DIFF 2023: Set in the real world : The Tribune India

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DIFF 2023: Set in the real world

Stellar line-up of non-fiction films at this year’s Dharamshala International Film Festival

DIFF 2023: Set in the real world

I am Sirat

Sarika Sharma

DHARAMSHALA International Film Festival (DIFF) returns with a new edition and a line-up of documentary films that is at once stellar, moving and inspiring. Among others, it would showcase ‘I Am Sirat’, a collaboration between Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta and Sirat Taneja, Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi’s ‘Innocence’ and renowned Chilean documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzman’s ‘My Imaginary Country’. In total, 21 documentaries would be screened at the 11th edition to be held in the hill town from November 4-7.

My Imaginary Country

‘I Am Sirat’ (Asia premiere at DIFF) features a transgender woman caught between duty and self-determination. As Aman, she lives in New Delhi with her widowed mother as a son, fulfilling responsibilities in the tradition of an Indian male. But for herself, her friends, and co-workers at the Ministry of Social Defence in New Delhi, she identifies as Sirat. Shot on smartphones, the 87-minute film approaches her trans experience from multiple angles, while opening a window on the contradictions in both her life and contemporary India.


Sirat played a transgender guard in the Netflix dystopian drama ‘Leila’, which Mehta had directed five years ago. “We’ve kept in touch since then. Last December, while telling me about her latest escapade at work, Sirat had an extraordinary ask: would I consider making a film on her and the duality of her existence? I remember asking her what she hoped to achieve by doing this. Her answer made me think, ‘My mummy will surely see this film. And if she sees other people accept me as a trans woman, maybe she will too. Society means a lot to her.’ The simplicity and honesty of Sirat’s explanation moved me greatly,” says Mehta. The film has earlier been to Toronto International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival.

Known for his Oscar-nominated documentary ‘5 Broken Cameras’, Guy Davidi brings to DIFF ‘Innocence’, his latest film. It tackles the issue of militarisation and its impact on the lives of young Israeli people. “‘Innocence’ comes out against the military culture and the army as a component in our identity. Through the personal perspectives of people who refused to let their souls be enslaved to the army, and especially to its immoral use in the occupation of the Palestinian people, I hope the film will raise questions in Israeli society about the personal and social damage that our automatic identification with the army causes us. And to allow a new Israeli identity based on other values, like the pursuit of peace, to grow,” he says.

Much anticipated is ‘My Imaginary Country’ — on the Chilean protests that kicked off in October 2019 — by documentarian-activist Patricio Guzman; and ‘The Buriti Flower’ by João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora.

This year, festival directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have roped in Bina Paul, former artistic director of the International Film Festival of Kerala, as Director of Programming. “Bina and her team, along with ourselves, made the selections after in-depth viewings and discussions. The criteria, as always, is to showcase the best of independent cinema from India and around the world,” the duo says.

The films showcased in 2022 included Shaunak Sen’s Oscar-nominated ‘All That Breathes’ and Oscar-winning ‘Navalny’ by Daniel Roher.

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