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Dharamshala International Film Festival 2015: A Curtain Raiser

November 2, 2015 | By

The Dharamshala International Film Festival better known as DIFF will be held in McLeod Ganj from the 5-8 November 2015. The annual festival will enter its fourth year this time – a curtain raiser.

The Dharamshala International Film Festival (5 8 November 2015) is an alternative, offbeat independent film festival held annually in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh. This is the 4th edition of the festival which started in 2012 by filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. The aim of the festival was to bring high quality independent cinema to Dharamshala, encourage local filmmaking talent and create a meaningful platform to engage all the communities in the area.

A scene from Titli

A scene from Titli

A bit of history

Apart from showing films the festival also engages the audience with panel discussions and masterclasses. In its first edition there was a panel discussion titled “A New ‘Indian New Wave’?” with film personalities Hansal Mehta, Ashim Ahluwalia, Umesh Kulkarni, Guneet Monga and Shaan Vyas. It looked at the possibilities and positioning of an alternative Indian cinema which refuses to be defined and dictated by the over-encompassing Bollywood. The panelists looked deep and wide as the thematic semblances of these films – bolder, more experimental and adventurous.

In 2013, there had been a very interesting discussion on the role and relevance of documentary as a force for change which included the likes of Anand Patwardhan, Nishtha Jai and Amit Virmani. The speakers shared their own experiences in filming documentaries – the challenges and obstacles, not external always but at times the internal conflicts as well. From 2014 onwards the Festival diversified in launching the DIFF Film Fellows programme. The initiative was aimed to develop filmmaking talent in the Himalayan regions of India by providing an opportunity to young, up-and-coming filmmakers from the area to attend DIFF and participate in its various events.

This program had been an instant hit and is one most sought-after program in 2015 as well.

A scene from Island City

A scene from Island City

DIFF 2015

In line with the earlier years, there is a lot of buzz around the DIFF 2015 as well. The festival opens up on 5th Novermber with Kanu Behl’s much acclaimed Titli (screened as part of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes Film Festival 2014) which has already got accolades and positive vibes in festivals and screenings all round the world. The film will be introduced by the director and actor Ranvir Shorey.

The festival will close with Cannes Film Festival award winner, Masaan, by Neeraj Ghaywan who will present the film along with screenwriter Varun Grover.

The list of attending international filmmakers this year includes The Maw Naing from Burma with his feature film, The Monk. Acclaimed Japanese director Kaoru Ikeya is returning to DIFF for the International premiere of his documentary Lung Ta. Director Dodo Hunziker from Switzerland will also attend the festival, along with Loten Namling, the protagonist of his film, Tibetan Warrior. Bhutanese director Dechen Roder will bring her short film, Lo Sum Choe Sum, which will have its India premiere at the festival.

In collaboration with the Embassy of Switzerland in India, Anka Schmid will attend the festival for the Asian premiere of her documentary, Wild Women – Gentle Beasts. In collaboration with The Japan Foundation, DIFF will also host director Tetsuichiro Tsuta, for the Indian premiere of his feature film, The Tale of Iya.  Israeli director Talya Lavie will present her film, Zero Motivation, with support from the Embassy of Israel in India.

Indian filmmakers attending DIFF 2015 include National Award-winning director, Gurvinder Singh, with his feature film Chauthi Koot (Cannes 2015). Bhaskar Hazarika will present the Assamese feature, Kothanodi (2015 Busan International Film Festival).  Abhay Kumar will attend with his documentary, Placebo (IDFA 2014). Prashant Nair will present his feature film, Umrika (Audience Award, 2015 Sundance Film Festival). Ruchika Oberoi will introduce her first feature, Island City (FEDEORA Award for Best Debut Director 2015 Venice Film Festival).

A highlight this year are the documentaries premiering at DIFF, from Sundance award-winning film, The Wolfpack, which will see its Indian premiere at DIFF, to the Indian premiere of Yallah! Underground. Brian Knappenberger’s documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, will also have its Indian premiere. There will also be the Indian premiere of Tashi and the Monk, a short, inspiring documentary and winner of the Indomitable Spirit Award at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival.

DIFF 2015 will see the launch of its new programme, specifically tailored towards younger audiences, called Reel Neverland. Film curator and Director of the South Asia Children’s Cinema Forum, Monica Wahi, has selected a range of animated and live action children’s films from around the globe, from the Russian short, About a Mother by Dina Velikovskaya to Brazilian director Alê Abreu’s feature film, The Boy and The World which showcases breathtaking animation and thoughtful storytelling. The section also includes the official selection for the Berlin International Film Festival and TIFF Kids, Jury Feting’s Celestial Camel which is a rollercoaster of an adventure, with twelve-year-old Bayir and his white colt, Altynka. Meeting strangers, enemies and friends along the way, Bayir travels on his father’s old motorbike in order to save his camel.

Children's film Celestial Camel

Children’s film Celestial Camel

The festival will also host a selection of short films from India, curated by Marathi filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni. This will include Ahalya by Sujoy Ghosh, I Am Yet to See Delhi by Humaira Bilkis, Khidki by Sonia Saharan, G.C Ki Issi Tissi by Ashish Nehra, Ubeity by Imon Raza, and finishing up with Kulkarni’s own short, Makkhi.

This year, DIFF will host exciting panel discussions and sessions with filmmakers that will provide insights into the industry. The first panel discussion, “The New Indian Indiewave” will include filmmakers like: Ruchika Oberoi, Kanu Behl, Gurvinder Singh, Abhay Kumar, and Bhaskar Hazarika. The panel aims to discuss the new wave of Indian films that has been bold in their theme and prolific in experimenting with the form. The films have been commercially successful as well as been critically acclaimed. The discussion will look hard into this new phenomenon and try to address if it has the power to sustain the hype which is associated with it at this moment.

DIFF’s second panel discussion, “Film and the Female Gaze”, will consist of four women filmmakers from four different countries: Anka Schmid (Switzerland), Dechen Roder (Bhutan), Talya Lavie (Israel), and Ruchika Oberoi (India). Addressing women and their role in the industry, this will tackle the gender imbalance and how it impacts the work of women filmmakers.

DIFF 2015 will also host a filmmaker session, “Making Masaan”, with director Neeraj Ghaywan and screenwriter and lyricist, Varun Grover. This session hopes to engage the audience in an open discussion about the making Masaan and the film as a reflection of a society.

There are plenty of activities for film enthusiasts to drown themselves in the four day long festive mania. For more information about the programme, one can look up here.

More to read

The State of Independent Cinema in India

The Certain and Uncertain Tendencies in Today’s Bollywood Cinema

The Colour of Aesthetics

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Whether you are new or veteran, you are important. Please contribute with your articles on cinema, we are looking forward for an association. Send your writings to amitava@silhouette-magazine.com

Amitava Nag is an independent film critic based in Kolkata and editor of Silhouette. His most recent book on cinema is Satyajit Ray’s Heroes and Heroines published by Rupa. He has also authored the acclaimed Beyond Apu: 20 Favourite film roles of Soumitra Chatterjee published by Harper Collins India. He also writes poetry and short fiction in Bengali and English – observing life in a platter.
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