October 6, 2016 12:00:47 am
Since 2012, the Dharamashala International Film Festival (DIFF) has marked its presence on the landscape of the Siamese towns of Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. Started by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, film directors and founders of the White Crane Arts & Media, it has brought international films to a town that has all of one cinema hall. The festival returns in November.
What was the turning point for DIFF?
Ritu: It was two years ago, in 2014, when we noticed that the audience at the festival had increased significantly. There were a lot of people coming in from across the country, people who had planned their holiday around the festival, and that was, probably, the moment we knew that this was becoming something important.
With the growing demands of DIFF, do you also find time to be filmmakers?
Ritu: We really struggle. Last year, we had an art show at Khoj and now we’re working on a video installation for the Biennale Contour in Belgium.
Tenzing: We’re also trying to get a new feature film off the ground, one we’ve been working on for three years now. It’s call
The Sweet Requiem and traces the journey of a young woman who lives in Delhi. She escaped from Tibet as a child, and it’s about the consequences of her escape. We are hoping to start shooting sometime between this year and next.
What’s the upside and downside of planning a film festival in Dharamshala?
Ritu: It’s mostly an upside. It’s a beautiful place, it’s our home, and filmmakers love to come to Dharamshala. The downside is that it is a small town with limited infrastructure, and we had to create two cinema halls.
How have the locals responded?
Ritu: It’s been very positive. We’re moving people towards a culture of watching and appreciating cinema, we also do a lot of work with schools and the community of opening up the arts to them.
Tenzing: The local authorities have been very supportive from the beginning, they see it as their festival, and that’s nice.
What’s the curation process like?
Tenzing: As soon as one festival ends we begin work on the next. We have no specific criteria, genre or theme that governs these decisions, we just want to bring good, independent cinema. Over the years, we have reached out to filmmakers, distributors, and producers, and films on social issues, migration, identity, and gender are subjects that we’re drawn to.
Which films are you looking forward to this year?
Ritu: We love them all, but if I had to choose one, I’d say, a documentary by Laurie Andersen called Heart of a Dog, it’s just an exceptional film.
Tenzing: We have a great selection of drama from Asia this year, and Apprentice by Boo Junfeng is just an extraordinary film, and the filmmaker will be present. Lathe Joshi by Magesh Joshi is a film to look out for.
What’s new this year?
Ritu: Besides a change in venue from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts to the Tibetan Children’s Village School and a video installation that has been included, the format remains more or less the same.
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