Dharamshala International Film Festival, In the backyard of the Dalai Lama

Dharamshala International Film Festival


Until now Dharamshala was popular for the obvious reasons, The Dalai Lama and the most scenic cricketing grounds of the country. Come November and there will be another feather in the cap of this sleepy Himalayan town. Dharamshala is going to host an International Film Festival, the first of its kind in the state.

As filmmakers based in Dharamshala, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have long believed that the town’s unusual profile would make it a perfect location for an International film festival. It is with this in mind that they are launching the first edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival from 1st to 4th November 2012.

Ritu and Tenzing get candid about the film festival and share their story with Hill Post.

Why Dharamsala? When the Indian mainstream Bollywood is moving out of the country, aiming at larger audience abroad, what makes you to come to a town like Dharamsala?

First of all, note that we are using this spelling of Dharamshala, so it is the Dharamshala International Film Festival – otherwise people might go to the other festival!

Dharamshala has been our home for 16 years. We’ve always marveled at the sheer cultural and ethnic diversity of the place as well as its natural beauty. Because of the presence of the Dalai Lama, it is a hugely popular destination for people from all over the world. Because of these reasons, we felt that it would be perfect for an alternative film festival.

Although Bollywood is diversifying its reach beyond India, there is actually a growing interest and audience at home for offbeat, non-mainstream films and events. Our film festival focuses very much on independent cinema and we believe that people will be interested to come to Dharamshala for it.

How did the idea conceptualize? What has remained the driving force behind the idea?

Although Dharamshala is such an interesting place and so many people visit it, there is nothing here in terms of a contemporary cultural event that everyone can participate in. Our aim was to create an event in Dharamshala where all the local communities could participate in and take pride in, while at the same time putting the town on the International cultural map.

Since we are filmmakers and we’ve been to many film festivals around the world, we knew how important film festivals are, especially to smaller towns.

And of course, our love of cinema is something we want to share, and this has been a driving force.

Tenzing & Ritu_Dharamsala International Film Festival
Tenzing & Ritu

Who all are coming to screen their movies in the festival?

Although ours is an unknown film festival and this is the first edition, we have been pleasantly surprised by the response we have had from the filmmaking community. The fact that we are filmmakers ourselves has probably helped us a lot.

Our Opening Night film is Shahid with director Hansal Mehta. Our Closing Night film is Miss Lovely with director Ashim Ahluwalia.

By the way, these two films just won the top two awards at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival. We are having an interesting panel discussion with these filmmakers and producers – all of whom represent the burgeoning alternative cinema in India – called, The New “Indian New Wave

From abroad, we have Dain Said from Malaysia with his feature, Bunohan (Return to Murder), Jennifer Fox from the US with My Reincarnation, Karim el Hakim from Egypt with ½ Revolution and Guy Davidi from Israel with 5 Broken Cameras.

This last documentary was one of the most talked about films this year and is up for an Oscar.

We also have Gitanjali Rao, one of India’s leading animation filmmakers attending and giving a Masterclass called Close Encounters of the Animation Kind. Animation filmmaker Aditi Chitre will present her film Journey to Nagaland and talk about her experiences as an artist and animator.

And finally, we are happy to have a local Dharamshala filmmaker, Sanjeev Rattan, present his National Award-winning Pahadi feature, ‘Dile Ch Vasya Koi’.

We will also be presenting our new documentary film, When Hari Got Married, about a local Dharamshala taxi drivers arranged marriage to a girl he has never seen. The film just premiered at the Films from the South festival in Oslo and is showing at DOK Leipzig in Germany and IDFA Amsterdam.

Are you screening any Tibetan movies?

We have three films that deal with Tibetan subjects: My Reincarnation and Yangsi, which are both about reincarnate Tibetan lamas; and Summer Pasture, a film about a nomad family in Tibet, which is co-directed by a Tibetan, Tsering Perlo.

What do you see as the final outcome from this event?

Our hope is to make the Dharamshala International Film Festival an annual event and to put it firmly on the cultural map of India as the premiere film festival for independent films.

You can follow the DIFF at Facebook. 

P.S. The event is just about to start and in my personal opinion, it is going to be far better than IPL

A Civil Engineering graduate from NIT Hamirpur, Tarun has worked in the hydro power and IT sectors in the past. He loves writing and sharing the positive stories floating around in the society, which usually go unnoticed. For over 2 years, Tarun wandered around the passes, mountain peaks, dangerous roads, and remote villages in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on his motorcycle.

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