Dharamshala International Film Festival Round-Up
Dharamshala International Film Festival Round-Up
The sun had only just begun its ascent on the horizon of the Himalayan Mountains, a few specks of snow from last winter still lingered atop their peaks. After a rickety 12-hour journey from Delhi, the bus winded its way through the shockingly dirty lanes of lower Dharamshala on the last leg of the drive to the suburb of McLeod Ganj. The first look of the trash-strewn Himalayan hill-town of Dharamshala left a sliver of skepticism in my mind about my enthusiastic, last minute decision to grab my backpack and leave for the first ever Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF). It looked like anything but the picture postcard hill station on tourist brochures and its growing reputation as a global tourism destination.
My apprehensions, however, soon proved unfounded as the pretty suburb of McLeod Ganj came into view – conifer-lined roads, a tiny square bordered by multi-cuisine cafés, restaurants and curio/souvenir shops, tiny hilly lanes branching off in all directions to quaint little houses – this was definitely my idea of a romantic weekend with cinema.
Organized by the husband-wife filmmaker duo Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin of White Crane Films, DIFF is the first of its kind and scale to be held in the Himalayas, with the aim of bringing the best of recent Indian and world cinema to the mountains and encouraging local filmmaking talent through interactions with international filmmakers. Banners and posters of the film festival hung on various buildings, shops and streets, proclaiming the excitement surrounding the first ever such event in the town. Several hotels and a government Club House had been earmarked to host the visitors, while the trio of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), Club House and TCV Day School served as the venues for film screenings, master classes and panel discussions. The festival opened on November 1 with a screening of the critically acclaimed “Shahid” by Hansal Mehta, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. It was followed by performances by local musicians to steaming hot momos and cups of coffee at the open-air TIPA courtyard.
Over the next three days, 25 films sourced from around the world were screened at TIPA and the Club House. While the schedule allowed two films to be screened simultaneously at the two venues, it however meant that one had to make a choice between the films one wanted to watch, sometimes missing one great film for another. This was further made difficult by the fact that the two venues were separated by a considerable distance and a mountain, and negotiating one’s way through it, especially after sundown, was not the easiest task considering the lack of easily available public transport. Although four auto rickshaws were assigned for the festival and were painted a happy green with the logo of DIFF, these were not easy to come by given the influx of visitors.
Minor logistical hassles aside; this first-ever international film festival in the Himalayas was a roaring success. Most of the shows ran houseful, with majority of the filmmakers turning up for the festival. All shows started on time, and despite the lack of infrastructure in the area, one has to commend the quality of the projection and sound equipment at the venues. Considerable time was allotted for Q&A sessions with the filmmakers after each screening, and the filmmakers merrily blended in with the spirit of the occasion, informally chatting with everyone over lunch or samosas in the evenings.
While the festival as a whole proved a great success for a first attempt, a few events and activities stood out. These highlights included the Indian premieres with directors in attendance of the four documentary films of “½ Revolution” from Egypt/Denmark, “5 Broken Cameras” from Israel/Palestine, “My Reincarnation” from the US and “When Hari Got Married” by Sonam and Sarin from India, as well as of the feature film “Bunohan” from Malaysia. Other filmmakers who traveled to the festival were Asif Kapadia with “Senna”, Umesh Kulkari with “Deool”, Shaan Vyas with his production “Kshay”, Mark Elliot and producer Babeth VanLoo with “Yangsi”, and Aditi Chitre with the animation film “Journey to Nagaland”.
In addition to the film screenings and interactions, two panel discussions were held with the attending filmmakers – one on “A New Indian New Wave?” and the second on “Films from the Frontline”. Master classes with Kapadia, Chitre and Jennifer Fox were similarly well attended.
A 10-day international artists’ workshop was also organized in collaboration with the Delhi-based Khoj International Artists’ Association prior to the start of the film festival. The idea was to provide an art and cultural interface between international and India-based artists with local artists and residents of Dharamshala. The artworks emerging out of this residency were displayed during the film festival and included several paintings and installations,which were exhibited at strategic locations around the town of McLeod Ganj.
This week, ARTINFO India will bring to you a series of Q&As with filmmakers and reviews of various films screened at the first edition of the DIFF.