2nd Dharamshala International Film Festival 2013 – A Report
Bringing the extravaganza of films from the urban cities to the mountains, filmmaker duo, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam once again succeeded in organizing the cinema-vacation for film enthusiasts at the second edition of four day-long Dharamshala International Film Festival 2013 that concluded on 27th October. This year, DIFF was dedicated to showcasing documentaries in fiction and non-fiction section both, with an interesting selection of feature films.
The festival kick-started with the screening of internationally acclaimed Indian film The Lunchbox, which was presented by one of the film’s producer Guneet Monga, who also answered the curious minds present at the fest.
The following day began the rush of watching a line-up of interesting Indian and International documentaries. And the presence of filmmakers just added to the festival ambiance. “I have never been to Dharamshala and I am very excited to be here. It is a special place and it’s an honor for me to be here,” shared Guneet Monga.
A major highlight of this year’s festival was the premier of Watermark in India, a much acclaimed film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, which has only been premiered at the Toronto International Film festival in September, 2013.
“I actually had requests from a lot of film festivals. I specifically requested permission from other film festivals to come to India. I have always wanted to come to Dharamshala. I am very much interested in the whole Tibetan community,” said Jennifer Baichwal, a Canadian documentary filmmaker and co-producer of Watermark.
While renowned Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage chose Dharamshala over Chicago International Film Festival for the screening of his film With You Without You. “Before coming to Dharamshala, I didn’t know much about it. I met Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam at India International Centre in New Delhi, when the filmmaker duo invited me to the festival followed by encouraging words from veteran journalist Aruna Vasudeva. I thought coming to Dharamshala would be much more interesting than being at Chicago, where my film is also being screened simultaneously. I am really enjoying the atmosphere here. All the films are spirited and I am happy to be a part of it,” said the filmmaker.
An exciting feature of DIFF 2013 was Art and Film, bringing a selection of acclaimed art films in collaboration with DIFF’s main partner, Vienna-based Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary foundation (TBA21) to India for the first time. These films, made by leading contemporary international artists, are seldom seen outside the gallery space and focussed of the question of image making in the Arab World through the lenses of various lines of conflict. Francesca von Habsburg, founder of TBA21, presented this programme.
Here are the films we watched and we recommend you to catch them in whichever film festival you can, if you missed being at DIFF. And if you have already seen them, voila! We have assorted these films into two categories – Indian and International. Let’s look at the seven Indian films first –
1. Jai Bhim Comrade
Dir: Anand Patwardhan
Three hour long documentary! That’s too lengthy to watch with some apprehensive thoughts on your decision but at the end, the film makes sense and gives your time a sense of worth. The documentary speaks about Vilas Ghogre, a leftist poet, who hung himself in protest when angry residents in a Dalit colony in Mumbai gathered on the desecration of Dr. Ambedkar’s statue with a garland of footwear, which invoked police firing killing 10. Veteran documentary maker Anand Patwardhan documented the Dalit’s and Vilas Ghogre’s point of view for over 14 years, combining it with real local music by a Dalit group. This non-fication documentary evoked debate in the screening hall from the audience, who keenly watched the film till its end.
2. Menstrual Man
(India/Singapore/2013/ Documentary/ 63’)
Dir: Amit Virmani
This is an educative, fun, entertaining and informative film. We realized that Menstrual Man could be a good audio visual, which can be screened at the Business schools to teach about Murugananthan, a man who rose from below the poverty line and stood up for India’s ignored. The documentary discovers a journey of Murugananthan, who realised that the majority of women in India, couldn’t afford sanitary pads and decided to do something about it. With limited resources at his disposal, he adopted extreme methods to conduct his research. Today, Murugananthan is hailed as a visionary whose machines are empowering poor Indian women with access to both basic feminine hygiene and a livelihood. Amit Virmani’s film has supporting sequences taken from the Bollywood films to highlight the situation of his protagonist Murugananthan’s words, which makes the watch interesting and fun.
3. Gulabi Gang
Dir: Nishtha Jain
Having won Best Film-Documentary in Dubai International Film Festival and Norwegian Short Films Festival in 2012, documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain’s Gulabi Gang finally made it to a screening at Dharamshala in India. As the name says, the film is about a women group in pink sarees, led by Sampat Pal, fighting against gender violence, caste oppression and corruption in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh in India. These women travel long distances by cart and tractor, bus and train, to wrest justice for women and Dalits, undeterred by sneering policemen and condescending bureaucrats. Sampat Pal, their leader is a rough-and-tough woman with a commanding personality. Despite her lack of education she has evolved her own brand of feminism and egalitarian politics. Gulabi Gang uncovers a complex story, disturbing yet heartening. The film pulls the audience into the centre of all these blazing conflicts.
(India/2013/Drama/ Marathi/ 103’)
Dir: Nagraj Manjule
Fandry has been talked about a lot in the film festival circuits these days. Now we know why after we got a chance to catch the film at DIFF. The film is inspired from Nagraj Manjule’s own experiences of life and this is what makes the whole watch very innocent, piercing the subject deep into our heart. The story revolves around Jabya, an adolescent boy, who is born in a Kaikadi (untouchables Dalit) caste. He has fallen in love with a girl, his classmate in school, called Shalu. Shalu is a girl from higher caste however. Therefore Jabya is deep rooted in the inferiority complex, almost genetic, about his looks, his personality, his caste, his stunning poverty and above all his traditional hereditary source of livelihood – trapping the pigs for their daily diet even when the pigs eat the human excrement. The film made audience pour out their heart and concerns about the caste issues still prevalent in India.
