The inaugural edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival was held on November 1–4, 2012. The festival was conceived by local filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. They thought that Dharamshala was the perfect host city for an international film festival due to its ethnic and cultural diversity. Located on the slopes of the Dhauladhar Hills, it is a cosmopolitan town populated by local ethnic groups, Tibetan refuges and foreign expatriates from around the world.
Sarin and Sonam wanted to create a world-class film festival that would bring together filmmakers and film lovers from different countries and give them the opportunity to interact in an informal, intimate and creative way. One of the festival’s main goals is to encourage and promote young local filmmakers. Besides, Dharamshala doesn’t have a movie theater, so the town’s residents don’t have regular access to high-quality cinema. DIFF introduces them to the best of recent Indian and world cinema.
The program of the first Dharamshala International Film Festival included 26 feature, short and documentary films from different countries, attracting more than 5,000 film-lovers from different parts of India. The festival focuses on independent and experimental cinema that would otherwise never be screened in India. Alongside film screenings, DIFF’s program includes panels, Q&A sessions and workshops featuring Indian and foreign filmmakers. Most activities are designed for viewers, but there are special events for industry professionals as well.
In 2014, the festival launched the DIFF Film Fellows Program. It is an educational program designed for young filmmakers from the Indian Himalayan region. A selected number of filmmakers get a chance to come to DIFF, attend film screenings, participates in workshops and masterclasses, and engage in one-on-one mentoring sessions with experienced filmmakers.