The 11th Annual South Asian International Film Festival will kick off in New York City on November 18 through November 23. As the largest film premiere destination for both emerging and established South Asian filmmakers in the United States, SAIFF 2014 is set to screen some films already causing a big buzz.

The week-long annual show of events will take place at the SVA and AMC Loews Theaters in New York City, and for the seventh year running, HBO will be the presenting sponsor.

The festival is especially big this year as it’s presenting “Dukhtar,” Pakistan’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 87th Academy Awards. “Dukhtar,” also SAIFF’s competition feature film, which will screen on Sat., Nov. 22 at the SVA Theatre, was directed by Columbia University grad (and New Yorker) Afia Nathaniel.

The film “Titli,” also playing next week, was screened at Cannes in 2014. “Killa,” another film to feature at SAIFF, was a winner at the Berlin Film Festival in the children’s movie category.

Longtime TV anchor Joya Dass has been named the new Executive Director of the film festival. As she heads into the final stretch, she finds herself answering questions about the transition from the anchor desk to producing such a large scale event.

joya dass

Joya Dass, executive director of the South Asian Film Festival 2014

“Actually I made the transition five years ago, when I went freelance from anchoring and helmed my own film crew on a shoot in Tamil Nadu, India. My first feature length documentary ‘First Sight’ premiered here at SAIFF last year,” she said. “So becoming executive director is the perfect storm of everything I have done in my career: Journalism, film production, event production and public speaking.”

With the festival’s opening night just a few days away, Dass is working around the clock to make sure filmmakers make it to New York on time, tickets are selling out on the website, and the films are playing at their respective theaters and tech checked.

“We are down to the homestretch,” remarked Dass with a wry smile. “Its just five days away and my filmmakers begin arriving on Sunday.”  

In fact, nine of the opening night filmmakers are arriving this weekend.

Debuting on day one of the festival,“X,” is a unique brainchild of 11 directors, where each one was responsible for making a part of the film. The film chronicles a filmmaker’s journey into his past relationships after he meets an interesting woman who, he realizes, has something in common with each of his past exes.

Since one of the themes of this year’s festival is the emergence of several female filmmakers, it’s important to highlight Rajshree Ojha’s work, as she is the only woman director of “X.”

Another female focused film is Nathaniel’s directorial debut film, “Dukhtar,” a drama-thriller set in Pakistan. 

“In this particular instance, the mother in the story is a victim of a child marriage, and she doesn’t want that for her child,” Dass said. “So she is on the run with her daughter. Everyone, including her own husband, is in a dead heat to find her.”

The film also marks a resurgence of Pakistani cinema, often overshadowed by the prolific Indian film industry, better known as Bollywood.  Three actors from “Dukhtar” and Nathaniel will do a Q&A session after the screening on Sat., Nov. 22 at the SVA Theatre. 


(From left to right) “Dukhtar’s” director Afia Nathaniel and a still shot from the film, screening on Nov. 22 at SAIFF 2014

“We’re so honored to screen her film at our festival,” Dass said. “SAIFF works to support indie and emerging filmmakers, like Afia, from the South Asian diaspora. That’s always been the overarching theme, and because of this mission, we are getting to see films we might not get to see otherwise.”

Both feature films and short films will be screened at the festival, with awards following. A jury will decide the winners for best feature film, runner-up feature and best director. A Grand Jury Award will also go to the best short film, which includes a $1,000 cash prize provided by sponsor HBO. Two additional awards for audience choice best feature and short film will be chosen for the viewer favorites.

To purchase tickets, please visit and contribute to their Kickstarter fund