5. Crossing Bridges
Dir: Sange Dorjee Thongdok
Connecting with one’s own roots is what the film Crossing Bridges is about. Sange Dorjee’s debut film is a story about Tashi, a young Mumbai based web designer who after losing his job, returns to his native village in Arunachal Pradesh in the remote northeast of India. Aliened and disconnected from his own culture, he desperately waits for any news of a new job in the city to go back to. But the longer he stays, the more he begins to experience the life and culture of his native place and people. Tashi begins an emotional journey to rediscover his roots and in the process discovers his identity through the people he meets. It is another one watch that will make you flow into Tashi’s emotional journey, bridging us to our own culture.
6. To Let The World In (Vol I)
Dir: Avijit Mukul Kishore
The film is not as boring as you think it might be, after knowing that it’s a documentation on visual artists, interviewed chronicle wise since 1980’s. To Let the World In is a two-volume film project that looks at a significant period in the history of contemporary Indian art from the early 1980s to the present day, featuring the work of two generations of visual artists. Through a collage of interviews, archival photographs and artworks, documentary maker Avijit Mukul Kishore cinematographed the film so beautifully, making it visually stunning to watch!
(India/ 2013/ Drama/ 117’)
Dir: Nitin Kakkar
Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan needs no description! The film has won National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2013. The story is about a wanna-be-actor Sunny (played by Sharib Hashmi), who goes with an American crew to remote areas in Rajasthan to work on a documentary film, and gets kidnapped by terrorists. He was confined in Aftaab’s place (Inaamulhaq), a Pakistani, whose trade stems from pirated Hindi films. Soon, the two factions realize that they share a human and cultural bond. They decide to deliver their ward back to his country. The film shows how cinema can be the universal panacea for co-existence. The film holds the audience with much of interest and satiates the need of Bollywood and documentary lovers both. It was a closing film too at the festival.
And seven international films –
Dir: Jacek Borcuch
Dramatically shot, filmmaker Jacek Brocuch’s Lasting is about passionate young love between Micael and Karina, the Polish students who meet and fall in love with each other while doing summer jobs in Spain. But in a turn of an event, Micael kills a man and throws his body into a river, which when Karina came to know starts distancing herself from him. She has a secret which Micael doesn’t not know. That secret longed her to be with Micael but his actions were not allowing her to be with him. This is that secret only that brings the duo together in the end. The film is engaging yet gets too draggy in the middle as the emotional expression is too stretched. Watch it, if you are into unique and bizarre expression of love.
Dir: Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky
First time premiered in India, Watermark is a feature documentary film bringing together stories from around the globe about our relationship with water. It takes us from massive floating abalone farm in China and the construction site of the biggest arch dam in the world to the barren desert delta of Colorado and the water-intensive leather tanneries of Dhaka. Shot in stunning 5K ultra high-definition video, this film shows the scale of water’s reach, as well as the magnitude of our need and use. This is balanced by forays into the particular; a haunting memory of a stolen river, a mysterious figure roaming ancient rice terraces, the crucial data hidden in a million year old piece of ice, a pilgrims private ritual among thousands of other at the water’s edge. In Watermark, the viewer is immersed in a world defined by a magnificent forces of nature that we all too often take for granted.
10. The Rocket
Dir: Kim Mordaunt
Gripping yet heart-warming, The Rocket is a deeply personal story about the determination of a boy who has the odds stacked against him, set against the epic backdrop of a war-ravaged country on the brink of huge change. With remarkable access to real rituals and festivities in the mountains of Laos, the film is a unique view into a world never seen on film before. The story is about a boy who is believed to bring bad luck leads his family and a couple of ragged misfits through Laos to find a new home. After a calamity–filled journey through a land scarred by war, to prove he’s not cursed he builds a giant rocket to enter the most lucrative but dangerous competition of the year: the Rocket Festival. We simply loved this emotionally gripping movie!
11. THE ACT OF KILLING
(Denmark/Norway/UK / 2012/ Documentary/Indonesian/English/159’)
Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer
The documentary is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. It presents the banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number. Anwar and his friends who ran a black marketing of movie tickets being recruited by others to form death squads for their able leadership in growing and spreading crime. Fans of their era of Hollywood actors, Anwar and party copied their style of murders.
12. The Strange Little Cat
Dir: Ramon Zurcher
The film is about a day long activity of a family in Berlin that includes unspectacular but day-to-day incidents in a home. The dialogues are direct and unemotional and the film-maker has shown kitchen table scenes, washing machines, guests coming and their kids returning home. A silent visually strange treat for all!
13. La Voz De Los Silenciados
(US/2013/Drama/No Dialogues/ 85’)
Dir: Maximón Monihan
La Voz De Los Silenciados tells the story of modern-day slavery. Inspired by a real New York story, the film follows Olga, a hearing impaired teenager from Central America, lured to New York under the false promise of attending a Christian sign language school. She later finds herself a slave to an international criminal syndicate and forced to sell ‘I am deaf’ trinkets on the subway. Either earn USD 100 per day or face the physical abuse, was the story of her life and other fellow mates. But will it be possible for Olga to ever escape this drudgery? And what does a penguin have to do with all of this? Answers the film! For that, you must watch it. The film has already been in news for its subject, storyline and direction.
14. With You Without You
Dir: Prasanna Vithanage
With You Without You has been to many Indian and international film festival, before it was screened at DIFF. The film is about the lonely, tortured pawnbroker Sarathsiri meeting and marrying the beautiful, enigmatic Selvi, and how he thinks he has finally found a way to put his past behind him. But a chance visit from an old friend opens up barely healing wounds – in the backdrop of a scarred nation that is coming to grips with the aftermath of a thirty year civil war. The film’s story is inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story, The Meek One. The story shows the conflicts, the country faces in it’s communities. Watch it for Prasanna’s unique yet relevant interpretations of Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Meek One’.