The ninth edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival has gone online this year. Between October 29 and November 4, the festival that was founded by filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzin Sonam will stream over a hundred features, documentaries and short films from India and around the world. The entire line-up along with information on festival passes is on https://diff.co.in.
Festival Director Ritu Sarin said in a press statement, “Although we were initially unsure about taking DIFF online, now that we’ve taken the plunge, we’re really excited by the possibilities that this has opened up… The online format also allows us to programme many more films than we could normally and we are thrilled about that.”
Chaitanya Tamhane, director of The Disciple, Asif Kapadia, Deepak Rauniyar, Geetu Mohandas and Mostofa Sarwar Farooki are among the filmmakers who will participate in online conversations. Also in the programme is Monographs, 10 video essays commissioned by the Asian Film Archive, Singapore, to address the crisis in filmmaking that has arisen because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Here is a selection of some of the most interesting titles across the sections.
Aidol Official synopsis: “Set against a backdrop of escalating human-machine tensions, this CGI fantasy (part music video compilation, part video game, part animation) follows Diva, a fading Malaysian pop superstar, as she enlists the help of AI songwriter Geo for her comeback performance at the 2065 ‘eSports Olympics’.” Directed by Lawrence Lek (who has previously made Geomancer).
Air Conditioner Official synopsis: “One day, air conditioners in the Angolan capital Luanda start to mysteriously fall from the buildings. When security guard Matacedo is told to get his overheating boss an aircon unit before the end of the day, he starts a mission that among other things brings him into contact with the eccentric owner of an electronics store.” A first feature by Fradique.
Baby Teeth Official synopsis: “When seriously ill teenager Milla Finlay falls for smalltime drug dealer Moses, her parents’ worst nightmares are realised. But Milla’s first brush with love brings her a new lust for life—alongside her traditional morals flying out the window—and she proceeds to show everyone in her orbit how to live as though there’s nothing left to lose.” A first feature by Australian director Shannon Murphy.
Fever Official synopsis: “Justino, a 45-year-old member of Brazil’s indigenous Desana people, works as a security guard at the cargo port in Manaus—an industrial city bordered by the Amazon rainforest. Since the death of his wife, Justino’s main companion is his youngest daughter Vanessa, with whom he lives on the outskirts of town. As Vanessa prepares to leave for Brasilia to study medicine, Justino succumbs to a strong fever.” A first feature by documentary filmmaker Maya Da-rin.
Gaza Mon Amour Official synopsis: “In this dark, bittersweet comedy, inspired by a true story, we meet 60-year-old fisherman Issa, who is secretly in love with Siham—a dressmaker who works at a market on the Gaza Strip. Just as he determines to propose to his beloved, Issa discovers an ancient statue of the Greek god Apollo (replete with a prominent and fully erect penis) in his fishing net, which he hides at home.” Directed by Tarzan Nasser and Arab Nasser.
Identifying Features Official synopsis: ‘…we meet Magdalena and her neighbour Chugay—two mothers frantic with worry about their teenaged sons, who haven’t been heard from in the two months since they left home in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato to find work in the US. When Chugay learns from the (uninterested) authorities that her son was murdered on the bus the boys were travelling on, Magdalena pulls together her meager resources and sets off to retrace their route, in the hope that her own offspring is still alive.” A first feature by Fernanda Valadez.
Last Days of Spring Official synopsis: “…portrays the emotional strife wrought on the sprawling Gabarre-Mendoza family when they learn they are to be evicted from a shanty town just outside Madrid.” A first feature by Isabel Lamberti.
Martin Eden Official synopsis: “When unskilled labourer Martin Eden meets Elena—the daughter of a wealthy industrial family—it’s love at first sight. As he becomes increasingly obsessed with this refined young woman, Martin embarks on an education—something hitherto precluded by his class—with hopes of becoming a writer and thus enabling their marriage.”
The adaptation of Jack London’s novel of the same name has been directed by Pietro Marcello.
Shell and Joint Official synopsis: “This mind-bending philosophical drama introduces us to Nitobe and Sakamoto—childhood friends who now work on the front desk of a capsule hotel in Tokyo. Nitobe likes arthropods and philosophy. Sakamoto is committed only to suicide.” By seasoned Japanese director Isamu Hirabayashi.
We Are Little Zombies Official synopsis: “Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi and Takemura have all lost their parents... Worryingly, none of the kids—although they are definitely not all right—seem able to shed a tear.” A second feature by Makoto Nagahisa.
Feature-length documentaries about India
A Rifle and a Bag Official synopsis: “Somi and her husband Sukhram met and fell in love whilst fighting alongside the Naxalites… After a decade of armed conflict, the couple surrendered to the police and now live with former comrades in a settlement they built together in Maharashtra.” Directed by Cristina Hanes, Isabella Rinaldi and Arya Rothe.
Bread and Belonging Official synopsis: “In the small Indian state of Goa, which is troubled by increasing emigration, three stories unfold around the subject of pão—a unique type of bread native to the region.”
