FILMMAKER Ritu Sarin excitedly shares the news over phone that many students from across India have registered for the upcoming edition of Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF). “Thirty-five students from a university in Ahmedabad alone have registered online. There’s a young audience which loves to have this opportunity to interact with actors and filmmakers,” says Sarin, who along with filmmaker Tenzing Sonam, founded the festival in 2012.
As the annual festival, scheduled to be held from November 7 to 10, readies to roll out its eighth edition with a line-up of feature films, shorts and documentaries cherry-picked from across the world, Sarin is looking forward to shifting the festival back to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). “This is where we hosted earlier editions of the festival. We now have a new hall, it would be a nice surprise for our regular delegates,” says Sarin. What might be thrilling for the delegates this time is that the venue is “more compact”. It is also closer to McLeod Ganj. A 15-minutes walk from there will take the delegates to TIPA, which has all the three screening venues next to each other.
Small in scale, the festival held against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar range offers a certain intimacy. This is what many filmmakers and film lovers come seeking. Though Prateek Vats, director of the opening film Eeb Allay Ooo!, is visiting DIFF for the first time, he says he has heard about it from “lots of friends and filmmakers”. Vats says: “What adds to its relaxed vibes is the fact that it is non-competitive. Away from the chaos, here we can appreciate each others’ work and have engaging discussions.” Gitanjali Rao’s debut feature animation, Bombay Rose, will close the festival.
Every year, Sarin and Sonam pick a limited number of titles with the aim of “bringing high-quality independent cinema to the mountains”, encouraging local filmmaking talent, and creating a platform to engage the area’s diverse communities. “We can’t afford to go to festivals. However, we follow film festivals closely and look out for good films. We request for screeners when we find something interesting,” says Sarin. While selecting movies, they don’t look for a specific subject matter; they go for movies that “talk about the human experience and are universal”.
This year, for the first time, the festival invited submissions. “We received a good number of submissions, primarily shorts. So, we have increased the number of short films to be screened this year,” Sarin says. The Indian line-up includes Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu, Gurvinder Singh’s Khanaur (Bitter Chestnut), RV Ramani’s Oh That’s Bhanu and Priya Sen’s Yeh Freedom Life. Some of the top attractions in the international section are For Sama, directed by Edward Watts and Waad Al-Kateab, God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya by Teona Strugar Mitevska, Inland Sea by Kazuhiro Soda, Song Without a Name by Melina Leon and The Dalai Lama – Scientist by Dawn Gifford Engle.
There has been a lot of interest among the local people about acting in cinema. So the festival directors reached out to actor Adil Hussain, who will conduct an acting workshop. Among the international filmmakers attending the festival are Japanese filmmaker Soda and Samuel Weniger from Switzerland. Both of them will conduct masterclasses too. “Soda’s ‘observational films’ are very interesting for aspiring filmmakers since more and more people are going out to shoot and make films themselves,” says Sarin. Soda will focus on the power of observation while the topic of Weniger’s masterclass is ‘In Search of a Personal Visual Language’. Weniger is the cameraman and co-director of Golden Age, which will be screened during the festival.