Dharamshala: - The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) buzzed with human interaction and activity as the sun set on the third Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), on Sunday, November 2.
As the sun inched down behind the graceful silhouettes of towering deodar pine trees, casting an orange glow over the Dhauladhar mountain range and the myriad prayer flags which fluttered in the bracing Himalayan breeze, Tibetans, Indians, and a scattering of visitors from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia chatted animatedly, comparing notes on the three and a half day event.
Throughout the day, directors, film lovers, stall holders and volunteers had sat side by side eating traditional Himachali dishes prepared and served free of charge on leaves in a communal manner I have only previously witnessed at the famous Guru-Ka-Langar dining hall at Amritsar’s Golden Temple.
All the while momo sellers, cake bakers, chai wallers and charities jostled for attention at stalls lining two sides of the court yard.
“Watching movies is an art in itself,” said grassroots director of Students for a Free Tibet, Tenzin Tselha, 27, who ran a stall at the event, taking the opportunity to speak to anyone she could about the challenges facing Tibet, and sell merchandise which she said funds 80 per cent of the NGO’s activities.
“Our community doesn’t have a state, something that we’re fighting for, and I think film is a great way in which to experience that. Art can connect so many people together and Tibetans in different countries are also watching these films.
“I also think discussions (leading from the films) make us analyse our and other people’s situations and get ideas, which is good. I think that we need that as a community.”
She added: “The festival is a great platform and we’ve been able to talk to so many people about Tibet. We’ve even introduced some people to the Tibetan issue, so having a stall here has been so useful.”
The festival showcased films, animations, shorts and sound installations from India and across the world, and featured a panel discussion focusing on New Directions in Indian Cinema, master classes and workshops.
Films considered by co-directors, husband and wife Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, to be of particular interest to Tibetan viewers included Bringing Tibet Home, by Tenzin Tsetan Choklay, The Dossier, a documentary on the life of writer and activist, Tsering Woeser, by Chinese film maker, Zhu Rikun, A Gesar Bard’s Tale, by Tibetan film maker, Lharigtso, and her Finnish/Irish husband, Donagh Coleman, and Vara: A Blessing, by Tibetan/Bhutanese film maker, Khyentse Norbu.
Between mouthfuls lunch which he ate whilst fielding questions from Tibetan and international journalists following the screening of his film, Rinpoche Khyentse Norbu, who also made The Cup and Travellers and Magicians, said it felt ‘very special’ to show Vara in his home town, adding that the film’s subject matter, involving ‘vivid dream worlds of Hindu Gods and classical Indian music and dance,’ was: “probably unexpected coming from me, and this I think is probably a good thing.”
Khyentse Norbu’s film was just one of several which completely filled TIPA’s 500 seat auditorium, and would be viewers were turned away from certain screenings on Saturday and Sunday.
So what makes DIFF such an overwhelmingly popular event?
Medical student, Shruti Sood, from Kangra, was one of 80 volunteers who came from across India and abroad to work at the event.
“Himachal is a place in which not much cinema is happening, so this festival is a huge bench mark and I really wanted to connect in some way,” she said.
“It is a great cultural event and a beautiful place to grow. Mainstream cinema is more about acting, whereas independent cinema is more about directing, so it’s much more open minded. I really want the people of Himachal to come forward and support this festival.”
Digital marketing consultant, Karam Grover, 22, who travelled from Delhi for the second year in a row, also to volunteer, added: “I used to make films in college and I love volunteering here.
“I like that they have so much faith in me, and that I get to interact with film makers from around the country. I hope to come back again next year.”
Andres Colasanti, 38, from Argentina, said he liked: “the interaction of audiences, art fusion and philosophy,” whilst Rebecca Novic, from the United Kingdom, described the festival as being: “really good for the town.
“There are lots of reasons why people come here and I think it’s really exciting to have another angle and perspective on Dharamshala. More contemporary. I think it’s a really positive thing,” she added.
Finnish film maker, Mika Mattila, has taken his documentary Chimeras, chronicling the struggles of two ‘visual artists in crisis’ in contemporary China, to 40 film festivals around the world. Seated beneath the fluttering prayer flags as the November dusk chill set in, the 40-year- old director, who also worked as a cameraman on A Gesar Bard’s Tale, said: “The scale of this festival is very human compared to a lot of big city events. It has a much more personal touch.
“This is definitely something different from most festivals.”