The warmth of human stories

Aiming high: A scene from “Hamid”  

Ever since its debut in the year 2012, the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) has proven to be a haven for independent cinema. The 7th edition of the DIFF, which was hosted from 1-4 November 2018 in McLeod Ganj, brought some of the finest indie films from India and abroad to the beautiful hill station of Dharamshala, situated in the foothills of the Himalayas.While it may not be the biggest festival around, the DIFF is certainly one of the most alluring thanks to the scenic vistas that surround the festival venue. Also, the film festival greatly benefits from the fact that the directors, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, are filmmakers themselves. Unlike other film festivals, DIFF has a minimal corporate intervention and so there are no film markets or big commercial events running parallel to the festival. And yet it is a great place for networking as people who come here have a great love for cinema and arts. Between movies, you can bump into your favourite filmmakers or actors. The programming is done in such a manner that there is no mad rush amongst the attendants. Since no one is in a hurry, you can actually sit back and talk leisurely about things that often get neglected owing to the busy state of affairs in the big cities and enjoy nature at its most pristine.

Festival directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

Festival directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam  

A major acid test for the Dharamshala Film Festival this year came in form of the #MeToo movement but the organisers sent a strong message across by their decision to drop Ere Gowda’s Kannada film Balekempa following the allegation of sexual assault against the filmmaker. There has been a debate on whether all the people involved with a film should suffer because of the wrong actions of just one person. “In some ways, it is pretty straightforward. It’s only fair that women have an equal share, equal rights and equal voice in everything. However, it can be complex when you are dealing with people who are filmmakers as it’s not one person who is involved in making the film but there are many. So I think it’s more complex and that’s the reason why we are having a discussion titled ‘#MeToo & Independent cinema’ as part of the ongoing festival with a group of people who are involved with cinema to think about it and get some clarity because it is a very new thing that has hit us in independent cinema,” said Sarin, whose Tibetan language film The Sweet Requiem about the courage and plight of Tibetan refugees, co-directed with Tenzing, was also screened at the 7th DIFF.

The festival featured an interesting line-up of films comprising documentaries, features, shorts, and children films with a fine balance between Indian independent films and international productions. While Ukrainian filmmaker Daria Gai’s Hindi-Marathi film Namdev Bhau about a 65-year-old man in search of quietude was the opening film of the festival, it was Indian filmmaker Aijaz Khan’s Urdu-Hindi film Hamid about an eight-year-old Kashmiri boy in search of his father who has gone missing that closed the festival.

The films that hooked the audience include Anamika Haskar’s riveting tribute to the syncretic culture of Old Delhi, Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon, Malayalam filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery’s satire, Ee.Ma.Yau, and Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle, which is about a retired Marathi cop who stands up to the violence against the Bihari migrants living in Maharashtra, starring Manoj Bajpayee in the eponymous role. Some of the other films that deserve special mention include Dominic Sangma’s Garo film Ma.Ama about an 85-year-old man who wakes up every day with the hope of reuniting with his wife who has been dead for thirty years, Ridham Janve’s Gaddi language film The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain about an old Gaddi shepherd and his servant who witness a fighter jet crash in the Himalayan valley, Hiroshi Sunairi’s Japanese film 48 Years: Silent Dictator about a boxer convicted of mass murder, and Tashi Gyeltshen’s Bhutanese film The Red Phallus about a widower who specialises in the craft of making wooden phalluses.

Bonanza for discerning audience

The picturesque venue at DIFF

The picturesque venue at DIFF  

Apart from the two conventional screening facilities at the Tibetan Children’s village, the venue for the Dharamshala festival, this year the festival also had a mobile digital movie theatre facility called PictureTime that not only helped with the scheduling issues but also served an exciting new attraction for the film enthusiasts attending the festival.

One of the major attractions at the 7th DIFF was the section on Children’s Films, comprising short as well as feature-length films from countries like Denmark, Canada, Germany as well as India. Filmmaker Ajitpal Singh, whose short film Rammat Gammat, a story of two boys from different background who bond over football, was a part of the section, opined, “I think it is one of the best programmes on Children’s Films that I have seen so far. I think Monica Wahi has done a wonderful job in curating the section.”

The 2018 DIFF also featured a section on short films which comprised Indian films in languages ranging from Assamese to Malayalam to Kannada to Bengali to Pahari to Punjabi to Hindi. One of the major attractions of the fest this year was Manoj Bajpayee’s conversation on the art of acting with noted film writer Aseem Chhabra wherein the Satya actor talked about his eternal love for acting and how he goes about transforming himself each time he takes on a new character.

The festival also featured an engaging conversation on the continuing relevance of script and editing in contemporary cinema between Olivia Stewart — producer and mentor who has been associated with films like The Lunchbox, Titli and Village Rockstars — and acclaimed film editor Jaques Comets, moderated by Bina Paul, the artistic director of the Kerala International Film Festival.

Despite the remoteness of the place from the major Indian cities, the Dharamshala film festival not only attracts visitors from all parts of the country but also abroad. This year again, the film festival enjoyed a healthy footfall. While the weather remained unpredictable throughout the four days of the festival, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the film enthusiasts who continued to show up in big numbers despite the intermittent rains and cold weather.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 12:27:22 PM |

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