Film patrons in the northwest can get a taste of Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka this October as the largest South Asian Film Festival in the nation kicks off its 10th year.
This year, Tasveer, the team behind Seattle South Asian Film Festival, bring several different changes to the well-established program. The festival produced by Tasveer will take place from October 15 to 25 in five cities: Seattle, Redmond, Bothell, Bellevue, and Renton.
Festival director Kiran Dhillon said the reason Tasveer co-founders Rita Meher and Farah Nousheen started the festival was to increase the dialogue and understanding of South Asia in the greater Seattle and American community. She said the committee saw more films this year from different parts of South Asia. For the first time, the festival committee decided to highlight a specific country: Sri Lanka.
Most South Asian film festivals tend to focus on India or receive many submissions from Indian filmmakers, which Dhillon said isn’t surprising due to the major mainstream and robust independent film industries in the country. However, the committee also wanted to highlight stories from other parts of South Asia.
“The [Sri Lankan film] industry has been around since 1947, it survived the civil war,” Dhillon said. “There are a lot of anti-war stories … but there are also stories about love, and family, and relationships and they’re so incredibly well-made.”
As part of the retrospective on Sri Lanka, the festival will feature a trilogy by director Prasanna Vithanage that explores stories set against the backdrop of the aftermath of the country’s civil war.
The festival also selected a theme: coming home. Dhillon said committee members agreed on the theme due to its universality.
“The more we started talking about it, we started questioning each other, you know, ‘What does [coming home] mean to you?’” she said. “The concept of home is so personal [for everyone] and there’s so much emotion tied to it.”
Dhillon added that it’s also a theme that can resonate not only with specifically South Asian immigrant communities, but also other groups of any origin.
“It could be for all immigrant communities—anyone can relate, even someone who moved from California to Washington,” Dhillon said.
For some filmmakers, this theme resonated strongly with their experience putting the film together.
For Cathy and Leonard Stevulak, director and co-producers of the 28-minute film Threads, the idea of coming home resonated well with their experiences of putting together the film.
Threads tells the story of a woman who, when her husband fell ill, turned to art and community to support her family. She transforms an ancient Bengali quilt-work tradition with her own designs. Along with a Canadian woman, she established an organization to teach women in hardship, who often don’t have much opportunity for upward mobility, to embroider.
“In the film we actually show some of these women in their homes after working on this embroidery work for 30 years, and they have homes to come home to now,” Leonard Stevulak said. “They’ve managed to buy their own homes, they’ve managed to buy land, put their kids through school, fed their family.”
While both are originally from the northwest, the pair worked in the aid and development industry in Bangladesh, and the production team included locals in Bangladesh as well as locals from the northwest and Canada. Cathy Stevulak said after spending these years abroad, having the film shown at the Seattle festival is like the film’s “homecoming.”
But aside from films that embody the theme, Dhillon said there are also plenty of films that explore themes other than “coming home.”
One example is the 1-minute film “Flying Kiss” by Tarun Seth, who originally submitted the film to the Tacoma Filmmakers and Screenwriters’ Wait-a-Minute Film Competition. The theme for that festival was “reflection.”
“The story is of a couple celebrating and enjoying their special occasion happily until the girl happens to see the boy through a reflection, and he’s not who she thinks he is,” Seth said.
Although he normally works at an IT company and makes films as a hobby, Seth said the filming experience was an enjoyable one. With a 2-person crew of himself and his wife, Seth filmed the 1-minute movie in a restaurant that lets him get footage during non-peak hours.
“Flying Kiss” won three awards in a row at the Tacoma festival: Best Film by judges, Best Film by audience, and Best use of mystery element — reflection.
Dhillon said ultimately, the organizers of the festival and the Tasveer group are interested in pushing the way people think of the world with the variety of films and themes shown in the program.
“I’ve certainly had a lot of my beliefs challenged watching a lot of the films SSAFF has shown over the years,” Dhillon said. “We don’t just want this to be a festival for South Asians, we want it to be for the greater community. … We want Seattle to show up.”