PICTURE this: actor Adil Hussain darts across the courtyard of Dharamshala’s Tibetan Children’s Village, coffee in hand, for the masterclass he is conducting at the open-air venue of House of Peace and Dialogue. On another morning, actor-director Konkona Sensharma is seated at the courtyard, which has a canopy of prayer flags, giving an interview but is repeatedly interrupted by a dog who seeks her attention as well as a share of momos that she is eating. Not very far from there, auteur Mani Kaul’s sister, Gattoo Kaul, manages the counter of a pop-up stall of Cafe Cloud Door, named after his film The Cloud Door, which she runs in Himachal Pradesh’s Bir along with director Gurvinder Singh. The Chauthi Koot director nonchalantly serves Lemongrass Tea to customers at the stall when he is not mentoring young filmmakers.
All this and more kept unfolding on the sidelines, even as the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) was in progress. This is what also made the “pop-up” festival, which wrapped up its sixth edition on Sunday, a special experience for the delegates. Founded by filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam in 2012 with the aim “to create a space for mountain communities to watch high-quality independent films”, DIFF brings together independent filmmakers to the venue located in the backdrop of the Dauladhar mountain range, surrounded by towering cedar trees. It allows them to unwind and mingle freely with cinema lovers.
The festival opened on November 2 with Shubhashish Bhutiani-directed Mukti Bhawan and closed with Rima Das’ Village Rockstars. While Mukti Bhawan has travelled to a number festivals in the last one year, apart from having a theatrical release across India that was well-received, Village Rockstars is the current favourite in the festive circuit. It was hardly surprising that on a chilly Sunday evening, Das received a standing ovation from a packed house at Hermann Gmeiner Auditorium for capturing the world of Dhunu, who dreams of owning a guitar. Later in the evening, Das, sporting the traditional Tibetan dress chuba, let her hair down at the closing ceremony party.
During the four-day festival, which the organisers tried to keep “intimate” as always, there were opportunities for several discussions with film personalities who came to present their work. There were panel discussions on “the state of independent cinema”; “women in the film industry” and a three-hour long conversation with Hussain that highlighted various aspects of his life as an actor. Filmmakers such as Lijo Jose Pallissery, director of Angamaly Diaries; Karma Takapa, director of Ralang Road; Pushpendra Singh, director of Ashwatthama, and members of Ektara Collective (Maheen Mirza and Rinchin), which has made Turup, discussed their work during post-screening interactions. These conversations often extended to interactions over honey ginger tea.
The festival also screened some much-talked-about recent documentaries, such as Abu by Arshad Khan, Kristen Johnson’s Cameraperson, Communion by Anna Zamecka and Rahul Jain’s Machines. The morning shows at Dekyi Tsering Auditorium, however, belonged to some of the best children’s movies, including Revolting Rhymes based on Roald Dahl’s book, Nicole van Kilsdonk’s The Day My Father Became A Bush, Claude Barras’s My Life as a Zucchini, and Alain Gsponer’s Heidi.
Some of the festival veterans believed this year’s footfall was less compared to the previous year, possibly due to the state elections. However, that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits. Sarin said, “The participation of a large number of independant Indian filmmakers has made us believe that independent cinema is truly alive.”