The first ever Dallas/Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival will take place at the Angelika Film Center in Plano, Texas from Feb. 27 to March 1.
The three-day festival is scheduled to screen 14 independent documentaries, shorts and feature films that tell the diverse stories of the South Asian diaspora living around the world. Highlighting a wide range of themes rarely shown in mainstream South Asian media, from child sex trafficking (“Sold”) and mass gentrification (“Tomorrow We Disappear”) to social pressures (“Acceptance”) and LGBT challenges (“Asian Pride Project”), DFW South Asian Film Festival is the first of its kind to make its way to the North Texas area.
“There’s a huge appetite for these kinds of films in Texas because what Texas gets is primarily Bollywood,” said Jitin Hingorani, DFW SAFF Festival Director and CEO of JINGO Media, the public relations and events management boutique firm producing the festival.
“And Bollywood, while it’s great, is escapist cinema, and it has its place. But we don’t see ourselves in Bollywood,” he said. “We don’t drive the cars that they drive in ‘Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham.’ We don’t live in those mansions. It’s time that we bring cinema in Texas that we can see our lives reflected in. That’s what South Asian independent cinema does — we can see ourselves in these movies. We can see the NRI characters. We can see the people who are struggling back home and the people who are living in this country and are struggling here. So these are the stories that are going to resonate with the audience here so much more than the song and dance of the Bollywood genre.”
“Tomorrow We Disappear” examines the repercussions of gentrification in the artistic Delhi community of Kathputli Colony. Photo Courtesy: DFW SAFF
Each film being screened at DFW SAFF was hand-selected by Hingorani and his team over the last year of planning, with the goal of curating a selection of films that would represent the larger story of the South Asian diaspora often overlooked by mainstream cinema.
Where a father and son embark on an unexpected journey to mend their estranged relationship in the opening night feature, “Brahmin Bulls,” starring Academy Award winner Mary Steenburgen and Academy Award nominated Michael Lerner, out-of-tune musicians Goopi and Bagha are fighting war with music in “World of Goopi & Bagha,” an animated feature by the Childrens Film Society, India. Each film tells the humorous, heartbreaking and heartwarming narratives of people who, according to Hingorani, are just like everyone else.
“The reason that the South Asian community is at odds with the mainstream community is because the mainstream community just doesn’t understand us,” Hingorani said. “And what better way to understand a culture and understand someone’s story than through the medium of film? The idea is to expose these stories and show the mainstream community that we’re just like them. Our problems are no different than theirs, and our issues and our conflicts are no different than theirs. The idea is to unite the cultures and show that we are very much apart of the American fabric and here to stay.”
Hingorani added: “This is not the kind of film where you have you go have your samosa and popcorn and go home. We want you to sit down after with the filmmaker after — all of our filmmakers are flying in, and they’re going to be doing Q & A sessions after.”
“They’re going to be at the after-parties and engaging with the audience. So we wanted to create a festival environment where people could hang for three days and be apart of a movement rather than just see a film and go home,” he said.
In addition to uncovering the untold tales of the South Asian experience, the Dallas/Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival aims to spotlight one hard-hitting issue each year in an effort to spur social change through the arts. The pervasiveness of human sex trafficking in South Asia, where, with East Asia and the the Pacific, more than 10,000 cases were recorded between 2007 and 2010, is this year’s devoted cause.
Based on a novel by Patricia McCormick, “Sold” tells the story 13-year-old Lakshmi, who is sold into prostitution to pay off her family’s debts. Photo Courtesy: DFW SAFF
The festival’s centerpiece film, “Sold,” produced by Hollywood A-lister Emma Thompson and directed by Academy Award winner Jeffrey Brown, is centered around the story of a young Nepali girl who is unknowingly sold into prostitution. A fundraising party will be held following its screening to both raise awareness and funds to show the film at other film festivals around the world.
“Dallas, while it’s conservative, is also very willing to give when it comes to causes,” Hingorani said. “It’s also very empathetic. So the reason why we chose Dallas [to host the festival] is that it’s the number five media market in the country, and the other four media markets ahead of it already have their own South Asian film festivals. Dallas is the only one that doesn’t. So we really thought it was time, especially because the North Texas South Asian community is really burgeoning, and it’s really growing and doing amazing things.”
Gathering from the overwhelmingly positive response from the community already, Hingorani has big hopes for the years to come and is confident that the Dallas/Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival and the North Texas arts scene by large will continue to gain prominence.
DFW SAFF Festival Director Jitin Hingorani is a veteran journalist and CEO of JINGO Media. Photo Courtesy: Jitin Hingorani
“I want Dallas on the world map when it comes to a city where South Asian arts across the board are recognized and celebrated, and this is not just limited to film,” he said. “One of the first things I’m going to do after the film festival is done is I’m going to create a nonprofit arts organization in Dallas that brings visual artists, that brings dancers, that brings playwrights from India to Texas to do these festivals where we are celebrating the arts from South Asia and we’re giving these voices the opportunities to be heard in our communities.”
On a final note, Hingorani said, “We’re definitely here to stay, and we’re making plans on how to make the festival bigger and better, have more programming, use more screens, and to really engage the community. This is just the beginning.”
To see a full line-up of films showing and to purchase tickets, visit the the DFW SAFF website.