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For marketers and brand owners, film festivals are a sponsorship opportunity much like other sporting, musical and theatrical events that they sponsor. One of the key aspects of effective sponsorship is finding the best fit or alignment between the sponsored brand and the sponsoring brand. 

For e.g. P&G found the common ground between themselves and the Olympics that they sponsored in the dedication and effort made by the mothers of the Olympics winners to raise champions in the sport.  

Finding the best fit is not so obvious or easy. It entails gaining deeper insight into the event being sponsored and its qualities and values as a Brand. With this perspective in mind, we have done a deeper dive into two different film festivals, IFFI (International Film Festival of India) and the Dharamshala film festival as brands.

After looking more deeply into multiple film festivals, we arrived at the conclusion that one of the most significant differences among film festivals arises from their ownership profile. The independent versus state-sponsored binary is the over-arching attribute that defines and influences pretty much all other aspects of the festival brand. IFFI vs Dharamshala Film Festival Brands provide the best illustration of this point.

An independent film festival is usually self-funded, but it does receive a bit of support from institutions and brands who want to be associated with the festival. State-sponsored film festivals are a completely different ball game altogether. Not only do state-sponsored festivals receive a substantial budget, but they can also act as official government mouthpieces and a medium for diplomacy between nations.   


The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was founded in 1952. The first event was held in Mumbai, and it was the first film festival to have been held in Asia. IFFI now is based in Goa and is the biggest film festival in India in terms of its budget and scale. IFFI is jointly organised by the Government of India and the Government of Goa along with their subsidiary film bodies, i.e. National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG). 

The Government of India primarily funds the festival. IFFI markets itself as the definitive Indian festival. The use of peacocks (a national bird) in its logo is emblematic of the fact that IFFI recognises and represents the national ethos of India. There’s an undercurrent of nationalistic sentiment in how IFFI is made and presented in India.

The fact that in the digital age, the government is still screening IFFI on Doordarshan, a state channel, clearly illustrates the Government’s intention to showcase IFFI as the festival of India. The festival's objective is to make it accessible to the masses and depict India in a good light.

The festival also works as a tool for official government communication and diplomacy. For instance, India featured France in IFFI’s ‘country focus’ segment this year. The Government of India acted in this fashion to reciprocate France’s gesture of honouring Indian cinema at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. 

Even the hashtag of the festival was #AmritMahotsav, which is eponymous with the Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, an initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence and the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements. 

Even though the IFFI festival brand stands for celebrating films as an art form, it still has a lot of government influence. The festival brand clearly has fewer elements of cinema per se and more elements of government in it.

Dharamshala International Film Festival

The Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) is a self-funded film festival that was started by filmmakers and Dharamshala residents Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam in 2012.

Their aim was to promote alternative cinema within the local community. Though DIFF does not receive any funding from the Indian government, it has many tie-ups with embassies and institutions of European countries. 

The festival's tagline is ‘Bringing independent cinema to the mountains’. It clearly elucidates DIFF’s intention of being a space for independent films and filmmakers who may not be able to exhibit their work in a more commercially-oriented space. Even the hashtag of the festival for the year 2022 was #celebratingIndependentCinema. 

Due to its independent nature, DIFF is also able to showcase films that a state-sponsored festival would not be able to. For instance, this year, DIFF showcased ‘Joyland’, a film about a transgender woman and her love affair with a married man. The film was made by a Pakistani director, and even though the film has been critically acclaimed across many international film festivals such as Cannes, it was not showcased at IFFI.

DIFF is also targeted more towards younger audiences. It has more of a youthful vibe to it since it’s a self-funded festival. The low-budget nature of DIFF enables it to develop solutions like a make-shift cinema hall called ‘Picture Time’. This year, DIFF also organised workshops with prominent filmmakers and writers such as Varun Grover and Anurag Kashyap. These are artists who are considered to be vocal critics of the state. Varun Grover’s film ‘Kiss’ was also screened at DIFF and not at IFFI, even though the film has been very critically acclaimed and has travelled across many countries.

We can see in DIFF’s Instagram communications that people who have paid for the tickets to attend the festival are gathered around these artists and listening to them while sitting on the floor. No one is complaining that there’s not adequate seating arrangement since everyone knows it is an independent film festival.

In the days leading up to the festival, DIFF posted short videos and montages on its Instagram page to ‘count down’ the days to the festival. It did so using time-lapses and montages. The intention was to build anticipation amongst the audiences; looking at the metrics of likes and comments on its posts; one would say that they were successful.

Most of DIFF’s communication is posted on its Instagram page only rather than its YouTube channel. It certainly does not stream its event on national television channels such as Doordarshan, as IFFI does.

Conclusions about film festival brands:

Film festivals have their own characteristics and ethos, and the films screened in the festivals reflect those characteristics.

Film festivals are not just about films. The political stance of the filmmakers whose work is featured in the festivals, also makes a huge difference in the selection process of the films screened.

Independent festivals have a rebellious characteristic, challenging the State’s agenda. Whereas, state-sponsored festivals are another avenue for the State to promote its intentions and ideological commitments.

An independent film festival relies more on new-age media for its communications and marketing. In contrast, a state-sponsored festival relies on traditional platforms such as print media and television coverage to promote the festival. 

When working on sponsorship ideas for film festivals, it is useful to keep in mind the independent versus State-sponsored binary and the resultant characteristics that define the values and qualities of the festival brand.