A personal takeaway from the 5 day long binge on films, set in the picturesque town of Mcleod Ganj, Dharamshala.

Standing true to its tagline ‘Bringing independent cinema to the mountains’, the 7th edition of Dharamshala International Film Festival passed swiftly with brilliant works of art, thought and talent displayed on a screen each day. This year, the festival took place from 1-4 November at the Tibetan Children’s School/Village, Mcleod Ganj.

This festival, unlike most others, brings with it a strong sense of warmth  that is felt by every single person who attends the same. This warmth is what binds together the collective lust for cinema in the hearts of everyone present at the festival – from celebrated film makers and actors to the children running around at the venue, screaming names of the films with joy- making it one of the most unique experiences for all cinema enthusiasts.

Following the opening ceremony performed ever-so-wonderfully by the young ones of the community, ‘Namdev Bhau : In Search Of Silence’, written and directed by Ukranian filmmaker Dar Gai marked the beginning of the festival at the Opening Night. A visual delight for every artful mind, the film is based on the journey of a 60-something chauffeur, Namdev, who is tethered by the noise of his daily life in Mumbai and sets off on a quest for silence in the midst of scenic landscapes.

Every morning of my week at Dharamshala started with a hot cup of honey, ginger, lemon tea and a direct look at the snow on the tip of the mountains. One of the programmes organised by the team this year was a panel discussion on the #MeToo Movement and Independent Cinema. Moderated by Monica Wahi, the panel included filmmaker Anamika Haksar, Trisha Gupta and Bina Paul. When a film festival withdraws a film, as has happened at this year’s DIFF, what about the impact on those who have worked on projects alongside the accused? Moving forward, since so much of the work of independent filmmaking occurs outside institutional structures, how do we generate internal processes and safeguards, mechanisms for accountability and reporting? These were some of the pressing issues addressed during the discussion.

Coming back to the festival was almost like being dragged in with the film I saw next – The Sweet Requiem, a film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (directors of the festival). Inspired by the open-fire that was unleashed by Chinese guards on Tibetans trying to cross the border, The Sweet Requiem is a tale of suffering, guilt and reality, shared through a young woman’s perspective. It touches upon the political issues and current situations in Tibet, which reached out to every single person in the audience from all over the world. For this very screening, the auditorium was full of local Tibetians and they were deeply moved by it – some expressed this in words, some through standing ovations and others with an applause so loud it would wake you up from a deep sleep.

‘The Sweet Requiem’ A film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

Feeding in to my appreciation for tastefully presented dark humour, Ee Ma Yau directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery took the crowd by storm. Set in a cloudy fishing village, the film kicks off with a shot of two men – metaphorically Satan and God – playing cards. Ee Ma Yau is a wonderful satire touching surface with death and its impact on surrounding lives.

The 7th edition of DIFF was art on display every single day, encompassing masterclasses and discussions with the makers as fillers between film screenings. What gives certain values to this very festival is the humility and comfort flowing through every conversation in and around the venue. Being able to speak with the creators of films that were screened, in a flow that was natural and open, is a rare happening at places that are star-studded. There is no red carpet, nobody running around for ‘selfies’ and no obligated interactions.

The closing night concluded the end of the 5 day long film fever, knit-up with the same warmth that each one of us sensed on the very first day of the festival. The 7th Edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival bid goodbye with yet another promise to bring the best of the best creations into our lives, and we can’t wait to go back!