The Dharamshala International Film Festival's (DIFF's) co-directors, husband and wife Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, enthused over their brainchild's third season, taking place between October 30 – November 2, over tea and cake at their spacious mud-built home in Sidphur, close to the Norbulingka Institute.
"There's a nice mix of people and one of our main aims, apart from bringing independent cinema to the mountains, was to have a festival which would bring all the different communities - Tibetans, Indians and expats - together, both to work on the event and as our audiences," said Ritu.
"Dharamshala belongs to many different groups of people who have made it their home, but they don't have much interaction outside of business, and we felt that such interaction was key in helping to build a nice harmonious future for all the communities living here."
Now in its third year, DIFF has flourished and developed into an event of international acclaim, attracting audiences, film buffs and volunteers from across the world. This year's festival will showcase documentaries, feature films, animations, shorts, sound installations, a master class by film maker and animator, Gitanjali Rao, and a panel discussion focusing on New Directions in Indian Cinema, with independent film makers Hansal Mehta, Rajat Kapor and Umesh Kulkarni. New to this year's event is the DIFF Film Fellow's programme, for which five budding film makers from across the Indian Himalayas have been selected to attend the festival, and participate in master classes, workshops and mentoring sessions with visiting film makers.
Asked which films they would especially recommend to a busy person with time to see just a handful, Ritu said: "I recommend they take time off and see them all.
"Many people are coming from all over India. This year we have 80 volunteers, 40 of whom are coming from outside Dharamshala especially for the festival, paying their way to be here, so I hope people who are already here will take time off and come and watch the films."
Whilst Ritu bunked off school aged 14 to nurture her love of films at Hampstead's Everyman Cinema when her father was working in London, and Tenzing took 'any opportunity' to watch Hindi films when growing up in Darjeeling, the pair, both 55, who met at Delhi University, confessed to becoming true films buffs whilst pursuing their masters degrees at the University of California in Berkeley.
"No one said 'I want to be a film maker' when I was growing up," said Tenzing.
"I never imagined that I would want or even be able to make films myself because it was such a remote possibility. I went to California and joined the journalism school to focus on print journalism, but they also had a documentary department so I took a few classes and discovered that I really liked shooting and editing. Berkeley's a really great place for watching art house movies so Ritu and I used to watch films all the time. We made our first film together there, and we've been making films for most of our lives."
After founding their own non-profit production company, White Crane Arts and Media Trust, in London in 1990, the couple went on to make a number of successful documentaries and feature films including Dreaming Lhasa, The Thread of Karma and When Hari Got Married.
In recent years they have attended film festivals from the Arctic to the Amazon to select the films screened at DIFF.
Tenzing said: "When we set out to programme the festival we didn't have a criteria. The whole point was to show films we would like to watch ourselves. Good, independent cinema.
"We go to festivals and if we see a film we like we put it on our list. Then we ask all our friends in the business to recommend films to us, and we short list the films and watch them. As we do this certain themes tend to emerge almost organically. This year for instance we have a strong package of films about the Middle East – three documentaries and one feature film – and that was something that was totally unplanned, but during the viewing process they popped up, and they're all amazing films. Really brilliant."
The festival also boasts an intriguing selection of films about Tibet and China, including Bringing Tibet Home, by Tenzin Tsetan Choklay, who will attend the screening, and The Dossier, a documentary on the life of award winning writer and activist, Tsering Woeser, by Chinese film maker, Zhu Rikun.
"Tenzin Tsetan Choklay is a local Dharamshala lad who studied here at TCV," continued Tenzing. "This is his first big film and it's done very well, so this will be his homecoming premier of this film.
"The Dossier is an amazing film which I think will be of very special interest to Tibetan viewers, because you get such an amazing insight into Woeser and what she's doing and how brave and incredible she is, taking on the Chinese government in all kinds of ways.
"Also of special interest to our Tibetan audiences is Vara: A Blessing, by Tibetan/Bhutanese film maker, Khyentse Norbu, who made The Cup and Travellers and Magicians.
"Another documentary from Tibet, A Gesar Bard's Tale, by Tibetan film maker, Lharigtso, and her Finnish/ Irish husband, Donagh Coleman, tells the story of a young Tibetan nomad who acquired the gift of telling the epic story of Tibet's King Gesar."
However, both Ritu and Tenzin were keen to urge Tibetans to attend a wider range of films than those focusing solely on Tibet and Tibetan issues.
"Something we were a bit disappointed about after the first two festivals was that we didn't get more response from the Tibetan community," said Tenzing.
"They came if there was a Tibetan film or a film about China, but beyond that they were not that curious about the other films on offer, and I think they would gain so much if they came and watched these films too."
Also of particular interest is Liar's Dice, India's official entry into the 2014 Oscars' Best Foreign Film category, filmed mostly in Himachal Pradesh. "There is so much you can convey through films that it's very hard to do otherwise," added Ritu.
"They are a great way to bring cultures and people together and for people to get some understanding of other issues. We often see stuff about the Middle East on television, but it always looks the same. This year we have films from Egypt, Syria, and from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, and you really get it inside, so if you're interested in these issues the insight you can get from watching an amazing film that someone from that place spent years of their life making is enormous. We consider most of the films we have selected to be not only extremely good, but also very important."
"What we really hope to do during this festival is to bring Dharamshala's different communities together on a non-partisan platform, watching movies," added Tenzing.
"Because everyone likes to watch movies."
The Films will be screened at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and the Clubhouse. For more information, including screening schedules, please visit: diff.co.in.