edition, there’s also buzz surrounding an award for the Best Web Series (OTT) Award. OTT means over-the-top and is another term for online streaming.
Here’s a list of a few notable categories in which films are shortlisted and screened:
- International Competition – feature films competing for the prestigious Golden Peacock and Silver Peacock awards
- World Panorama – world cinema
- Indian Panorama – Indian cinema outside of competition
- Festival Kaleidoscope – works by veterans and notable films from other recently concluded film festivals
- Gala Premieres – opening, closing, and special films that enjoy premieres at IFFI
Other categories include Retrospective, Goan Films, and Tributes. For example, I watched Abhimaan (1973) as part of a Retrospective feature at IFFI 2022.
Perhaps the most exciting part of IFFI for cine artists is the NFDC Film Bazaar. It is sort of a get-together of South Asian and global filmmakers to exchange ideas about cinema and technology. It’s a prestigious event and requires a different type of delegate pass other than the general IFFI delegate pass. A Film Bazaar pass can cost up to INR 21,000 whereas IFFI general pass costs INR 1,180.
I met a filmmaker couple in 2022 who were promoting their short film at the Film Bazaar. They thought it was worth it because it gave them a lot of exposure to producers and distributors who were interested in their film. I tend to agree because things like the Viewing Room are a great initiative for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their work and market their work.
IFFI also hosts workshops, masterclasses, and panel discussions. Watch out for these to see if any of your favorite artists are part of them. Compared to films, such sessions are easier to book because they are not as sought-after as film screenings. Another part of IFFI Goa is Cine Expo, an open exhibition about cinema and artists.
Where to Start with IFFI Goa?
Before you decide on attending the International Film Festival of India, know why you’re going. If like me, your only aim is to watch movies all day and spend evenings in beaches, then you’re good to register right away.
However, if you’re a film artist looking for inspiration, I may not be the right person for guidance. This is essentially an IFFI guide for the casual film festival goer.
How to Register for IFFI?
- Go to https://my.iffigoa.org/ and create an account.
- Choose the delegate type and select Register Now.
- Confirm your delegate type selection and continue.
- Enter your details, upload the requested documents, and submit.
The IFFI registration process is a bit off because it requires you to wait for an approval email from NFDC (or IFFI committee) before you can pay and confirm your registration. This can be anywhere from two days to two weeks. Last year, my confirmation came a day prior to my train from Mumbai, which really gave me the jitters. I had to email the committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) to elicit a response. Therefore, my advise would be to register as soon as you can.
After you receive the approval email, pay for your pass. The cost for Cine Enthusiast and Film Professional delegate passes is INR 1,180. Students studying film or mass communication can get the pass for free. I don’t see an option for press this year, which is what I had opted for in 2022.
How to Collect the Delegate Badge?
After payment, your delegate pass will be confirmed. Just show the confirmation email at the collection venue to collect your delegate badge, festival kit, and schedule. The kit will mostly include a heavy catalogue giving you a lot of information about the films and sessions. The collection venue for IFFI is Kala Academy in Panaji. I think you can also collect it from outside ESG.
It’s a good idea to collect the badge at least a day before the start of the festival. That way, you will have a bird’s eye view of the festival ahead and can plan better.
IFFI Guide: Attending the International Film Festival of India
After you have collected your delegate badge, the next step is to start planning your festival days and booking your screenings and sessions.
Start by installing the IFFI GOA app on your phone, which will show you the schedule and other details. (Interestingly, the IFFI GOA app premiered in 2022 and is known to have made the booking process a breeze. It’s developed by DataKal StarBase, the same folks who managed data and app development for MAMI. BookMyShow, in comparison, although fared well in 2023, comes only second to these guys.)
Book Films and Sessions on IFFI GOA App
Films have to be booked a day prior to the screening day. For example, if you want to book shows for November 20, you need to book them on the app on November 19. As far as I know, bookings start at 8 AM sharp and usually get sold out within minutes. I highly recommend setting an alarm for 7.40 AM or something and be prepared by 7.59 AM. I cannot stress this enough because seeing “sold out” messages can make you cranky and take the fun out of the festival for you.
Before you start booking, though, you’ll need to plan your days. Since the process is similar to how things are in MAMI MFF, I recommend you to go through my MAMI guide. Jump to the watchlist strategy section in hat guide to plan your screenings. The idea is to avoid screening overlaps, have some time between screenings to munch on some protein bars because an elaborate meal is not possible, and catch as many films as you can.
