In an age when cinema cannot stop vying for its place with fine art, the Dharamshala film festival bids to promote contemporary films. A review by Aruna Bhowmick

White Crane Arts and Media Trust set up by filmmakers and long term residents of Dharamshala, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam to promote contemporary art and independent media practices in the Himalayan regions, announced its second Dharamshala International Film Festival from 24-27 October, recently. With about 30 films of varied genre including experimental films, attempt has been made to carefully select the best from contemporary world 

cinema. 

 Several India premieres on the cards include Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin&’s Provocative Pussy Riot; Polish filmmaker Jacek Borcuch&’s award-winning feature Sundance; Australian director Kate Shortland&’s moving post-World War II drama, Lore; British artist Shezad Dawood&’s debut sci-fi feature, Piercing Brightness; and Japanese cult director Takanori Tsujimoto&’s martial arts extravaganza, Bushido Man.  

 The special focus on Indian documentaries with strong social content are Nishtha Jain&’s Gulabi Gang, Amit Virmani&’s Menstrual Man, and Anand Patwardhan&’s Jai Bhim Comrade ~ each a brave and outstanding effort. There is the new Indie wave cinema with Nagraj Popatrao Manjule&’s Fandry, and Q&’s Tasher Desh. 

 Kleber Mendonça Filho&’s first film and the official Brazilian entry to the Oscars, Neighbouring Sounds, Ramon Zürcher&’s The Strange Little Cat, Alison Klayman&’s portrait of China&’s dissident artist, Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, Avijit Mukul Kishore&’s chronicle of the birth of contemporary Indian art, To Let the World In, Joshua Oppenheimer&’s much-acclaimed The Act of Killing; and Prasanna Vithanage&’s touching Sri Lankan drama, With You, Without You feature among the international entries.  Filmmaker Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, has put together a set of what he feels to be the best of recent short films from India. The announcement was followed by a panel discussion on Indian Inde Cinema: Coming of Age with filmmakers Hansal Mehta of Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar fame, Umesh Kulkarni, Ritu Sarin and film critic Saibal Chatterjee, moderated by Tenzing Sonam.  Discussing the reluctant distribution system for this kind of cinema, film-makers Umesh and Hansal Mehta defended screening on small screen, or even the computer monitor as adequate alternatives. 

On questions of compromised visual value with such drastic reduction in scale they mentioned popcorn, beverages, and constant audience movement as the altered movie experience as compared to yesteryears, and the seeking of quality visual experience in cinema as passé, as long as the story is told! A somewhat disappointing stance in an age when cinema cannot stop vying for its place with fine art with all of sight, sound, image, and its colossal infrastructure! The impressive list of films and filmmakers is best read in the Schedule; but first book yourself to Dharmshala!

 * * * * * 

Antonio Puri is an artist of Indian origin living and working from Philadelphia. He was recently accepted to a selective artist residency programme in Ahmedabad. While in India, he hopes to explore the notions of skin colour and how it relates to the concept of Varna from the Rig Veda, the basis of the Hindu caste system. Hierarchy of skin colour exists the world over, becoming the de facto caste system. This is the global phenomenon Antonio wishes to expose and address through his project. The works will be part of an exhibition in India in 2014.  

You can find Antonio on http://www.gofundme.com/varna-project