First ever South Asian film festival gets a warm reception in frosty Dallas
It was one of those weekends where the popcorn would be best savored in front of your big screen TV at home. But not so for the daring and enthusiastic cinephiles of North Texas. They came in droves, carpooling, putting their Texas-size vans and pick-up trucks to good use, hitching rides on Lyft and Uber. They did whatever it took to be at the festival and show solidarity with independent cinema
The first-ever South Asian Film Festival touched chords at so many levels in this vibrant metro area. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has a significant Indian diaspora population and it was evident by the attendance and the buzz that it generated here.
The three days were a whirlwind of great movies - short as well as feature films. It put the spotlight on women, children, youth and LGBT groups through the choice of movies and the overall design and flow of the cinemas over the weekend. The most-cherished moments however seemed to be the audience interaction with the film makers following the movie, the intense conversation with the directors, producers and the artists before and after the films and the chit-chat of festival-goers huddled in small groups outside the cinema halls. And of course all conversation after the initial greeting was to do with the films characters, the story line, the messaging and the nuances of every film. Mahesh Pailoor, the director of Brahmin Bulls was seen discussing his time working with actors Roshan Seth and Sendhil Ramamurthy. "Did you notice how the lighting changes as the movie progresses, in line with the plot that goes from dark and somber to bright and energetic?" he explained to an enthusiastic fan who engaged him in the subtle technicalities that most movie-watchers could easily miss. Mahesh, whose family roots are in Pailoor village in South Canara of Karnataka, lives in Los Angeles, California but made the trip to Dallas to show his support to the festival and "just hangout" with the audience.
Actress Tannishtha Chaterjee was in attendance all through the festival soaking in the festive atmosphere, the fan glare and the Texan hospitality. "I have spent extended periods in different parts of the United States, but the North Texas community made us feel very special", said the beaming actress as she walked the red carpet. The film "Rough Book" was the closing night film and needless to say was a big hit among the attendees. Not a surprise knowing how close education is to the hearts of the Indian Diaspora. Tannishtha's next project is the movie Parched that she has ideated and acted in, and explores women and sexuality.
What an incredible experience watching the movies screened this weekend!!" exclaimed Seema Deshpande a senior executive at Texas Instruments and one of the regulars at the film festival. She added, "My emotions see-sawed, first watching the parent-child relationship portrayed in Brahmin Bulls and then understanding the harsh reality of human trafficking that exists in our world today in the film SOLD. But meeting the directors Mahesh Pailoor and Jeffrey Brown, understanding their motivations and seeing their passion was certainly the highlight for me." In all, fourteen films showcasing the complex lives and stories of South Asians in India, the US and other countries were offered.
Festival Director Jitin Hingorani was all smiles as far as the festival's success and equally moved by the show of support from the community. "The overwhelming attendance despite the odds posed by the weather shows the appetite for good, independent cinema in this region," he said before the screening of SOLD. Jitin, who started his journalism career with a CNN sister station in Austin, Texas, is passionate about several social issues, including domestic violence. His goal of "providing a platform for cinematic gems that are often overlooked" has certainly been well served. The fact that 30 different community organizations and brands associated themselves with the festival is just one indicator of the promise this festival holds in the years going forward.
It will be "back to business" come Monday morning here in Dallas for the South Asian community. But their worlds have been touched and challenged by what they saw and experienced over the past three days. The images of the protagonists, from the father-son duo of Brahmin Bulls to the smiling face of Lakshmi in SOLD and the rebellious teacher in Rough Book and more, will continue to haunt the hearts and souls of North Texans for a very long time, definitely leaving them in anticipation of the next time when this festival will be back in the area.