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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Dharamshala International Film Festival makes its digital debut

The delegates of the ongoing edition of Dharamshala International Film Festival will miss the mountain air and intimacy but will have access to a larger bouquet of movies

Written by Alaka Sahani | Mumbai | October 28, 2020 4:40:26 pm
Dharamsala International Film Festival 2020, indianexpressA still from Notturno

With the aim of “bringing independent cinema to the mountains”, encouraging local filmmaking talent, creating a meaningful platform to engage the area’s diverse communities and acquainting the hilly town of Dharamshala in Himachal with “contemporary culture”, filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam spearheaded the annual Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), which held its inaugural edition in 2012. The festival, which found support of independent filmmakers and cinema-lovers, established itself as a major cultural event within a few years.

The quaint town of Dharamshala, with the spectacular Dhauladhar range as its backdrop, lends the festival a chilled-out vibe minus the hassle of prior booking. Since the festival schedule is rarely packed, there’s enough room for conversations with filmmakers and others from the fraternity. Or, even a long walk that can end at a cosy cafe. At the end of a movie, the audience spills out into the spacious courtyard of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Under the rows of prayer flags, many would be engaged in a discussion about the movie or soaking in the mountain sun, often not even bothering to queue up for the next movie.

Dharamsala International Film Festival 2020, indianexpress A still from Softie

This time, however, it’s different. Forced to reimagine the festival due to the pandemic, the organisers will open DIFF’s ninth edition on October 29 as an online festival with over 100 feature films, shorts and documentaries. Sarin says they haven’t had hiccups so far but the process has been “complicated” as not all sales agents and filmmakers are happy to show their films online. “It’s been a steep learning curve coming to grips with the technological side of running a digital film festival but our path has been somewhat eased by the platform we are using – Shift72 – which is the leading international online platform used by film festivals worldwide,” says Sarin and adds that “the true test” will be when people start to watch the films from October 29 onwards. The festival will be on till November 4. This time, DIFF has a range of passes available, from full access to all its programming with the ‘premium’ passes to ‘lite’ ones at a cheaper price.

Running an international festival in a hill town, has its own set of challenges while funds remain a niggling concern. Sarin and Sonam, who are long-term residents of Dharamshala, are excited that they are able to present a digital edition of DIFF. “The online edition of DIFF will be able to reach audiences throughout India and some films will be available worldwide. The online format also allows us to programme many more films than we could normally. That’s exciting,” says Sarin. She does reveal that they lost out on a lot of films because DIFF is online this year and people have concerns about piracy.

Short films occupy a special place at DIFF. Sarin says, “We received an exceptionally strong range of submissions in this category, many made by first-time filmmakers, and it was difficult to make the final selection. In total, we are showing 23 shorts from India.” Interestingly, this year, the festival has initiated an ‘audience award for best first film’ in the Indian shorts category. All pass holders can cast a vote and the award will be an online mentorship session with Guneet Monga, producer and advisory board member of DIFF.

Even as Sarin is excited about the upcoming festival, she is going to miss personal interaction with people. “There is something wonderful about having people watch a movie together in a hall, appreciate a film. Then, they come out and talk about the film,” she says and adds “I will miss giving people hugs.”

Next year, DIFF turns 10. Sarin is hopeful of having a big reunion of DIFF alumni and its friends. “We started the festival without much backing. We did not imagine we would reach its 10th edition. We are thinking about doing something “joyful” next year.”

DIFF Highlights

Internationally acclaimed

Hao Wu’s 76 Days; Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno; and Tarzan Nasseer’s TIFF Netpac Award winner Gaza Mon Amour. Martin Eden by Pietro Marcello (Main competition Berlinale); Exile by Visar Morina (Winner at the Sarajevo Film Festival and official Oscar entry from Kosovo); Babyteeth by Shannon Murphy (Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice International Film Festival); Corpus Christi by Jan Komasa (Oscar nominee Poland for Best Foreign Language Film 2019); The Kingmaker by Lauren Greenfield (Toronto and Venice); Shell and Joint by Isamu Hirabayashi (Rotterdam); and Air Conditioner by Fradique (Rotterdam)

Sundance Award winners

Dharamsala International Film Festival 2020, indianexpress A still from Yalda

Yalda – A Night for Forgiveness by Massoud Bhakshi; Softie by Sam Soko; Identifying Features by Fernanda Valadez; and Welcome to Chechnya by David France.

Indian Documentaries

A Rifle and a Bag by Arya Rothe, Cristina Hanes, Isabella Rinaldi (Indian Premiere); Pearl of the Desert by Pushpendra Singh; and That Cloud Never Left by Yashaswini Raghunandan

Shorts at DIFF

Bittu directed by Karishma Dube; Catdog directed by Ashmita Guha Neogi; Tasveer directed by Ashutosh Pathak; Wig directed by Atanu Mukherjee; Alternism directed by Devansh Mathur; Call him Eddy directed by Sanjeev Vig; Disconnected directed by Suhail Tatari; Dobara Alvida directed by Shashank S Singh; Man of the House directed by Jall Cowasji; and Nawab directed by Mansi Jain.

The line-up and information regarding passes are available on

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