Return of the Fellowship: Looking back at the DIFF Film Fellows program.


  • September 23, 2017



With the 6th edition of DIFF, the film fellowship returns once again with five young filmmakers from the mountains attending workshops and master classes under this year’s mentors. The applications have now come in and are being reviewed by the jury comprising film editor and artistic director of the International Film Festival of Kerala, Bina Paul, feature filmmaker Shubhashish Bhutiani and Tibetan – American documentary filmmaker Tenzin Tsetan Choklay. The excitement mounts as we wait to find out who the fellows are going to be.

The DIFF film fellowship began in 2014 with the desire to foster filmmaking talent in the Himalayan regions of India. Five selected fellows are invited to attend the festival and participate in masterclasses and workshops conducted by industry professionals, with whom they would also have the opportunity to engage in one-on-one mentorship sessions. In the past the fellowship has attracted filmmakers from all over the Himalayas…. Himachal, Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim and Assam.

Looking back on some of our past fellows, and where they have travelled since their fellowships, Munmun Dhalaria, from the first batch of film fellows in 2014 entered the programme with the short documentary ‘Padmini my Love,’ about the iconic black and yellow Padmini taxis of Mumbai. She continues her film making journey with a documentary on maternal healthcare for indigenous women in South Karnataka created under the TISS MurthyNayak Fellowship. This year she will return to Himachal to film the state bird as a National Geographic young explorer. For Munmun the fellowship really revived the sense of community that filmmaking thrives on. “It is easy to feel isolated as a freelance documentary filmmaker,” she observes. For Munmun the highlight of the fellowship was the access to reputed filmmakers who were the mentors, but her favourite bit undoubtedly was the actual selection of screened films in the festival.

For another of our past fellows, Tribeny Rai, the fellowship paved the way for future endeavors in a more obvious way. Having recently returned from the annual Vgik International Summer School in Russia, she remembers how she had just shot her documentary ‘Sikkim Soccer Girls’ when she entered the DIFF fellowship. “I had shot so much material,” she recalls. For her, mentors Anupama and Umesh helped ‘shape the whole film.’ This was also the film that she presented for the Programme at Vgik. Tribeny joined the DIFF fellowship right out of film school with the film ‘Yathawat,’ in 2015, and has since made the films ‘Memory of a Heart’ and ‘Sikkim Soccer Girls.’

Sikkim Soccer Girl Still

A still from Tribeny Rai’s Documentary ‘Sikkim Soccer Girls’

Khanjan Kishorenath, from the first batch of fellows in 2014 recently completed the feature length film ‘Chor,’ which premiered in the Indian film festival of Melbourne. He joined the fellowship with the film ‘Saknoia’ (The River Flows), which was a crowd funded film made in Assamese. He has also begun a film school in his hometown of Nagaon, Assam, called Cinemalay. ‘It actually started in a small way. At my place there is no environment for good cinema. We don’t get to watch good films. Our first goal is to atleast provide some good films to the interested people here.’ When asked if the fellowship in any way shaped this decision, he replies, ‘Absolutely! DIFF gave me a wider perspective about a small town film environment. If Dharamshala is able to create such an environment, why can’t we?’

Anupama Srinivasan who mentored three batches of fellows, is a confidante and motivational guru for them. She understands that the fellowship has people from diverse backgrounds with diverse approaches to film. Over the course of the programme, she has them open up about their lives and goals, discuss film screenings, and shoot quick one-shot documentaries.

Upon being asked for advice, “come in with an open mind,” is her quick reply. She encourages the fellows to ask as many questions as possible about the art of cinema. She believes that at this stage, funding and how to get into film festivals is of secondary importance to discovering their cinematic interests.

While the Dharamshala International Film Festival has slowly and steadily grown and evolved over the past five years, the core reason for its existence: Bringing independent cinema to the mountains – still remains the same. Through the Film Fellowship program and perhaps with each fellow that attends it, DIFF tries to entrust the baton of cinema, spreading it along the the mountains of the Indian Himalayas.