Ritu and Tenzing organize Dharamshala International Film Festival. Read on to know what is the thought process behind starting a film festival in Dharamshala and more about the festival.
Tell us about your life journey in brief?
Ritu: I was born in Delhi but my family is originally from Dharamshala. As a child, I grew up all over India as my father had a job which caused us to move around. I saw my first alternate film when I was quite young and even though I didn’t understand what I was seeing, it opened up a whole new world for me. I finished high school in London, did my undergraduate studies in Miranda House and worked for a few years in Europe before doing an MFA in Film and Video at the California College of Arts in Oakland.
Tenzing: My parents are Tibetan refugees and I was born in Darjeeling and went to school there. I graduated from St Stephen’s College and then did my Masters in Broadcast Journalism at UC Berkeley. Ritu and I were in touch constantly even when we left Delhi and were traveling to different places. So once in California we ended up making our first student film together, which was also our thesis project actually. We started our filmmaking careers in the Bay Area, then lived and worked in London for many years before moving back to India and settling in Dharamshala where we have been based for the past 18.
What prompted you to start Dharamshala International film festival?
Ritu: We always thought Dharamshala would be a great place to hold a film festival, because it’s such a very special town. There’s a great mix of people and one of our main aims, apart from bringing independent cinema to the mountains, was to have a festival which would bring all the different communities living here – Tibetans, Indians and expats – together, both to work on the event and as our audiences. Besides, there are no movie theatres in Dharamshala, and so it is extremely hard to get a hold of any kind of cinema, let alone independent cinema.
What is the selection procedure you follow?
Tenzing: We go to film festivals and keep films we like on our list. We also turn to our network of filmmakers, festival programmers, and friends in the business to recommend films to us. We then short list the films and watch them. We do not try to select films that fall into a particular genre or issue, but certain themes tend to emerge almost organically.
Tell us about your team, if you have?
Ritu: Our festival team changes every year, but it’s generally comprised of a small team of interns and lots of volunteers, from all over India and also all over the world. This past edition we had over 60 volunteers, and we certainly could not run the festival without them! We hope to slowly put together a more permanent core team of 2 or 3 people to work fulltime on the festival.
What is your dream/ vision?
Ritu: We hope to bring DIFF to self-sustainability, and to keep bringing the best of independent cinema to the mountains. We want to keep attracting award winning Indian and international filmmakers, and make DIFF a landmark event in the film festival calendar.
What difficulties you face in organizing a film festival?
Ritu: Raising funds to sustain the festival is a constant issue. Then not having a cinema theatre in Dharamshala is another challenge. We use two venues that are not proper theatres, but we work hard to make them feel as close to one as possible. Besides that, finding good people to work who will come back year after year is another challenge.
What inspires you or keeps you going?
Ritu: From the first edition of DIFF, we’ve been doing this because we love cinema. We wanted to create a platform for our local community to be presented with the best of contemporary independent cinema. We wanted to do something for our community and the indie film community, both of which we’ve been involved with for so long. To keep it going, like everything, it takes a lot of passion and commitment.
How can we improve filmmaking ecosystem is India?
Ritu: With today’s technology, filmmaking has become much more accessible to everyone, but the issue of creating audiences prevails. Since we started DIFF, we get so many requests from people who want to submit their films to our festival, even though we do not currently have an open submission system! There are a lot of films being made, but we live in a country where there already exists a huge film industry, and distribution focuses mainly on those films. To improve the filmmaking ecosystem in India, there needs to be a platform for distribution that answers the needs of Independent Cinema and not only the mainstream of Bollywood.
Any fun/ memorable incident?
Ritu: It’s all been fun and there have been many memorable incidents! Hard to pick one out. But one that comes to mind was during DIFF 2012, our first year, when we had to suddenly get police permission to put up a stall in McLeod Ganj. Hansal Mehta, who was there with his film, Shahid, decided to come with me to the police station to convince them to give us the permission! That’s just an example of how intimate and friendly DIFF is where filmmakers can just be themselves and interact with everyone.
What advice you’d like to give to someone who is interested/newbee in filmmaking?
Tenzing: If there’s anything else other than filmmaking that you are more interested in spending your time doing, filmmaking is not the way to go – you need to be completely passionate about it. It won’t bring you much money but if it is what you love, it will bring great rewards nonetheless. If filmmaking is in fact what you’re passionate about, go ahead and make your film. There’s no other way to learn. Don’t wait until you’re given everything you need to make a film – you will be waiting forever.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Ritu: After three years of sabbatical from filmmaking, we’re finally working on our next film project. We wanted to focus on establishing the festival for these first three years, but now, Tenzing has written a script and we’ve begun the very difficult and seemingly endless task of raising funds. It will be our second narrative feature film, focusing on Tibetan exiles. We’ll use a crowdfunding platform to raise some of the funds, so keep an eye out for us!
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