The 22nd Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF) kicked off on January 20, 2024, providing me with the unique opportunity to participate for the second time, not just as a film critic and journalist, but also as a jury member for the women filmmakers’ section.
This year’s festival features a diverse selection of over 250 films from 74 countries, spanning eight main categories such as Asian cinema section, retrospective, Bangladesh Panorama section, cinema of the world section, wide angle, children’s films section, women filmmakers’ section, short and independent films section and spiritual film section.
Among the impressive lineup, two Sri Lankan films have garnered attention. “Doosra,” directed by Channa Deshapriya, is featured in the Cinema of the World section, while “Whispering Mountains” by Jagath Manuwarna is competing in the Asian Competition section.
“Whispering Mountains” has already achieved notable recognition, winning the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2023. It has also secured a spot as an official selection in the competitive film screenings fiction cinema category at the film festival of the Eurasian Continent One Sixth in Russia. Adding to its accolades, “Whispering Mountains” received the Best Director’s Award at the Derana Film Festival in Sri Lanka. The film continues to make waves globally, participating in various film festivals across different continents.
Even though Manuwarna couldn’t attend the festival for the screening of his film on January 22, I contacted him over Messenger to gather his thoughts on the event. “Sadly, I missed out on attending the 22nd DIFF even though my film made the cut. Nonetheless, I’m overjoyed by the journey of my debut film, which has voyaged through many countries, representing various international festivals. As a filmmaker, participating in such festivals is crucial because it provides exposure. It’s a chance to delve into diverse cinematic experiences, connect with people from different corners of the world, and exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences.”
Speaking at the 22nd DIFF, the producer of “Doosra,” Lakshan Abenayake expressed his interest in being part of the festival, emphasizing the significance of experiencing the festival culture in this part of the world. Abenayake, hailing from Sri Lanka and an established television and film actor in France, sees “Doosra” as his second production credit for Sri Lankan cinema. He considers it his duty to contribute to the growth of the Sri Lankan film industry and has been waiting for the right moment to make a meaningful impact.
Lakshan said, “This is my second production with a Sri Lankan director, and I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with the Sri Lankan cast and crew. I consider it a responsibility to give back to the country of my origin.’ Lakshan is an established actor in France, renowned for his television character, which has become one of the longest-running TV shows in France.
“Doosra” has already made its mark at several film festivals, including the Moscow International Film Festival and the Kolkata International Film Festival, where it received positive feedback from both audiences and critics alike.
Participating for the second time, what truly warms my heart is witnessing the endurance of DIFF over its 22-year journey. As a South East Asian country, we grapple with economic, political, religious and cultural constraints. However, DIFF’s unwavering commitment to preserving its vibrancy is truly remarkable, a testament to their dedication to fostering a platform for global cinematic dialogue despite the challenges we face.
Wandering through the festival’s four different venues, you’ll encounter a myriad of cultures, all united by a shared passion for cinema. This, to me, is one of the paramount experiences one can have in such a vibrant festival. It’s incredible to see so many diverse people coming together, bound by a common enthusiasm for the art of film. Amid the hustle and bustle of the festival, I had the chance to chat with the festival director, Ahmed Muztaba Zamal, just four days before the closing ceremony.
“I’m extremely pleased that we’ve successfully hosted DIFF 2024 for the 22nd consecutive year, welcoming important delegates from around the world. I’m grateful for the support they’ve all provided, contributing to the success and continuous growth of the festival each year. Being a South East Asian country, hosting an international festival is no easy task, especially considering the substantial financial requirements. However, with my team’s unwavering dedication and the consistent support of our loyal sponsors, we’ve never faltered. They encourage us in every way to create a vibrant festival year after year.”
Sadly, we don’t see this kind of commitment often in Sri Lanka. Every year, we cheer about hitting another milestone in Sinhala cinema, like the recent 77th anniversary. But honestly, it’s a bit tricky to figure out how much genuine effort we’re putting into keeping our cinema culture alive.
Even though we had this awesome International Colombo Film Festival with big crowds, film buffs and big-shot filmmakers from around the globe, it’s a bummer that the festival only stuck around for two years. Hats off to Anomaa Rajakaruna, the director of the Jaffna Film Festival, for keeping the event going strong for nine years in a row.
Sneak peek into the kick-off of DIFF 2024
The 22nd DIFF kicked off at the Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Auditorium of the National Museum in Dhaka, and Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Hasan Mahmud Ali, graced the occasion as the chief guest, turning the event into a global cinematic fiesta. In his speech, he gave a nod to the universal charm of films, recognising the diverse tastes of Bangladeshi movie buffs who dig flicks from all corners of the world. He threw out a warm invite to everyone, saying, “Come get lost in the movie magic with us!”
Bollywood queen Sharmila Tagore was in the house, taking charge as the head of the Asian Film Competition jury. In a down-to-earth moment, she shared this hilarious tale of her recent airborne escapades with Bangladesh Biman, dealing with the chaos of a flight cancellation.
A dance performance titled ‘Picture House’ by the Shilpakala Academy, unravelled the colourful history of Bangladeshi cinema and it was like a visual feast, and Sharmila was feeling it. She spilled the beans on her love for old movie songs and how visuals, no matter the language, hit you right in the feels. The crowd was nodding and cheering in agreement; it was that kind of vibe.