In a nutshell, have a rough idea about the films, sessions, or workshops that you want to attend. Use the schedule and the catalogue to create a watchlist. Here’s an example of my watchlist for IFFI 2022. It’s short because I was there only for three days and I knew I could catch a maximum of four movies a day, making it 12 in total. Though, I was only able to watch six of those films, mainly because of overlaps and limited screenings.
Never expect to catch all the films that you want to watch. There’ll always be overlapping films in different venues, making it virtually impossible to catch them all. You have to submit to serendipity and go with the flow sometimes. For example, at IFFI 2022, I watched Unrest (2022), Siya (2022), and Leonor Will Never Die (2022) that were never in my watchlist. They just seemed interesting to me at that time and I went with them, also because their shows aligned with the other films that were a must-watch for me. Like the India premiere of Ariyippu (2022), Aftersun (2022), Decision to leave (2022), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the world premiere of Drishyam 2 (2022).
Once you have a list of films that you want to watch at IFFI, prioritize the titles. That way you can plan your days better. For example, if a must-watch title is playing at INOX Goa at 3 PM and another one at 6 PM, plan your day in that venue. Choose a film for the morning and night slots according to the venue. This will help you stay sane during the entirety of the festival. Unless you’re a daredevil who has four films each alternating between INOX Goa and INOX Porvorim.
You can reserve a maximum of four screenings or sessions per day. You can squeeze in more if, say, one of those movies is just 90-minute long. But you cannot book a seat for a fifth movie on the app. You’ll have to try walking in and that will be possible only if the movie or session you choose is not already sold out.
Alternatively, you can cancel a previous booking and try another film. Before you do that though, make sure the new film is not already sold out.
A lot of the tips I have shared in the MAMI guide also apply to IFFI. There’s also a handy IFFI guide by the foodietrails where the author has chronicled her experience at the 2016 edition.
During the Festival: What to Do?
Let’s say you manage to book seats for four films for day one. The first thing to do on that day is to be at the venue an hour before the start of the first show. For popular films of 2023 (like Anatomy of a Fall or Kennedy), queues may start to form way earlier. Morning show queues start later but still it’s better to queue up an hour ago to assess the crowd and get into the vibe of IFFI.
Explore the venue for a while and then queue up in front of the entrance of your first screening or session. Between 15-30 minutes is when the doors will open and you can take a seat. Here the usual movie-watching strategy and etiquette apply. Don’t be annoying.
If you have an immediate next show, don’t wait for the end credits to roll fully. Instead, run to queue up for that show. It’s always a good idea to have a buffer of at least an hour between two shows. Otherwise, you’ll find it difficult to breathe, stay hydrated, and even pee.
Mingle with people in your queues and kick up conversations. I have known some great people this way, and none of them were serial killers till the time of publishing this.
If you have longer breaks between two shows, explore the area around your venue. There will be food stalls and eateries around, so find a spot that suits you. I remember my go-to spot for a tea break at INOX Goa was an eatery right next to ESG. They sold tea for INR 10 a pop whereas IFFI stalls charged INR 50.
IFFI Guide to Travelling to Panaji, Goa
If you’re planning to travel from another city to Goa, the first thing to do is reserve a bus, train, or flight ticket. I would even suggest to do it before you register for IFFI. That’s how difficult it is to get a seat in any public transport system to Goa.
The cheapest option, of course, is the train. Naturally, it’s also the most difficult to book. In 2022, I had to book a second-class (SL) sleeper train ticket on waiting list (WL) from Dadar to Karmali a month before the festival. If you’re travelling by train, choose to get down at Karmali, which is closest to Panaji.
The second-best option is to take a sleeper bus to Panaji. It costs 2x-3x a second-class train ticket. In comparison, bus seats are always available. Just a word of caution: don’t go for the cheapest because sleeper intercity buses are dubbed moving coffins because of their poor safety standards, claustrophobic aisle, and errant drivers who tend to sip a tipple at every stop to keep themselves awake.
The least affordable options are flight, interstate cab, and private car. If you’ve always wanted that road trip, maybe attending IFFI is the much-needed excuse.
Where to Stay Around IFFI Venues?
IFFI takes place primarily in Panaji and Porvorim. two areas separated by the Mandovi river. They’re six kilometres apart from each other, which is quite a lot to travel in Goa, again because of the poor connectivity. The Panaji venue – INOX Goa – is the main hub of the festival. Therefore, I recommend staying in its vicinity.
