Left to right: Tasveer Executive Director Rita Meher, Laila Kazmi from KCTS 9, and Festival Director Kiran Dhillon at a sneak preview for SSAFF’s upcoming films, which will start screening on October 15, 2015. • Photo by Lexi Poter
Left to right: Tasveer Executive Director Rita Meher, Laila Kazmi from KCTS 9, and Festival Director Kiran Dhillon at a sneak preview for SSAFF’s upcoming films, which will start screening on October 15, 2015. • Photo by Lexi Poter

On September 15, Tasveer and KCTS 9 hosted an evening preview of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival (SSAFF). The preview took place at the Northwest Film Forum in Capitol Hill. It included film clips and trailer viewings alongside a discussion of SSAFF’s upcoming film screenings, workshops, and other events.

SSAFF is the largest, most diverse South Asian film festival in the United States. This year it will include screenings of 59 feature-length and short films over 12 days. These films come from nine countries, and will be shown at venues in Seattle, Renton, Redmond, Bellevue, and Bothell. Filmmakers from all over the world are coming to attend the screenings and participate in Q&A discussions.

Tasveer, the nonprofit behind SSAFF, was founded by Rita Meher and Farah Nousheen in the aftermath of 9/11. Following the attacks, an eruption of racial violence sprang up against Central and South Asians. Both women were working in IT at the time, but quit their jobs to found the organization that now aims to increase awareness of South Asian countries and cultures through visual and performance art.

At the preview event, Meher recounted the distressing experience that led to her career change: she had worked hard and recently gained U.S. citizenship, when a man yelled, “Go back to your f—ing country!” while she was walking down the street. This firsthand experience of racism inspired Meher to create a space in which South Asians could combat misrepresentation and hear their stories told. She transformed her oppression into art, making a short film about the incident.

Over a decade since its founding, Tasveer now runs three South Asian festivals in the Greater Seattle area. Tasveer’s festivals generate dialogue to connect cultures, provide a platform for marginalized communities to express themselves, and offer programs to support and inspire local filmmakers. SSAFF 2015 will feature 5 films by local artists.

KCTS 9’s Laila Kazmi (left) speaks with Festival Director Kiran Dhillon about SSAFF’s films, events, and its tenth anniversary theme, “Coming Home.” SSAFF’s 2015 films represent 9 countries, and will screen in 5 cities across Greater Seattle. • Photo by Lexi Potter
KCTS 9’s Laila Kazmi (left) speaks with Festival Director Kiran Dhillon about SSAFF’s films, events, and its tenth anniversary theme, “Coming Home.” SSAFF’s 2015 films represent 9 countries, and will screen in 5 cities across Greater Seattle. • Photo by Lexi Potter

SSAFF will highlight one country each year from now onwards, starting with Sri Lanka. The organizers have also decided to introduce a central theme: “Coming Home.” This theme is especially apparent in For Here or To Go?, a American-made film about a bright young tech worker in California navigating the U.S. immigration system. His experiences cause him to ponder whether it would be better to follow his dreams in America or return to India, as he struggles to create a new home and becomes aware of the cost of being considered a constant outsider by American society. (For Here or To Go? will play at SSAFF’s Opening Night Gala on October 15.)

The lineup this year features six films addressing LGBTQ themes. Comedian Fawzia Mirza will fly in from Chicago to share her short film, The First Session, during the Centerpiece Gala at Seattle Asian Art Museum. Mirza will perform her one-woman play at the gala, entitled Me, My Mom and Sharmila, a humorous and insightful story about a queer South Asian young woman developing her identity while growing up in a conservative Pakistani family.

The festival also includes thought-provoking films to challenge, educate, engage, surprise, and entertain viewers. Of particular note, Among the Believers provides an extremely detailed look into Abdulaziz’s Red Mosque. Never-before-seen interviews address radical Islam’s rise in Pakistan, along with the struggles of a more moderate and secular majority opposed to ISIS. Among the Believers filmmakers Hemal Trivedi and Mo Naqvi are expected to attend the screening at SIFF Film Center in at Seattle Center, and will be available to answer questions about their filmmaking experiences.

SSAFF’s Closing Night film, The Spectacular Jihad of Taz Rahim, follows a New York City pot dealer who becomes a paid informant in the NYPD intelligence unit’s sketchy program to identify terrorists. Based on true events following 9/11, the film addresses the shocking actions of the CIA and NYPD, who recruited small-time South Asian criminals to spy on Muslim American communities. The Spectacular Jihad of Taz Rahim screening will welcome the film’s director Raghav Murali, along with lead actor Rahsaan Islam, at a reception at Renton’s Carco Theatre to discuss the NYPD’s unjust, racially targeted program and their work making the film.

To learn more about the 2015 SSAFF films and locations, purchase festival passes or individual tickets, visit http://ssaff.tasveer.org/2015/.

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