3rd i film fest: Entertainment to engage and educate

A scene from The Cinema Travellers

In its 15th year, the groundbreaking event showcases cinema on or about South Asians, the films covering everything from the personal to the political

Ritu Jha

Yes, Bollywood has pep and vigor, but there is more to South Asian cinema than that – as can be seen at the upcoming 3rd i San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond.

The annual event is celebrating its 15th anniversary, and said is built around the theme of “democracy and the political process.”

The festival will run November 9-12 in San Francisco, and on November 18 in Cupertino.

Like another South Asian film festivals – the South Asian International Film Festival and the New York Indian Film Festival, both in New York, and Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, Southern California, the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, etc – 3rd i was begun to promote independent and documentary films either by South Asians or which focus on themes involving those in or from the subcontinent.

3rd i’s opening night will see the screening of Abu, a story of a Pakistani family that moved to Canada, in the early 1990s, and the disquieting effects of such deracination.

Another film with an immigrant theme is the Chinese film, Random Acts Of Legacy, directed by Ali Kazimi. Like Abu, it a story of a first-generation Chinese family in America as it lives through the Great Depression and the post-war period.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A over Skype with the filmmaker.

This year, there will be no Bollywood stars at the festival, but the organizers are looking forward to exchanges with Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Arshad Khan, the director of Abu, and Bangladeshi-American filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemen.

3rd i will also be screening Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla’s An Insignificant Man, a documentary that follows the rise of Indian politician Arvind Kejriwal (dubbed the ‘Bernie Sanders of India’) during the last election cycle in India.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that shines a light on democratic principles at stake across the world.

Amit Masurkar’s Newton, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, takes a decidedly different approach to the issue of political participation, using political satire to drive home its message.

The film lead role is played by rising indie actor Rajkumar Rao (Queen,, Aligarh).

Naeem Mohaiemen’s Last Man In Dhaka Central examines the idealism that makes revolutions possible, and the political complexities that cause them to fail, through the experiences of a Dutch activist.

Anuj Vaidya co-founder of 3rd i, told indica of his views on screening political films and documentaries.

“We’re facing a lot of political upheavals all over the world, and especially in the US, where the entire political system is under threat from white supremacists,” he said. “In India, it’s Hindu supremacy. In both places corruption and cronyism abound.”

He suggested that artists had a responsibility to address these issues.

“In the face of all of this, there are a lot of filmmakers asking hard questions about the value and efficacy of our political process,” he said. “It’s not a theme that we chose; it’s what emerged from the films we’re seeing.”

For music lovers, 3rd i has a special multimedia documentary by Gingger Shankar, Nari: The Unsung Story of the Women Behind India’s First Family of Music.

A poster of singer and director Gingger Shankar
A poster of singer and director Gingger Shankar
Nari is the story of Lakshmi Shankar and Viji Shankar (Gingger’s grandmother and mother, respectively, Lakshmi also being virtuoso Ravi Shankar’s sister-in-law). The two women traveled extensively across the US in the 1960s and 1970s with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison (of the Beatles fame), bringing Indian music to the West. The screening will also have Gingger live on stage, providing both narration and live music on the double violin.

3rd i will also be re-screening an Indian animation movie from 2013, The World of Goopi and Bagha.

“We aim to reach all age groups,” Vaidya said, pointing out that just to provide the Bollywood touch, 3rd i will also be screening the kitschy but phenomenally entertaining Om Shanti Om.

“There’s nothing more exuberant than Om Shanti Om to remind us why we love cinema so much,” Vaidya said.

Click here to check out the great fare on view at the festival.

A trailer of what to expect:.

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