As the Indian/South Asian community has grown over the recent years, its arts have gained a foothold on the New York cultural scene -- especially through a diverse cinema available in many DVD shops or theaters, and in film organizations or on-going film festivals. South Asian film festivals have not only proliferated but have carved out a solid niche in New York's festival calendar.
Four festivals (and lots of other events for that matter) have taken place -- or will -- this Fall that showcase South Asian cinema or those from the South Asian diaspora. Of the four, I View Film Festival 2010, was the eye-opener -- no pun intended. Running from September 18th-26th, 2010, this fest's third edition essentially kicked off the season; it screened over 25 features and docs, first at Asia Society, then in the Tribeca Film Center and The Big Cinemas.
Backed by the transnational arts and human rights organization Engendered -- whose larger cultural mission is focused on exploring the complex realities of gender and sexuality in the South Asian Diaspora -- the fest showcased provocative fare that challenged expectations about South Asian cinema and its culture in general.
Based in New York, Engendered presents this annual four-part festival to bring together the best in contemporary South Asian performance, music, visual arts, and film. Both a political and aesthetic festival, Engendered uses the arts to "create change and promote social justice by initiating public dialogue around women's issues, gender inequity, sexual orientation, and minority and health rights."
Given the conservative nature of both traditional Hindu and Muslim culture, it provided a chance to peer into the mainstream society and how those on the margins -- whether they be of a gay or transgressive nature -- have to manage to survive within it.
Discussions and panels with key cast members, film personalities, and academics followed emphasizing a critical dialogue was integral to the festival. This effort brought together a body of bold and contemporary cinematic work that provides a new lens with which to view South Asian cinema. The opening film, director Onir's I Am, in its North-American Premiere, detailed four stories of people coping with alternate sexualities in modern India. [Pictured left: famed director Mira Nair and protege director Mahreen Jabbar at I-View]
Another highlight of this festival was the NY Premiere screening of Bhutto, a critically acclaimed Sundance documentary. This feature detailed the rise, fall and ultimately, assassination of Benazir Bhutto -- the first woman to held a Muslim nation. The panel afterwards prompted controversial interplay about her role in Pakistani society and politics. For more on I-View or future Engendered events go to: http://engendered.org/index.html
Nearly a month later, the first Himalaya Film Festival -- a European transplant -- took place at the Village-based Quad Cinema from Friday, October 22 - 28, 2010. Offering films from India and Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet, it focused on those countries the lie above India's mountainous northern border. The fest's 31 films, highlighted breathtaking images of these four countries, their dramatic landscapes, fascinating scenes of everyday life, a sense of heart-warming people, cultural gems and colorful festivals.
The festival celebrated the hearty people of the Himalayan region their culture, nature and politics: it was a virtual opportunity to experience what inspires the people living on top of the world. Go to http://www.himalayafilmfestival.us/ for future fests.
A week later, The South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) took place at the SVA theater from October 27 - Nov 2, 2010. Dedicated to spotlighting South Asian/Indian filmmakers in the U.S and those who seek greater visibility and distribution, the fest -- now in its 7th year -- was founded to support the many emerging filmmakers and the overall under-representation of Indian cinema in a capital that is recognized by the world as the birthplace of independent filmmaking.
It exhibited films from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal) and from the Indian Diaspora. With a focus on dynamic, visionary cinema, SAIFF annually offers exposure for new filmmakers and an unparallel experiences for attendees. In past years they had shown such breakthrough films as Ramchand Pakistani. For more info visit: http://www.saiff.org/2010/
Closing out the fall season will be the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival the longstanding stalwart now enjoying its 10th anniversary. Scheduled for November 10-14, 2010, at various venues throughout the city, it has been New York City's premier Indian film festival having had the New York debuts of such acclaimed films as Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (which garnered critical and commercial success worldwide), critically respected Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta's Heaven on Earth and many others.
In addition, both the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA have presented many features, docs, and shorts from and about the Indian subcontinent. And there is The Big Cinemas a recently Manhattan theater house (239 East 59th St. between 3rd and 2nd Av.) primarily dedicated to screening first and second-run South Asian films.