The mere thought of attending a film festival in the abode of the Dalai Lama is enough to keep one hoping for a revival of our same old days of travel. The cherubic cheeks of healthful little tots prancing in courtyards shaded by green-gabled sloping roofs, flags of the red-yellow-blue family fluttering merrily in the backdrop of the sun and the mist doing a timeshare on the mountains, and the who&rsquos who of the parallel film space congregating high up in the hills with mufflers round their necks&mdashfor the past nine years, both cinema- and travel-lovers have kept their date with the Dharamshala International Film Festival.
Even with travel picking up slowly, large gatherings are still a luxury a little way off. Till hopefully next year, a virtual version will have to do. Yes, our favourite cinema carnival in the hills is back&mdashwith a DIFFerence, of course. India&rsquos first digital film festival will go live from October 29 to November 4. That&rsquos three extra days. There are three pass categories, depending on where you are in the world (Rs 1200 for India residents Rs 799 for India and South Asia residents Rs 499 for Indians and rest of the world).
Started by residents and filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam back in 2012, the much-awaited annual extravaganza has given the still-fledgling trend of film festival tourism an altogether new meaning over the past near-decade. It is held at McLeod Ganj&rsquos Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and sees volunteers from all around the country, and actors, and filmmakers from over the world, converge at 2082m, in a colourful, non-nerdy celebration of stories.
The line-up of films to be screened includes Jan Komasa&rsquos 2019 feature Corpus Christi Fernanda Valadez&rsquos Mexican emigration drama Identifying Features&mdasha Sundance winner Gaza Mon Amour, the NETPAC winner at TIFF the Australian drama Hearts and Bones Shannon Murphy&rsquos coming-of-age drama Babyteeth, again from Down Under and the delightful portmanteau feature Vai that is shot in New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Niue. Documentary buffs can treat themselves to Reunited, a story of a Syrian refugee family seeking reunion, or watch how life struggles to survive in the terrorism- and tyranny-torn borders of Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan and Lebanon, among other names from all over the world.
Chances are that this wouldn&rsquot be enough for travel-starved souls forever in love with the mountains. The festival has a special selection of films shot in and depicting stories set in the Himalaya, including shorts, narrative features and documentaries. While Ghar Ka Pata by Madhulika Jalali deals with a Kashmiri Pandit woman&rsquos search for identity as she returns to Srinagar&rsquos Rainawari tehsil, Naseer Khanday&rsquos Iron Khan is the story of a former Kashmiri separatist leading life as a lodge owner. The documentary Fathima tells the story of a Shia Muslim girl possessed by a Buddhist spirit, and American filmmaker Andrew Krakower&rsquos Yarne, lauded by Richard Gere himself, follows two eleven-year-old Buddhist monks undergoing a six-week cloistering. Check out the others here.
The organisers have also handpicked a thrilling mix of shorts Stray Dogs Come Out at Night, which depicts a Pakistani sex worker on a trip to the beach with his uncle contemplative British offering The Sea Chachan, a Day, JJ Abraham&rsquos experimental Malayalam directorial and more. The DIFF might be happening online, but it promises to bring the world to your screen.
So what if you won&rsquot be in Little Lhasa to watch the world, lines of hundreds of prayer flags fluttering above, the smell of butter cookies and coffee filling the crisp mountain air Just turn off the lights, snuggle under the blanket, order momos, fix some honey-lemon-ginger tea, and you're good to go.