Come November and the Tibetan Children’s Village will transform into a meeting ground for filmmakers and cinephiles from across the country and abroad, as the 7th Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF, November 1 to 4) unfolds in the beautiful mountain town of McLeod Ganj, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the meeting point of a rich and cosmopolitan mix of people and cultures. DIFF, the first edition of which was held in 2012, is the effort of filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam to promote contemporary cinema, art and independent media practices in the Himalayan regions of India. One of India’s leading independent film festivals, DIFF’s cutting-edge and eclectic programming includes many India premieres, with a large number of directors invited for film screenings and allied programmes.
This year, along with the two existing auditoriums at the school, DIFF will partner with Delhi-based PictureTime to set up a mobile digital theatre with state-of-the-art projection facilities at the festival venue. “We endeavour to bring a slate of unusual and trailblazing narratives, documentary and short films from around the world, as well as showcase some of the best recent Indian independent cinema, making it a rich experience for our audience,” says Ritu Sarin, the festival director.
The highlights include films such as Kannada film director Ere Gowda’s Balekempa, a story of unspoken desires and relationships that cluster around the lives of Kempanna, the bangle seller, and his wife set in Karnataka’s patriarchal community. There’s Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Ee.Ma.Yau, a black comedy in Malayalam, set in the coastal village of Chellanam, Kochi. Raghu Rai: An Unframed Portrait, by his daughter Avani Rai, is an up-close portrait of one of India’s well-known photographers.
The international line-up includes, Boom for Real by US director Sara Driver is a documentary that follows the pre-fame years of celebrated American artist Jean-Michael Basquiat. Father to Son from Taiwan is director Hsiao Ya-chuan take on the journey of self-reconciliation. In the Intense Now, Joao Moreira Salles from Brazil, tells an immersive tale of the Paris uprisings, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the Cultural Revolution in China. South Korean Little Forest by Yim Soon-rye, is a coming-of-age story based on the 2002 Japanese manga of the same name. From Switzerland comes Luc Schaedler’s A Long Way Home, a never-before heard or seen glimpse into the lives of five significant representatives of contemporary Chinese counter-culture. Namme from Georgia/Lithuania by Zaza Khalvashi is the story of one family’s mission to take care of a local healing waterbody and treat fellow villagers with it. The Red Phallus by Tashi Gyeltshen takes place in the gloomy and remote central Bhutan valley of Phobjika, where a 16-year-old lives with her widower father and her dark secret comes back to haunt her. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda by Stephen Nomura Schible is an insight into the life of the legendary Japanese composer.
As part of the festival, DIFF is hosting the first Dharamshala-PJLF Editing Workshop, supported by National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). Two director-editor teams will be selected from across the country and mentored by internationally renowned editor Jacques Comets, along with editor and artistic director of the Kerala International Film Festival, Bina Paul, and producer and script/editing mentor Olivia Stewart.
Filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni has curated a selection of the best of current Indian shorts, with DIFF Children’s Film Programme curated by Monica Wahi. The DIFF Film Fellows initiative, which was established in 2014, will focus on up-and-coming filmmakers from Himachal Pradesh. This is supported by the Himachal government’s Department of Language, Arts and Culture. Five filmmakers will be selected and mentored by well-known National Award-winning filmmaker Gurvinder Singh and award-winning documentary filmmaker Anupama Srinivasan. One of DIFF’s primary goals is to promote and encourage filmmaking in Himachal Pradesh. This year’s Spotlight on Himachal includes the North Indian premiere of Ridham Janve’s, The Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain, a Gaddi-language feature film set in the Dhauladhar mountains with a cast of non-professional Gaddi shepherds, while Shimla-based filmmaker Siddharth Chauhan will also present his much-lauded short film, Pashi.
“We are delighted with the way DIFF has evolved over the years. A festival like DIFF, taking place in a small town with few resources and no cinema tradition as such, requires the support and dedication of numerous individuals and organisations, as well as interns and volunteers whose enthusiasm and passion are the engine that drives our festival, and we promise a showcase of stimulating, inspiring and innovative screenings and events,” says Sarin.