Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) is back in the mountains again this 2022. After two consecutive years of going online due to the coronavirus, independent cinema is back for movie lovers across the country, who are ever so eager to devour good, alternative cinema in all its glory.
Now in its 11th year, DIFF has always focused on curating and reminding the local community and the film community at large, that cinema is more than just a medium, it’s a place that unites people.
So, if you are one of the many excited people who have packed their bags and left the noise of the cities aside, I have curated a list of titles that are worth checking out.
Here are 10 movies that you have to see at the 2022 Dharmshala Internationa Film Festival (DIFF):
1. Crescent Night
Having spent the prime of his life in prison for a murder committed to avenge his father, Modan finally returns home. Modan’s brother has prospered in his absence, which leads to animosity between the brothers and compels him to rebuild his life with his mother. He shifts into a decrepit home with his mother and marries a woman who has a child from a previous marriage. However, despite Modan’s attempts at putting the past behind him, his suppressed anger manifests itself in renewed violence.
In our review for Gurvinder Singh’s Adh Chanani Raat (Crescent Night), we said “In many ways, Adh Chanani Raat (Crescent Night) is a film pervaded with a shifty, fuming discomfort around the status quo, the popularly accepted state of affairs that dictates the conditions of existence and livelihood. This is a film that is about the self-defeating skill, the crushing labour of withholding oneself, clamping down one’s raging instincts for expressing opposition to the norm; it is about containment and repression until the lid is finally blown off and everything comes undone.”
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2. Neptune Frost
Multi-hyphenate, multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams brings his unique dynamism to this Afrofuturist vision, a sci-fi punk musical that’s a visually wondrous amalgamation of themes, ideas and songs that Williams has explored in his work, notably his 2016 album, MartyrLoserKing. Co-directed with the Rwandan-born artist and cinematographer Anisia Uzeyman, the film takes place in the hilltops of Burundi, where a group of escaped coltan miners form an anti-colonialist computer hacker collective. From their camp in an otherworldly e-waste dump, they attempt a takeover of the authoritarian regime exploiting the region’s natural resources and its people. Set between states of being – past and present, dream and waking life, colonized and free, male and female, memory and prescience – Neptune Frost is an invigorating and empowering direct download to the cerebral cortex and a call to reclaim technology for progressive political ends.
In our review for Neptune Frost, we said “Some films carve out a narrative so courageously ambitious from the get-go, that the viewer has an instinctive, immediate understanding that the course of the next hour or so is bound to be live-altering. Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s Neptune Frost, evokes a phantasmagoria of warring emotions, amalgamating themes ranging from capitalism and systemic corruption to gender and personal identity. Williams’ multi-faceted “MartyrLoserKing Project” is an ever-expanding artistic collage, consisting of three albums, one graphic novel, and a cinematic extension in the form of Neptune Frost, and the latter, perhaps, brims with unbearable raw honesty, even if the narrative follows a cosmic, otherworldly route to express the chasms of the socio-cultural, the political, and the personal.”
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3. Once Upon a Time in Calcutta
After the loss of her only daughter, Ela, a former actress, not only loses her identity as a mother but also the only reason to be with her husband. While trying to find a new identity for herself, she tries to reignite her relationship with an old lover who suddenly resurfaces in her life. Desperate to move out of her husband’s house and buy a place of her own, Ela confronts her step-brother to claim her half of the share in their ancestral property. But he refuses to comply as he lives with a deep-seated resentment for Ela’s mother. When even the banks refuse to give her a loan, Ela eventually succumbs to the lascivious overtures of her boss, who runs a real-estate business through a ponzi scheme. When the crimes of Ela’s boss are discovered, Ela loses her new-found identity, love and independence all at once.
In our review for Once Upon a Time in Calcutta, we said, “Once Upon a Time in Calcutta is book-ended with deaths. But while it opens with the burning flames of a pyre, it ends with a magical ascension. More than a low-key hope, it indicates Ela’s resolve to live come what may. This final image along with the sounds of newborn puppies speaks of lives flourishing amidst thwarted aspirations, grief, and discontent. The film succeeds in creating a fully realized and idiosyncratic portrait of a metropolis by plumbing the depths of different human emotions and experiences. It’s a carefully layered drama that gradually grows on you.”
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4. The Brittle Thread
In the city of Varanasi, Rani, a feisty street dancer, works tirelessly to provide for her deaf daughter. Meanwhile, Shahdab, a weaver whose parents died in the Babri Masjid riots, befriends an Israeli tourist who opens up a whole new world to him. The cultural and political identities of the protagonists are explored as they traverse the love and hate dynamics of an ancient city.
In our review for The Brittle Thread, we said, “The impact of the growing Islamophobia and class oppression on the characters (and on the economic classes they represent) is told primarily through actual shots of Varanasi, how Rani, Baba, and Shahdab are framed, and sound bites from religiously-fueled slogans and public speeches and interviews by prominent politicians and news anchors. Yes, Sharma doesn’t pull any punches in The Brittle Thread while hitting out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, and many others who have joined them in a campaign of fascism, authoritarianism, and religious bigotry.”
A middle-aged electrician named Pedro lives with his mother and his brother’s family in a rural community in the dense forests of Western Karnataka. A drunk and an outcast in his community, Pedro’s life changes forever when he accidentally kills a cow that belongs to his landlord, Hegde, and sets off a chain of events that unleashes the tensions of communalism and transactional relationships bubbling under the surface of the village.
In their review, NDTV said, “The story stems in large part from the personal experiences of Natesh Hegde’s electrician-father. The writer-director blends real-life incidents with sharply detailed fictional elements to underscore the overwhelming alienation that the voiceless have to confront even in places that are an integral part of who they are.”
Mumtaz, a strong-willed makeup artist, passionate about her work, lives with her quiet, unemployed husband, Haider, in an extended joint family with her father-in-law. When Haider finds work as a backup dancer for the charismatic transgender musician, Biba, he discovers another way to love and live. Mumtaz, forced to be a housewife, is suffocated with patriarchal demands. From Mumtaz with her resolute ego and Biba who is true to her desires, to Haider’s dynamic with his father with his domineering ways, the film paints a delicate picture of shifting expectations of gender and sexuality in a religious and patriarchal society.
In their review, Variety says, “Tartly funny and plungingly sad in equal measure, this is nuanced, humane queer filmmaking, more concerned with the textures and particulars of its own intimate story than with grander social statements — even if, as a tale of transgender desire in a Muslim country, its very premise makes it a boundary-breaker.”
7. Shankar’s Fairies
India, 1962. Recently independent, the country is still class-bound and exploitative. Shankar is the indispensable servant on the estate of the parents of little Anjana and her brother. The mother handles the servants with a tough hand and the father, a senior police officer, commands his force with authority. Anjana and Shankar share a special bond; she loves her faithful servant and is entranced by the fantastical stories he tells her. But when Shankar’s own daughter gets sick in his village and he would like to go home, reality intrudes into Anjana’s happy world.
In our review, we said, “This is a nation that is more idealistic than it is constitutional. Ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity are being talked about but seem too good to be true. Especially when states are being divided based on a centralized and linguistic identity. The police are as brutal and reckless in their encounters as they would be now. The caste-based hierarchies still exist, but the supposedly progressive urban rich are class-bound and exploitative. This ultimately cancels their woke, educated outlooks. So much has changed now, and yet, not much has. The best part of the film is that it never tries to evolve into something greater or extricate its boundaries to generate even more conflict or impact. Which is a prevalent bent among the recent ‘good’ Hindi films, whether it’s Amit Masurkar’s Sherni or Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Oo. It’s a transparent, guileless snapshot of a period and it’s rich in thematical observation.”
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8. All That Breathes
In one of the world’s most populated cities, two brothers – Nadeem and Saud – devote their lives to the quixotic effort of protecting the black kite, a majestic bird of prey essential to the ecosystem of New Delhi that has been falling from the sky at alarming rates. Amid environmental toxicity and social unrest, the ‘kite brothers’ spend day and night caring for the creatures in their makeshift avian basement hospital. Director Shaunak Sen explores the connection between the kites and the Muslim brothers who help them return to the skies, offering a mesmerizing chronicle of inter-species coexistence.
In our review, we said, “Sen aspires, as he did in his previous film Cities of Sleep, to open up a conversation about the cityscapes, the tense, constantly evolving relationship between the human and the so-called non-human, the negotiation to secure a healthy cohabitation therein. The political dimension interrelating to the everyday tentative, uneasy state of being the targeted Other in a nation with escalating militant fascist tendencies also thrums through the portrait of the family that the film renders.”
9. The Territory
The Territory provides an immersive on-the-ground look at the tireless fight of the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people of the Brazilian Amazon against the encroaching deforestation brought on by illegal settlers and an association of non-native farmers. Awe-inspiring cinematography and richly textured sound design take the audiences deep into the Uru-eu-wau-wau community, while also providing unprecedented access to the settlers illegitimately burning and clearing land along with a network of farmers fighting to legitimize their illegal land grab. Partially shot by the Uru-eu-wau-wau people, the film uses vérité footage captured over three years as the community risks their lives to set up their own news media team in the hopes of exposing the truth.
In our review, we said, “The Territory does not fully take on a political color but is deeply inspired by the indignation towards the government’s facilitative and inflammatory role. The cultural insights into the Urus and those in conflict with them show we have a long way to go before the storm is contained.”
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10. Writing with Fire
Out of a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper led by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, wit, and tenacity, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions, be it on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues or within the confines of their homes, and redefine what it means to be powerful.
In our review, we said, “Each of the women, in their own ways, highlights education and their profession as weapons, the metaphorical fire, which fuels their battle towards a more accepting societal space for women, especially belonging from the margins. In Writing with Fire, the personal fuses seamlessly with the political making us bear witness to the personal journey undertaken by each of the journalists to reach professional heights.”
Book your passes for the 2022 DIFF here.