An international film festival at an altitude of over 11,000 feet in Leh in Jammu and Kashmir region is a bravo attempt, no doubt! The second edition of Ladakh International Film Festival gasped a moderate success despite sickness factor, lack of visibility and understanding of a 'film festival' among locals.
Only in its second year, the three-day film extravaganza drew the interest of local Ladakhi filmmakers, government officials and dignitaries of the district.
Heavyweights from the film fraternity like Gulzar, Aparna Sen, Shaji N. Karun, Vishal Bhardwaj, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Madhur Bhandarkar gave it the much needed boost by attending it.
Jammu and Kashmir Urban Development Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora admits they will have to work harder next time.
"We need to work together to step up the fest. There were a bit of hiccups this year, but we will together strive to make it better next year," Jora said at the closing ceremony of the fest here Sunday night.
National Award winning actress Usha Jadhav, who was present here for the screening of her Marathi movie "Dhag", also felt that a bit of publicity via posters and hoardings could have done better for the event.
Nevertheless, known names like jury chairperson Aparna Sen, Canadian filmmaker Teri C. McLuhan and South Asian Film Festival co-founder Hannah Fisher loved the experience of being at the "unique festival".
"When I first heard of LIFF, it had promised to be different. And it turned out to be so. Watching some of the best films from around the world amid the snowy peaks of the Himalayas has been a wonderful experience for me," Sen said here.
It was a unique experience watching interesting line-up of mvoies - short films, documentaries and a range of feature films from different parts of the world - in the lap of nature.
Two major highlights were the green carpet premieres of Mehra's "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" and Teri C. McLuhan's noted documentary "The Frontier Gandhi - Badshan Khan, a Torch for Peace".
For the lesser known tribe of Ladakhi filmmakers, the event turned out to be a resourceful meeting ground and a means to learn new forms of cinema and storytelling techniques.
At Film Shoppe, the local filmmakers shared the challenges they face in pursuing their passion for filmmaking, and talks were conducted to address the problems.
"There is no filmmaking school here in Ladakh and no theatres where we can show our movies, so the fact that such an event has been able to take place here, it is a great thing. We look forward to its success in the coming years," Chetan Angchok Nimoo, Ladakh's first filmmaker, told IANS.
Meanwhile, the government is trying to do its best to support the event, which promises to grow from strength to strength.
According to Leh Chief Executive Councillor Rigzin Spalbar, when the organisers - Melwyn Williams Chirayath and Meghna Agnihotri - approached him to organise the fest in 2012, he had warned them about lack of infrastructure in Leh.
"But the idea to have a festival like this was very exciting, and it seemed like a golden opportunity. So, we did whatever possible to complete an auditorium and invested around Rs.3.5 crore to turn a 'khandhar-like' structure into this (Sindhu Sanskriti Kendra, a 500-seater auditorium). And we were able to host the fest. I appreciate the spirit of the organisers," said Spalbar.
In terms of hiccups, besides logistical hassles of low or mostly no internet connectivity, altitude sickness took a toll on several attendees, including popular singer Rekha Bhardwaj.
As many as 15 guests visited a hospital to take an injection or for the dose of oxygen to beat the health issues.
One would have expected bigger participation of the locals for screenings.
IANS asked almost 10 different locals at the Leh market, and they seemed clueless about the festival.
"Film festival mein hota kya hai, madam," a shopkeeper here asked.
LIFF is also touted to be an ecologically-friendly event, and it did its bit by planting fish on the banks of Indus river here. The event is also associated with the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and has the snow leopard as its festival mascot.
But overall, the experience was unique for sure - especially the idea of living, watching and talking movies amidst mountains. But yes, it was physically taxing.
"This altitude is something," Sen admitted after climbing up merely five stairs to address the audience at the event's closing ceremony.