Yogi Devgan Talks About the Upcoming Port Adelaide Diversity and Inclusion Film Festival, and He Wants Your Films

The interest and focus of diversity on screen has increased over the years, but for disabled groups, LGBTIQA+ groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and CALD groups the level of representation is nowhere near the level it should be. Enter Yogi Devgan and the Port Adelaide Diversity and Inclusion Film Festival (PADIFF).

PADIFF will have its debut run in August 2022, and is currently accepting submissions for short films that represent cultural diversity, the underrepresented and minority in communities. To submit your film, head over to the PADIFF website. Submissions close on July 31st.

In the below interview, Yogi talks about his journey to film, what his vision is for the film festival, and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity purposes.

You’ve got nice paintings behind you.

Yogi Devgan: I painted these. That’s how I started in the film industry. I moved here from England, [and] I used to be in real estate, did that for two years here as well. And it just kind of struck me I’m not doing anything with my life. You know, the midlife crisis or taking some time, weighing the options.

One of my friends who I grew up with passed away, and it struck me offside. He did not do any [of] what he wanted to do, and life just ended. I was like, “Nah, nah, I’m gonna take breaks. I just want to see what I can do.” So I took a year off, got back into painting, sold some paintings, given it for charity auctions. And but it wasn’t ticking my boxes either. I was like “No, I need something else.” And then I woke up with a thought, “No, I want to a film director, a filmmaker and producer.” So I went back to uni and [started] learning from scratch.

How’s that experience been for you?

YD: It’s good. Because it’s a passion. I don’t feel bored. I don’t feel disappointed either. If someone likes my work, that’s good. If [a person] doesn’t, it doesn’t bother me so much. So I’m looking forward to the future and telling stories.

Now we’ve got the Port Adelaide Diversity Inclusion Film Festival. How does that kind of snowball effect of “I want to be a filmmaker, how do I become a filmmaker?” roll into creating a festival?

YD: Adelaide is very much — you know, a handful of people [and] how they rule the world here. So I was making films out of university, sending into festivals all around the world. They get selected, played, some got some small winnings and stuff. But Adelaide was hard to [get] in to the festivals, like they will exclude somehow.

And then then I looked up previous data like what’s happening in Adelaide in the film world basically. They were not straightforward. Equality wasn’t there. So I thought “You know what, I’m just going to do my own thing.” So one of the professors with me, Dr Phil — he’s a sound engineer, he did feature films in Australia. And I was just having an open chat with him like “Is it me? Or is it how it is?” And he agreed. Very honestly, he was like, “It is like that.”

I said, “Look, I just want to make some change.” Because my children, they’re growing up. One is eight years old. He’s an actor. So we made a film with him and a dog, and it’s getting everywhere, like winning awards and stuff. Now it’s playing in Pinewood Studios in one of the festivals in a live event, and in Brazil in one of the government-funding open air event as well.

But it’s hard to showcase in Adelaide, honestly.

So I was like “No, I need to create something for this new generation.” It’s not about me. If I do a feature film, it goes straight into theatres worldwide. That’s great. But like film festivals I want to create for those people who have got good talent, but they get excluded. They don’t even get into the competition. How would they become somebody if it’s a systemic exit for them?

I went to the local council, I had a chat with Claire Boan. She is the mayor locally. I had an open channel. I said, “Look, I am a local resident here. I really want to do something, I need help. What can you do for me?” And she saw my film, she liked those films. She said, “Why don’t you start your own film festival? Give other people a chance.” It’s like a spark. “Yeah, you can do it.”

So that was the point and then I started looking for people. I reached out to Travis [Akbar], Adam [Gerard]. Channel 44 is a community channel here, they called us yesterday. So we were on there chatting about this festival, giving everyone equal chance. We’re not after the money on this one. We just want to showcase good stuff.

What are you looking for in submissions? Who can submit?

YD: Anyone can submit if the team is from a diverse background, or the film is [about] diversity, about culture, about sexuality and trans [issues]. Any can submit.

How’s the submission process been so far?

YD: So far, good. We got around 12 submissions so far. And this month we’re thinking it’s going to come further.