Director Sonia Filinto told Scroll.in in a previous interview: “There is a heightened nostalgia about Goan bread over the past few years. “I was also interested in this whole idea of something like bread that came from outside and became an insider and an integral part of Goa. Is something similar possible in today’s age?”
Ghar Ka Pata Official synopsis: “…an autobiographical account of director Madhulika Jalali’s search for her identity as a Kashmiri Pandit woman. In the early 1990s, the six-year-old Madhulika and her household fled Rainawari—a quaint suburb of Srinagar—in response to Kashmir’s separatist insurgency. 24 years later, with no memory of her birthplace, she returns to visit with her family.”
Holy Rights Official synopsis: “Filmed over four years, Holy Rights relates the struggles of Safia—a deeply religious Muslim woman from Bhopal—against the patriarchal mindset of the interpreters of Sharia law, which she believes denies women within her community equality and justice.” Directed by Farha Khatun.
Iron Khan Official synopsis: “Parvez Ahmed Khan—alias “Iron Khan”—was an area commander of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in the early 1990s. After his brother was killed by a rival organisation, he surrendered to the Indian Armed Forces and spent two months in jail. Upon his release, Khan decided to lead a non-violent life for the sake of his family—setting up Raja Hut, a backpacker’s lodge in the ski village of Gulmarg, and channelling his energy into cooking for guests.”
Pearl of the Desert Official synopsis: “Divided into chapters, and punctuated by traditional songs, Pearl of the Desert provides a fascinating insight into the traditions, customs and etiquette of the Muslim Manganiyar caste—seamlessly combining observational documentary with dramatised scenes. Twelve-year-old Moti lives in the dusty Rajasthani countryside—amid arid plains where goats and camels roam, and the land is still cultivated by hand.”
Directed by Pushpendra Singh who told Scroll.in in 2019, “I wanted to explore the oral traditions of the Manganiyars, how music was passed on from one generation to the next, how they cultivate their tastes.”
76 Days Official synopsis: “On 23 January 2020, China locked down Wuhan—a city of eleven million people—to combat the emerging Covid-19 outbreak. Set inside the frontlines of the crisis, 76 DAYS relates the indelible human stories at the centre of the pandemic—from a woman begging in vain to bid a final farewell to her father, to a grandfather with dementia searching for his way home, a couple anxious to meet their newborn, and a nurse determined to return personal items to the families of the deceased.” Directed by Hao Wu and Weixi Chen.
Influence Official synopsis: “Influence is a profile of morally slippery British reputation manager Lord Timothy Bell. The product of a modest working-class family, Bell’s professional career saw him represent some of the world’s most unsavoury characters, under any circumstances—from spinning Margaret Thatcher into the “Iron Lady”, to working for the successors of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and later extending his operations to France, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and beyond.”
Notturno Official synopsis: “Filmed over the past three years, Notturno is set along the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon—a region where tyranny, foreign invasions, terrorism and the nightmare of ISIS feed off one another to the detriment of the civilian populations.” Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, who made the award-winning Fire At Sea (2016).
Ophir Official synopsis: “This dramatic, poetic ode to the indelible human thirst for freedom and sovereignty tells the story of the extraordinary revolution in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, that paved the way for its seemingly imminent status as the world’s newest nation.” Directed by Alexandre Berman and Olivier Pollet.
On a Clear Day You Can See the Revolution From Here Official synopsis: “This meditative documentary excavates layers of geology, history and myth in the Kazakh steppe ecoregion—formerly part of the USSR—to reveal the shifting fault lines between a government, its people and their land.” Directed by Emma Charles and Ben Evans.
Our Time Machine Official synopsis: “43-year-old Maleonn is one of China’s most influential conceptual artists, and his father Ma Ke was once the artistic director of the National Peking Opera. After being forbidden to work during the Cultural Revolution, Ma Ke immersed himself in theatre instead. The mysterious excitement of Ma Ke’s creative world was an inspiration to the young Maleonn, but his prolonged absences also stoked feelings of resentment.” Directed by Yang Sun and S Leo Chiang.
The Story of Plastic Official synopsis: “… a searing exposé of the ugly truth behind plastic pollution and the fallacious panacea of plastic recycling.” Directed by Deia Schlosberg.
Unlocking Doors of Cinema Official synopsis: “Daring Syrian auteur Muhammad Malas… now aged 75, has consistently engaged audiences with themes of loss, memory and home. From his chronicling of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, to the Palestinian camps of Beirut, the political tragedies of Syria and the music of Aleppo, Malas exemplifies what it means to be a public intellectual.” Directed by Nezar Andary.
We Have Boots Official synopsis: “This epic documentary comprehensively surveys contemporary upheaval in Hong Kong, beginning with 2014’s Umbrella Movement and fast forwarding to the Special Administrative Region’s current era of prosecution and political disqualification.” Directed by Evans Chen and William Cole, and a sequel to Raise the Umbrellas (2016).
Welcome to Chechyna Official synopsis: “Since 2016, Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has waged a campaign to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ+ citizens—overseeing a government-sanctioned effort of detention, torture and execution, with only faint global condemnation and no action from the Kremlin.” Directed by David France.