Since its inception three years ago, Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) has taken rapid strides towards becoming a hub of independent cinema. Through its thoughtful curation, it has introduced local and travelling audiences to exciting features and documentaries being produced in India and abroad.
The festival, which also aims to position Dharamshala as a destination for film lovers, is the outcome of the experiences of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, directors most recently of the documentary “When Hari Got Married”. “When you've been filmmakers a long time, you realise that independent cinema doesn’t survive on its own. It needs an ecosphere to survive, it needs festivals, it needs training, it needs funding, it needs audiences,” says Ritu during an interview in Delhi. “In India, all these elements are missing. Independent cinema is coming up right now, but I think the funding is lacking, audiences are not aware...all of that made us think we should try to start this festival.”
In the build-up to its third edition, the festival has been travelling to different cities with a selection of the best films from the previous edition. Its latest pit-stop in Delhi sees a selection of six films being screened at the India International Centre. The first of these, “Siddharth”, which highlights the issue of child trafficking, was screened earlier this week.
The other films are “Menstrual Man”, Amit Virmani’s documentary that tells the inspiring story of Muruganantham, who has championed the cause of low cost sanitary napkins; “La Voz De Los Silenciados”, Maximón Monihan's silent film that depicts modern-day slavery, using non-actors and Brechtian edits; “Mapa” by León Siminiani, a road movie about a young filmmaker who travels to India in search of a new map for love and life; the Japanese “Roots” by Kaoru Ikeya, which tells the story of a stubborn old man trying to piece together what remains of his life in the wake of a tsunami, and “The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer, which recreates the atrocities of Indonesian death squads of the 1960s. The films will be screened at 6.30 p.m. on September 15, 16, 18, 19 and 22 respectively.
The third edition of the festival will be held in Dharamshala from October 30 — November 2, and will follow a format similar to that of the previous festivals, says Ritu. Apart from some 24 full length features and documentaries, the festival will see a selection of shorts and animation films, curated by filmmakers Umesh Kulkarni and Gitanjali Rao respectively.While “Ankhon Dekhi” by Rajat Kapoor is the opening film of the festival, “City Lights” by Hansal Mehta and “Liar’s Dice” by Geetu Mohandas are some of its other highlights. “This year, we found that there were amazing films coming out of the Middle East that we had to include,” she adds. Some of these are “The Square”, shot in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution, “The Return to Homs”, a documentary on the Syrian Civil War, “A World Not Ours”, which tells the story of multiple generations of exile in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, and “Omar”, a feature about a Palestinian pushed into working for the Israelis as a spy.
While last year there were no Tibetan films, this edition will see the screening of films by three filmmakers with an association with Tibet. Among them is Tenzin Tsetan Choklay's documentary “Bringing Tibet Home”, about an art project in Dharamshala by Tenzing Rigdol, a contemporary Tibetan artist.
In a bid to promote filmmaking in the region, this year the film festival has also introduced the DIFF Film Fellows Programme, under which five young filmmakers from the Indian Himalayan regions will be selected to come to the festival, attend film screenings, masterclasses and workshops, and engage in one-on-one mentoring sessions with established filmmakers. Ritu says, “We feel, when we meet filmmakers from this region, that they have a hard time going to Mumbai and surviving there. But a lot of good films are being made, people are interested in the medium. We hope this opportunity might encourage them.”
* This article has been edited for a statistical error