Great. There is this discussion about state bodies almost excluding certain people from getting funding, like they will present some diversity but even if you’ve got a proven track record, it’s hard to actually get your films supported by state bodies. Has that been a problem that you’ve found as well?

YD: It has, 100%. That was the main thing. Now we’re making a noise, now people are coming on board. And I think some change will happen soon. By looking at the past data, you can see it right there. I applied for a really small funding, like $500 and I was excluded. And when I asked the question, [the answer was] “Oh, because you didn’t provide where exactly you would spend the money.” I said, “$500 in a short film.”

If you look on my website, you will see how many projects I started and finished and submitting into film festivals. Right? So $500, you could have asked me, “Can you give us the invoice where you spend the money?” I would happily give you the invoice where I would spend the money. $500 doesn’t even pay for people’s food.

Answers like that. Then my question was “Under the Freedom of Information Act, could you please confirm for me whether this funding has ever been given to a person of colour?” The answer was “Oh, you can look up on our website.” I said, “I have looked [it] up and not seen anything.”

The next email was like, “Come, we would like to see you in person.” It’s like where is diversity? No one is asking. Everyone is scared. How can we change society?

Tell me about the panel for the festival?

YD: So I spoke to Travis. Travis was on board straightaway. Then I spoke to Stephen [Tongun] who just did Spiderhead with Chris Hemsworth. And he was on board because he’s from Sudan, and Sudanese community here is still growing and they are going through a tough time. And then I spoke to Adam who runs his production company and he has got a disability. Paramita [Roy] was involved with AFTRS. Her son had similar kind of problems. He’s a lawyer, he submitted loads of scripts all around the bodies but never gets selected. And being a lawyer, he [says] the reasons or the excuses they were coming up with do not make sense.

Similar people had similar situations. So [we all had a] common bow, let’s do something. We are in a position whereby we can influence other people like us who are going through certain stuff too. Everyone was on board 100%. That just makes me feel so fulfilled. Even if it’s a small drop, I can help.

What’s the role of the panel for your festival?

YD: So they’ve been talking to people to spread the word. Submit your films. And later on when we get probably around 20 submissions, I’ll give everyone access to and they can come up with which films they like to include, if we can include cultural diversity as well as films from minority groups as well as film from disabled people. Bus Stop Production company works with NDIS. So I had a word with Adam yesterday. I said, “Adam, it’d be good idea if you can reach them because it’d be easy access with them. So if they submit a film, yeah, 100% we will play these films.”

What’s your vision for the festival going forward? Obviously, this will be the first run. How do you see it going next year and five years’ time?

YD: A film festival for diversity is a really small drop in the ocean. So we will create another festival called Diversity and Inclusion Festival whereby the film festival will come under the umbrella and keep on growing. I had a discussion with the local city council yesterday and they said, “Yes, we can look into it.” Probably after finishing this festival, we’re going to start working on that one [so] we have good access to theatres. We’ll probably run a theatre for a weekend, three or four days, or even more. Start with three or four days back to back with performances regarding diversity and inclusion, and the film festival will be a part of that too.

When does the festival kick off?

YD: 26th August, 6pm till 10.30. So we will show the films, have a chit chat. There’s some music and we distribute awards, and then the after party.

Nice. You must be pretty excited.

YD: I’m very excited. Very excited.

I’m keen to see what you manage to curate for the festival. So you’re going for shorts and features?

YD: No, just shorts at the moment. Features maybe next year.

As long as we can fill the theatre and make it to the papers and create some name out of that, I think that’d be great. And support the local people with awards, like what they need. So yesterday Pro AV Solutions — they rent out equipment — they’ve come on board as well. They’re going to present an award, $600 towards hiring gear. Sleeping Bear are going to give $1,000 worth of website. A website is so important for any filmmaker, any creative person. So things like that we will push and give it to those people need them.

That’s excellent. It’s going to be great.

YD: Yeah, it’s going to be great. We reached out to the local businesses for a small sponsorship and they were like, “We’re on board.” Which makes you think “Yeah, we can do it with the support of the community”. We’re doing it for the community. Let’s include everyone, let’s give them what they want and what they need [to] refine their work rather than just like shutting them down. It’s going to be great.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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