Mountains and Movies at the Dharamshala International Film Festival

Award-winning films, watched with a gentle mountain community.  
The quiet spinning of prayer wheels marks time at Dharamshala, home to a strong Tibetan Buddhist community. Photo: Erik Grootscholte/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The quiet spinning of prayer wheels marks time at Dharamshala, home to a strong Tibetan Buddhist community. Photo: Erik Grootscholte/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Rosy-cheeked kids, acclaimed film directors, red-robed monks, and silver-haired grandparents all watch movies together at the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), a tiny film festival that makes a big impact. In its fifth year from Thur November 3 to Sun November 6, 2016, the festival continues to be a warm, inclusive experience for all who attend, and a great time to visit the misty hill station before winter sets in.

DIFF was launched in 2012 in Dharamsala to introduce the international film culture and community to a Himalayan town with no cinema halls. Keeping with that tradition, none of the films at the festival will be shown at a movie theatre: All screenings will be at the Tibetan Children’s Village, 8.5km/35min, by bus from Dharamsala.

Six films have been announced so far, with all filmmakers in attendance for Q&A sessions. The festival, founded by Indian film director-producer Ritu Sarin and Tibetan film director-writer Tenzing Sonam, often screens films about politically motivated violence and the experience of the marginalised. This makes for particularly potent viewing in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees who fled their Chinese-occupied nation after the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

One of the most-anticipated films in the line-up is Sean McAllister’s documentary A Syrian Love Story, which tracks the disintegration of a marriage after a family flees Syria. Also on the cards are Pimpaka Towira’s The Island Funeral, a feature about three people who search for a relative in a conflict-ridden Thai province; Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s Sonita, a documentary about an illegal Afghan immigrant girl in Tehran; and Rajeev Ravi’s Kammatipaadam, which explores Dalit marginalisation in Kerala through a fictional friendship.

The line-up, yet to be fully announced, includes shorts, art videos, and films for kids, but also masterclasses and workshops on filmmaking, and panel discussions. Make time for the food and craft fair—a wonderful time to grab a salty cup of Tibetan tea with momos, pick up handmade souvenirs like thangka paintings, bead jewellery, and button-nosed dolls, and an opportunity to get to know the gentle mountain community.

DIFF will run at the Tibetan Children’s Village, 8.5km/35min from Dharamsala, from November 3-6, 2016. ₹1,000 for a delegate pass to all screenings and events. Seating on a first come, first served basis. See here for details.

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    Saumya Ancheri is Assistant Web Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.

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