By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Oct. 29: The 9th edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) becomes the first Indian festival to go online from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4 showcasing over 100 feature films, shorts and documentaries. With the ongoing pandemic in view, festival co-founders, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have decided to make their digital debut this year.
Filmmaker Tenzing Sonam told Phayul about the decision making process, “The idea of going online seemed to go against the spirit of the festival. It took us a while to be convinced that taking DIFF online this year was the right thing to do. . . [Then] many international film festivals went online this year and successfully navigated the transition, so that gave us confidence to take the jump.”
DIFF is one of the most awaited festivals in Dharamshala as it brings critically acclaimed independent films to the mountains by inviting prominent actors, directors and film critics from all over the world. It is also an important platform for Tibetan filmmakers to showcase their work. This year around, we have several films and documentaries telling stories rooted in Tibetan culture, but two Tibetan filmmakers have marked their presence in the exciting line-up.
“The two short films that we selected are both exceptional in their own way. Geleck Palsang’s Fathima the Oracle is a well-made documentary that follows an interesting and unusual story that of a Muslim girl possessed by a Tibetan Buddhist deity, whereas Kunsang Kyirong’s Yarlung is a highly accomplished and imaginative animation. Both films met the high standards that we set for our selection process,” remarked Tenzing Sonam.
The organisers decided to partner with Shift72 which is one of the world’s leading online video platforms that has already conducted successful digital festivals including major ones like the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The organiser told us that although online festival has its limitations, it has brought its own set of advantages. “We have been able to expand our programme and also extend the time frame to a full week. Another advantage is that audiences from across India and South Asia, and in a few cases, from around the world, can access the festival,” he added.
Some of the chosen films were unavailable for the virtual platform either because the sales agents did not want to show the films online or because their screening fees were too expensive. The rigorous submission process was done through an online platform called Film Freeway; the festival received more than 300 submissions this year. The criteria have been always been to showcase independent films that are “diverse in their concerns and views, and that demonstrate a high degree of artistic originality.”
Filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have been working towards bringing an eclectic mix of independent stories to the Dharamshala audience since they launched its inaugural edition in 2012.