INDIA. Dharamshala. Due to the continuing seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 9th edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) will go online from 29 October to 4 November 2020. DIFF is the first major film festival in India to launch a digital edition.
DIFF is happy to announce its initial lineup of six feature documentaries and four narrative features.
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Documentaries at the 9th DIFF include:
76 Days (dir: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous |USA|2020)
On 23 January 2020, China locked down Wuhan—a city of eleven million people—to combat the emerging Covid-19 outbreak. Set on the frontlines of the crisis in four different hospitals, 76 Days unflinchingly chronicles the desperate and harrowing struggle of health workers to save lives in the face of an unknown and unrelenting disease. These raw and intimate stories bear witness to the death and rebirth of a city shutdown for 76 days, and to the human resilience that emerges in times of tragedy.
Pearl of the Desert (dir: Pushpendra Singh|2019|India)
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. The film follows twelve-year-old Moti who lives in the dusty Rajasthani countryside. Asa Manganiyar, singing is an integral part of his life—a way to tell stories and pass on traditions. When Moti is cast in a musical and embarks on a world tour, he becomes the first member of his village to spread the spirit of his people overseas. His adventure marks the initial step in a journey of self-discovery whilst, back home, he is hailed as a hero.
A Rifle and a Bag (dir. Arya Rothe, Cristina Haneș and Isabella Rinaldi| India/Romania/Italy/Qatar|2020)
Somi and her husband Sukhram met and fell in love whilst fighting alongside the Naxalites—a communist guerrilla group that has struggled for the rights of India’s tribal communities since the 1960s. 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. Through a series of controlled interviews and observational sequences, this compelling documentary examines one couple’s travails in the face of an unforgiving system.
The Kingmaker (dir. Lauren Greenfield|UK/USA|2019)
Centring on the indomitable Imelda Marcos, wife of the late Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos, The Kingmaker examines the Marcos regime, which ran from 1965 to 1986, and chronicles Imelda’s subsequent 21st century push to win her son Bongbong the vice-presidency. The film incorporates newsreel footage of the Marcos years and coverage of Bongbong’s gaudily choreographed but failed 2016 election campaign, as well as interviews with survivors of both the Marcos era and Duterte’s later War on Drugs. Imelda herself confidently rewrites her family’s history of corruption, replacing it with a narrative of a matriarch’s extravagant love for her country. In an age when fake news undermines elections, her comeback story serves as a cautionary tale.
Softie (dir. Sam Soko|Kenya|2020)
As a political activist, the idealistic Boniface “Softie” Mwangi has long fought injustice in his native Kenya—perhaps in response to being bullied in his youth as the dirt-poor child of a single mother. Now he takes a new step by runningfor office in a regional election, in the neighbourhood of Starhe. From the moment Boniface decides to stand, he responds to each new challenge with optimism. But running a clean campaign against corrupt opponents becomes increasingly difficult, and Boniface soon finds that by challenging strong political dynasties he is putting his family at risk. Should country really come before kin, as he’s always believed? Set against a chaotic backdrop of street protests, police brutality and extra-judicial killings, the film ultimately tells a universal story of familial love.
Welcome to Chechnya (dir: David France|USA|2020)
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. This searing documentary depicts the fraught day-to-day workings of a group of underground activists from the Russian LGBT Network and the Moscow Community Center for LGBTI+ Initiatives, as they attempt to rescue victims of the homophobic regime.
Feature Narratives at the 9th DIFF include:
Corpus Christie (dir. Jan Komasa|Poland|2020)
Based on a real-life incident, the award-winning Corpus Christi is the compelling tale of 20-year-old Daniel who experiences a spiritual awakening whilst held at a Polish youth detention centre. Upon his release, Daniel is assigned to work in a small-town sawmill but instead, poses as a priest. The burnt-out resident vicar is taken in by his charisma and leaves him in charge when he leaves for medical treatment. The parishioners enjoy Daniel’s loose, unorthodox pulpit style—even his unexpected claim to be a murderer—but have mixed feelings when he begins toprobe into a recent car accident that killed seven members of their community. Shot with a grim, desaturated palette, Corpus Christi addresses far-reaching issues of conscience and morality, and features an arresting central performance.
Identifying Features (dir. Fernanda Valadez|Mexico/Spain|2020) In this naturalistic drama, we meet Magdalena and her neighbour Chugay—two mothers frantic with worry about their teenage sons, missing for two months since leaving home in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato to find work in the US. When Chugay learns that her son was murdered on the bus the boys were travelling on, Magdalena pulls together her meagre resources and sets off to retrace their route in the hope that her son is still alive. During a circuitous quest through the desolate towns and landscapes of modern Mexico, Magdalena meets Miguel—a young man recently deported from the US who is making his way home to his own mother, and who may be able to help Magdalena find an important, elusive witness.
Air Conditioner (dir. Fradique|Angola|2020)
In this offbeat, magical realist tale, all the air conditioners of Angola’s bustling capital Luanda mysteriously begin to come loose from their fittings and plummet to the ground, resulting in injuries and fatalities. Enter security guard and war veteran Matecedo, whose pressing concern—alongside maid Zezinha—is to retrieve his boss’ AC unit from a notorious repair shop owned by the mad scientist-like Mr Mino who apparently reveals the secret behind the day’s bizarre events. This turns out to be an unfolding riddle that touches on ecological considerations, Angola’s complex past as a Portuguese colony and recent bloodshed during the 1972 to 2002 civil war. Air Conditioner has the logic and pace of a dream—poetically evoking inner-city scruffiness with the aid of a percussive, jazz-inflected score.
Shell and Joint (dir. Isamu Hirabayashi|Japan|2020)
This mind-bending and drolly comic, 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. A variety of guests check in—a Finnish mother who lost a child, a female fugitive, a student of water fleas—and, through various one-on-one conversations and assignations, we are privy to their inner thoughts, theories and feelings. Life, death, relationships, the gender divide and existential dread are all in the mix. Each wideshot scene is a visual feast and the score is skillfully composed, immersive and atmospheric.
Dharamshala Film Festival 2020 Programme Highlights
The Panels at the 9th Dharamshala Film Festival include:
A conversation with Varun Grover and Juhi Chaturvedi about screenwriting in the Indian independent film space.
As part of the 2020 Dharamshala International Film Festival, the award-winning Producer/Director Shrihari Sathe will talk to South Asian filmmakers — Mostafa Sarwar Farooki (Bangladesh), Deepak Rauniyar (Nepal), Geethu Mohandas (India), Afia Nathaniel (Pakistan) and Tashi Gyeltshen (Bhutan) about their personal journeys and the common challenges that filmmakers from the subcontinent face in getting their films made, and what it takes to find audiences worldwide even after making successful first films.
The Dharamshala International Film Festival is presented by Dharamshala-based filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam to promote contemporary cinema, art and independent media practices in the Himalayan region.