The Dharamshala International Film Festival will hold a physical edition for the first time in two years. Founded in 2011 by the filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, DIFF went online in 2020 and 2021 on account of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s event will be held in McLeod Ganj in Dharamshala between November 3 and 6. The event will include a hybrid component, depending on which directors are willing to make their films available, Sarin told

“Online was great to reach out to a bunch of people all over the country, but there is nothing like a physical festival,” Sarin noted.

The modestly funded festival prides itself on its intimate curation – “the best films we come across, by filmmakers who are trying new things or telling stories that are important”, as Sarin put it. Two Oscar-nominated films will be premiered: Writing With Fire, the documentary about the Khabar Lahariya media network by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Sen, and Saim Sadiq’s Joyland.

Also showing in India for the first time are Tabbar director Ajitpal Singh’s feature debut Fire in the Mountains, Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon A Time in Calcutta and Parth Saurabh’s Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar.

Fire in the Mountains (2021).

The programme includes important titles from Indian independent cinema: Gurvinder Singh’s Adh Chanani Raat, Shishir Jha’s Dharti Latar Re Horo, Achal Mishra’s Dhuin, Prasun Chatterjee’s Dostojee, Ritesh Sharma’s Jhini Bini Chadariya; Abhinandan Banerjee’s Manikbabur Megh, Natesh Hegde’s Pedro and Irfana Majumdar’s Shankar’s Fairies. The Indian documentaries include Bani Singh’s Taangh, Geetika Narang Abbasi’s Urf, Farida Pacha’s Watch Over Me and Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. (The entire programme is available on the festival’s website.)

Dostojee (2021).

Some of these titles would have been premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival. That event’s abrupt collapse earlier in February left independent directors without an assured platform for their films. Although Dharamshala didn’t set out to be a new home for Indian indies, it has happened anyway, Sarin acknowledged.

“This year, we have many more Indian independent films than before, and we are aware that the filmmakers needed an audience,” Sarin said. “Some of these films have been around the world but have not been shown physically in India. The directors need to show their films and speak directly to audiences. It’s an important thing to do, and there is a sense that we need to keep at it.”

Also showing at DIFF are international features and documentaries, such as Qiu Jiongjiong’s A New Old Play, Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s Rehana, Jason Loftus’s Eternal Spring, Gianfranco Rosi’s In Viaggio, Alauda Ruiz de Azua’s Lullaby, Matteo Tortone’s Mother Lode, Daniel Roher’s Navalny, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, Neptune Frost by Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams and They Carry Death by Helena Giron and Samuel M Delgado.

Short films (picked by Umesh Kulkarni), animation and children’s films (selected by Monica Wahi) are also in the line-up.

In Viaggio (2022).

Among the lessons learnt over the past 11 years is that the DIFF audience is not restricted to the local population but is from all over India. “In terms of Indian cinema, we have seen a lot of growth, and that has been exciting for us,” Sarin added. Directors of short films – such as Ajit Pal Singh and Natesh Hegde – have returned with full-length features.

The lack of a competition section ensures that good taste and the joy of cinema prevail at the festival, Sarin noted. “This was one of the first decisions we made when we started the festival,” she said. “There is no competition, no this is better than that.”

Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin.