The fourth edition of the Dharamshala International Film festival is underway (Nov 5-8) in Dharamshala, a town in North India, known for being home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan exiles.
In the last four years DiFF has fast established itself as one of the fastest growing and most interesting film festivals in India and in that region of Asia. Started by filmmaker couple Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, their film selection focuses mostly on indies from India and rest of the world. The festival showcases excellent selection of recent independent films from all over the world, featuring both narratives and documentaries. The festival also hosts panels and discussions with filmmakers and artists who are invited to this otherwise quiet town in the hills.
The diversity and the creativity of the festival programming rivals any major International film festival, not just in India but anywhere in the world.
For this year’s full program, visit http://www.diff.co.in
Some notable films this year are:
The Concrete Night
The Look of Silence
The Tale of Iya
Wild Women – Gentle Beasts
Butter Lamps, a short film directed by Chinese filmmaker Hu Wei is among the films nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. This 15 minute experimental short is a work of fiction that is tinted with commentary on socio-political issues on the Tibetan plateau resulting from factors that are beyond the control of the Tibetans. The film features real Tibetan nomads as they interact with a photographer who travels the land offering to shoot portraits using various backdrops.
The film is said to be inspired by photographer Michael Nash’s works from Warsaw in 1946, where he went to the war torn region and photographed locals using scenic peaceful backdrops concealing the ruins from the war. Hu Wei’s film was shot between 2010 and 2012. The director, in an interview says,
“I hope to call attention to Tibet and Tibetan culture and traditions that are vanishing due to various reasons. And at the same time, examine the changes of our own culture under the influence of today’s globalization and modernization.”
In 2010, during the director’s first attempt to shoot the film in Tibet, Tibetans refused to work with him when they saw that he wanted to use the Tiananmen Square as a backdrop. The locals thought Hu Wei was making a Chinese propaganda film and did not want to partake. After a scuffle between the locals and the filmmakers, the production didn’t resume until 2012.
In the clip below from the film, Tibetan nomads pose in front of a camera, behind them is the backdrop of Tiananmen Square with it’s famous portrait of Mao. Soon an old Tibetan woman sits on a chair at the center concealing Mao’s portrait and instead holds a portrait of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation of Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders. In 1995, when the boy was just 6 years, The Dalai Lama recognized him as the 11th Panchen Lama but that same year, he and his whole family disappeared from the public eye. Believed to be in Chinese custody, Human rights organizations have often reffered to him as the world’s youngest political prisoner.
Read more about the Panchen lama here: www.freepanchenlama.org
Born in Beijing, China, Hu Wei graduated from La Femis, the National School of Fine Arts in Paris and Le Fresnoy, and now lives and works between Beijing and Paris.
Artist Tenzing Rigdol made a video performance piece in September 2008 titled “Scripture Noodles” during his residency at the Vermont Art Studio. The video features Tenzing walking into the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant where he cooks Tibetan Buddhist scriptures cut up into noodle-like strips of paper. He fries his ink-laden paper noodles with onions and tomatoes in a wok and then sits on a table to eat this unusual dish with a plastic fork.
Tenzing Rigdol is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work ranges from painting, sculpture, drawing and collage, to digital, video-installation, performance art and site specific pieces. Tenzing’s works are highly political and often touches on issues of exile and occupation. In the last couple of years his works have dealt with subjects such as the self-immolations in Tibet as a form of political protest (Kirti – from the ashes of agony) and in 2011, he smuggled 20,000 kilograms of Tibetan soil from Tibet to India for a site-specific art installation titled “Our land, Our People” that reunited Tibetan exiles with their homeland. (This work was the central story of the 2013 documentary film BRINGING TIBET HOME).
In September this year, the Tibetan community in exile was ripe with rumors, gossip and bad mouthing when someone from the community in Dharamsala, India stumbled upon the video of his performance piece 6 years after it was made. The person illegally downloaded the video and uploaded it on facebook under a deliberately misleading title that goes something like “Mad Artist Tenzing Rigdol eating holy Tibetan scriptures“. This lead to the video going viral on facebook until facebook took it down for copyright infringement. (The original video is available here.)
Many of these viewers, unacquainted with the world of contemporary art or even performance art, assumed that this was a video that a random man has made and was later leaked by the facebook uploader. Many instantly jumped to conclusions and claimed that Artist Tenzing Rigdol was someone who’s resolute at destroying Tibetan Buddhist culture and one poster even went as far as to say that the artist needs to be assassinated. It would seem that anyone in the Tibetan community who keeps himself informed, would know artist Tenzing Rigdol by his previous internationally acclaimed works that strive to highlight the Tibetan cause but most of these facebook critics knew very little about him or his works or of any other Tibetan contemporary artists.
Days after the upheaval on facebook, Tibetan writer Dhondup Tashi Rekjong of Karkhung.com interviewed artist Tenzing Rigdol who speaks in the following video about the origin of Performance Art and explains the meaning behind his work “Scripture Noodles”.