In its 21st edition, 3rd i film festival in San Francisco provokes as much as it entertains

By Preeti Gamzeh

Finally back to a full on in-person programming after the pandemic, this year’s 21st annual 3rd i International Film Festival showcased once more an impressive breadth and artistic depth of South Asian cinema.

The staff behind the 3rd i film festival

Going back to full on in person programming was no easy feat though, as festival director Ivan Jagirdar noted. “This year, we couldn’t get the Castro (a popular historic cinema hall in the Castro district of San Francisco) like we usually do. All screenings happened at the smaller Roxie in the Mission. Which in a way made it more compact, but then we had to do two screenings of the opening night film, because of the demand.”

Indeed, the opening night screening of the provocative “While We Watched” was the most anticipated watch. The film is a taut and intense newsroom memoir-like tribute to the fearless Indian journalist Ravish Kumar.

Film maker Vinay Shukla, who is taking the film to big and small festivals, discussed how he wanted to make a film that really challenged personality-driven news production in India, while at the same time, his film ended up reinforcing the very dynamics he was seeking to challenge.

The film was screened twice back to back on opening night as it had garnered much word-of-mouth popularity for showcasing the utterly dire state of mainstream Indian media.

The 3rd i film festival is one of the few such events to also actively center the work of women film makers, and this year too was no exception. Nishtha Jain’s celebrated Golden Threads, on the dying jute industry in India was a major attraction, as was Bangladeshi film maker Elizabeth D’Costa’s Bangla Surf Girls, on how surfing is a way out of poverty and patriarchal familial control for Bangladeshi girls in the coastal town of Cox’s Bazaar.

Payal Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing was yet another experimental documentary on the CAA/NRC protests at the Pune Film Institute; and Shalini Kantayya’s Tik Tok Boom was a straight up film exploring the rise and political fall of the social media platform, Tik Tok.

A surprising sleeper winner was the children’s film Kathal/Jackfruit, examining through sharp wit and satire, how gender and class discrimination are rampant in Indian society.

A popular attraction of the festival is the short film screening, titled From Mumbai to the Mission, were an interesting and very eclectic array of shorts, ranging from slapstick and sci-fi to horror.

Among the most notable ones was Oakland-based independent filmmaker Rucha Chitnis’ short, Van versus Vikas, which translates from Hindi to Forest versus Development. The short traces the powerful struggle by local indigenous communities in the city of Mumbai, India to preserve the Aarey forest, one of the last urban jungles in the country.

The other most powerful film screened was the closing night film that was once again packed: Joyland. A Pakistani feature film exploring themes of gender fluidity, sexuality and class, it was a most haunting, lyrical watch.

In the coming year, 3rd i film fest organizers announced more thematic programming on issues such as caste, gender and sexuality, environment and climate change. For more information about the film festival and to subscribe to their newsletter, visit,

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