Consider getting accommodation in any of these areas in Panaji:
- Panjim (closest to INOX Goa)
- Tambdi Mati
- Taleigaon (I stayed here in 2022)
- Neugi Nagar
- Miramar (farthest from the venues)
Panaji has a lot of hotels but affordable ones are scant. Hence, I recommend renting an Airbnb. I wanted to cook my food to avoid eating out, so I opted for a studio apartment in Taleigaon. It cost me roughly INR 13,000 for 3 nights, which is quite a bit if you ask me. But Panaji not being the hub of Goa as a tourist spot, I wanted security. The Airbnb I booked was a gated building.
However, traveling from Taleigaon to the locations was a task. There are no marked public bus stops in Panaji, so I often found myself walking all those kilometres up and down. While going in the morning was fine, returning late at night meant you’ll be barked upon by street dogs in every corner. And you know my relationship with dogs. I had to face dogs at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) too, but in comparison the Panaji experience was worse. Uber, Ola or any type of taxi aggregators do not operate in the entire state of Goa because of the taxi mafia.
Pro Tip – If you suspect dog-chasing, carry a long stick with you. Dogs don’t bark at stick-holders.
Such travel woes can be fixed by renting a scooter. I did not rent one because I chose only INOX Goa as my IFFI venue. Since I would be spending my time in the same venue all day, renting a scooter wouldn’t have been much useful or economical. But if you see yourself shuttling between the venues, a rented scooter (like Activa or Vespa) will be a good idea.
In 2022, IFFI ran free shuttle rickshaws that plied between major festival venues. You just had to flash your delegate badge and a rickshaw will take you where you need to go as long as it’s within the radius of the festival venues.
Notes on IFFI Venues
For 2023, the major venues appear to be the following:
- INOX Panaji (INOX Goa)
- INOX Porvorim
- Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG)
- Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor Stadium (ceremonies)
Miramar Beach, Joggers Park, and and Ravindra Bhavan in faraway Fatorda are also listed. I suspect there may be outdoor screenings this year, similar to how IFFK has it every year.
Except for the indoor stadium, which is on the other side of Panaji, the INOX theatres and ESG auditorium are inside a radius of seven kilometres. Basically, for film screenings, you’ll need to shuttle between the two INOX theatres.
I remember one evening taking an overcrowded bus from INOX Goa to Taleigaon. It cost me about INR 20 and dropped me right in front of my Airbnb. I never saw a bus again in that route.
Pro Tip – The first screen (BIGPIX) of INOX Goa has a very loud sound system. I recommend using earbuds or stuffing cotton balls in your ears to avoid cracking your eardrums. However, the screen is really big and enjoyable.
Nearby Attractions During IFFI
I’m at an age where festival fatigue kicks in by the third or fourth day. If you’re like me, and want to catch a few attractions while enjoying the Goa film festival, here’s a quick list of nearby attractions. All of these are in the vicinity of INOX Goa:
- Adil Shah Palace
- Immaculate Conception Church
- Global to Local (market)
- Mangrove Boardwalk
- Kokni Kanteen (restaurant)
- Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro (cafe)
- Bombil (restaurant)
- Miramar Beach
- Dona Paula Beach
It may be a good idea to explore some of these places for food or sightseeing, which will help you tackle the fatigue.
- Try to queue up for a film screening or session at least 30-45 minutes before the starting time. This will ensure you get the best seats in the auditorium.
- Unlike during regular movie-watching, INOX security folks do not check bags for smuggled foods. Or if they do, they’re lax. So, carry some energy bars with you to stay afloat if you have to skip breakfast or lunch.
- Plan your films around your commute plans and not the other way around. Finding local transport in Goa is tricky.
- Stay hydrated and refill your water bottle at the venue instead of paying for overpriced bottled water.
- Carry a book or earphones to keep yourself occupied because for some films, queues can be really long.
- Watch out for Q&A sessions for films where the crew is present.
- Avoid the last show of the day (after 9 PM) to avoid late-night travel if you don’t have your own vehicle. If you do, you’ll be at the mercy of unscrupulous rickshaw and taxi drivers.
- There are cheaper foods and drinks available outside the ESG compound. You don’t have to rely on the IFFI stalls or INOX cafeteria, which sell overpriced food.
- Stick to a single venue if you can. That way you don’t have to shuttle between the venues and thereby reduce the possibility of being late to your shows.
- If you plan to attend the IFFI opening ceremony, make sure you plan your travel back to your hotel/hostel in advance. After 8 PM, the area around Mukherjee stadium is a ghost town.
Have a specific question regarding this IFFI guide or the fest in general? Ask me in the comments or drop an email.
The 54th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) starts 20 November 2023 and culminates 28 November 2023 in Panaji, Goa.