Movies amid mountains - Ladakh film fest races against odds

Leh, Sep 12 (IANS) A film festival in Ladakh? To many, it comes as a surprise. But for the organisers of the Ladakh International Film Festival (LIFF), its first edition in 2012 turned out to be a dream come true. The second edition, which begins here Friday, aims to get bigger with a wide variety of over 120 films, a jury studded with gems of the film industry in India and abroad, and a range of ecologically-friendly activities.

The three-day gala, which is set amid the pristine and peaceful surroundings of this Little Tibet, is expected to draw a huge local as well as tourist audience with its new features. But it doesn't come without its challenges.

"There are infrastructural challenges," Melwyn Williams Chirayath, founder, LIFF, told IANS.

"There is a 500-seater auditorium which is technically very sound. That is where we have our main events, but we have to take a lot of equipments ourselves. Nobody is giving us aid on that front, and we are having to fund it ourselves. We wish the government would have taken more interest," Chirayath added.

He believes that for the success of a "vision" such as LIFF, "local support" is inherently important.

Thus, this year, they have been able to expand their wings by organising movie screenings at makeshift theatres - in two independent auditoriums and in two school auditorioms, apart from the 500-seater space. "In total there are five venues this time." Chirayath said, adding how even three Ladakhi filmmakers are also in competition this year.

The second LIFF was earlier to be held in July, but it was rescheduled due to the floods in Uttarakhand.

To be inaugurated by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the fest has a focus on 'Celebrating Womanhood' this time.

As part of it, films like "Hunterwali" and Marathi movie "Mee Sindhutai Sapkal" will be showcased at the fest, which will also host a panel discussion by eminent women film personalities on the theme 'Role of Women in Cinema - On and Off, Road Ahead'.

Carrying forward the focus on women is also a flagship campaign on women called - Campaign RED (Respect, Equality, Dignity) which seeks to focus attention on the current happenings of violence against women in every form and condition the society to create a conducive environment for women.

Acclaimed filmmaker Aparna Sen will be the jury's chairperson, while German-based documentary filmmaker Paul Amaczny is due to visit here too. Some of those who likely to attend the event are Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Shaji N. Karun, Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Imtiaz Ali, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Mike Pandey.

Aparna Sen is convinced the fest will be a "peak experience", given its "incomparable venue high up amidst mountain ranges".

As part of the green carpet premiere, "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" and documentary "The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace" will be screened at the event. "The Frontier Gandhi..." tells the story of noted freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Badshah Khan, and it is a noted documentary by Teri McLuhan.

The upcoming edition will even host a retrospective on writer-lyricist Gulzar, curated by filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, and a tribute to the late filmmakers Yash Chopra and Rituparno Ghosh.

There will be a Film Shoppe, which will be a meeting ground for independent filmmakers, and a business conclave, which aims to promote the region, its tourism and its commerce.

A unique feature will be a workshop for children, and it will be curated by "Stanley Ka Dabba" filmmaker Amole Gupte, who is also the chairman of the Children's Film Society of India.

LIFF is also an ecologically friendly event with the snow leopard as its mascot. The event also hosts a fish planting exercise whereby fish eggs/fish are planted in the water bodies to contribute towards the ecological cycle.

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