Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles,
April 20 - 24, 2006
by Dianne Lawrence

Los Angeles, April 19, 2006

Film Monthly (

For the fourth straight year the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles has once again successfully impressed Hollywood movie lovers with a showcase of a variety of 32 well-selected films from 13 countries. The festival, presented at the Arclight Theater on Sunset Blvd., included 3 world premiers, 10 US Premieres and 30 filmmakers from all over the world.

L.A. is a major recipient of Eastern culture. The Indian community here is large, active and influential in spurring an interest in Indian culture and especially filmmaking. As a result, this years Festival has seen a 25% increase in attendance with many of the films packed full.

"This year's festival has been an overwhelming triumph," said festival director Christina Marouda. "Over the past five days, we have shared Indian stories with the Hollywood community and the Los Angeles cinemagoers and given them a taste of what the latest fare from Indian independent and mainstream filmmakers have to offer. It has been a great success on all levels."

The opening night Gala presented WATER, the third film in a trilogy by Deepa Mehta, the first two being Fire and Earth. At the Gala Reception, a Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Ravi Shankar in co-partnership with the prestigious LA Philharmonic. Naseeruddin Shah, one of India's most celebrated actors, was also honored with the premier of his latest film PARZANIA directed by Rahul Dholakia and showcasing his past work with THE CHURNING (Manthan) and MONSOON WEDDING.

The Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature went to DOMBIVLI-FAST directed by Nishikant Kamat…

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Dombivli-Fast my vote for best film would have gone to DREAMING LHASA the first dramatic feature co-directed by the husband and wife team of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam who are known for their documentaries. She is Indian and produced it, he Tibetan and wrote it. Richard Gere was also a supporter of this film.

When over 100,000 Tibetans fled their country during the Chinese take-over many migrated into India and settled in the town of Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama lives today in exile. Forty-five years have passed and still Tibetans who speak out, are rewarded with imprisonment and torture while the hope of a free Tibet fades with the exiled elders. Today the town is filled with young people whose ears listen to the stories of the past and whose eyes are turned to the dreams of a new culture while the old people's memories keep them rooted in their past with thin threads of hope. Young filmmakers are starting to come back to explore this vulnerable moment in Tibetan history.

Dreaming Lhasa is inspired by a true incident in the life of the producer Tenzing's father, Lhamo Tsering. He had served as a key liaison between the guerilla freedom fighters and the CIA who trained, armed and funded them from the late fifties into the 60's. Lhamo was eventually arrested and spent nearly 7 years in prison. Someone he had worked with in the movement had vanished altogether. This film is an exploration of the complex cultural identities challenging modern Tibetans and a musing on what might have happened to the vanished freedom fighter.

Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso plays Karma a young American woman of Tibetan descent. She comes to Dharamsala to document the Tibetan nuns and monks who have been imprisoned and tortured in China for simply protesting.

Tenzin Jigme plays Jigme her young Tibetan assistant with a taste for rock n' roll and American women. When Dhondup an ex monk, played by the amazing Jampa Kalsang, shows up asking for Karma's help, Jigme warns her about those calculating Tibetan monks! Dhondup had been imprisoned for many years and has recently escaped Tibet. Hearing about Karma's project he wonders if she can help him. Before his mother died she handed him a small ornate silver prayer container surrounding a picture of the Dalai Lama. She gave Dhondup the name of its owner and directed him to return the container. With this little information he barely knows where to start and wonders if the American might have some connections or know how. Karma responds to Dhondup's quiet maturity and strange romantic quest and against Jigme's jealous warning, agrees to assist. They end up traveling from town to town following the thinnest of clues as each step brings them closer to the story of the freedom fighters, the CIA's involvement and the truth about their elusive quarry. Even though he must go back to his wife their adventure also brings them to an inevitable moment of fleeting tenderness. (I have seen this theme of an impossible affair between an American woman and someone from a different caste before) They eventually find their man providing a compelling twist that one didn't see coming but was obvious once it happened.

A beautifully crafted story, the plight of the Tibetans and the current issue of identity unfolds with gentleness and a sweet sadness. What happens when ones ancient culture is slowly eradicated before ones eyes? When one's identity has been targeted for elimination by a power that uses the tools of patience, fear and pain? The Dalai Lama will die one day and China holds all the cards. Neither America nor the world seem interested in the freedom or democracy of a country whose main focus is the spiritual life. Especially when the oppressors are business partners. This film shines a light on a story that must not die a quiet death.