LIFF: Where are the Ladakhi filmmakers?

Leh: Filmmakers from as far as Venezuela, Italy, Cuba and South Korea presented their work at the third Ladakh International Film Festival (LIFF). But surprisingly local participation at the three-day gala, which aims to encourage movie-making culture here, has been close to zilch.

It was a complete contrast to last year when about 15 Ladakhi filmmakers participated in the fest -- but this time, they remained conspicuous by their absence, leaving the festival officials and patrons disheartened.

When this visiting IANS correspondent bumped into a local filmmaker she met last year, he completely evaded the question: "Why are you guys not attending the film festival?"

On the first day, festival director Melwyn Williams was confident that the event would draw a decent if not a good number of audience members. But it never happened.

Another festival official told IANS: "Filmmakers in Ladakh make movies as a part-time profession. They have their main jobs to attend to and since the 33rd Kalachakra Initiation is coming up, they are busy with that as it means more business to them."

The picturesque city is gearing up for the 12-day event to be initiated by Dalai Lama, who is already said to have arrived here.

This time LIFF saw participation from media and Bollywood celebrities, including Deepti Naval, Govind Nihalani, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Shilpa Shukla, Anurag Kashyap, Rajit Kapur and Amole Gupte.

According to sources, the fest, an annual affair in this Jammu and Kashmir region, lacks government support.

Plus, there are no theatres where films can be screened. Of the three venues, one is Sindhu Sanskriti Kendra, an approximately 500-seat auditorium, while the other two venues have a makeshift screen with a projector and a few plastic chairs.

More often than not, the movies just played on to an empty space.

But despite lukewarm response, the celebrities are confident that right logistics and support from the youth and government will help this "baby" scale greater heights.

"Where`s the youth of Leh? There are so many of them in the markets and on the streets. They should be here watching the films and learning about world cinema," said Deepti, who believes that Leh makes for a great venue for a fest like this and that it could get bigger with participation of the locals.

Mehra, who has now attended all three editions of the fest, said: "The child is just born... There are dreams to make Ladakh an important destination for cinema, and so we are in talks with theatre owners to open cinema halls here... to have cinema workshops....

“We feel we`re going in the right direction and I`m sure we`ll win people`s confidence in the years to come."

Nihalani, who has come here for the second time, found a marked improvement in the quality of films received. Movies from Venezuela, Italy, Hungary, Iran, Syria, Cuba and South Korea were presented here.

However, there were no films from Ladakh especially when plans are underway to build a Ladakh Film and Culture City to nurture talent.

Mulling over the problems, the veteran filmmaker told IANS: "Cinema needs good environment to flourish, and particularly in a region like Ladakh, government support is important, which they lack. There should be a platform to see films - people show films via a digital projector here... it`s in a primitive stage.

"This film festival can help them. It can make the government aware of the possibilities of developing an industry, a small industry if not big."

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