Just when everyone has wrung dry every distraction from COVID-19, Tasveer, a South Asian arts organization based in Seattle, brings housebound audiences a little relief with CoSAFF, a one-of-a-kind virtual South Asian film festival. The festival, which runs from Oct. 3 – 17 will be available to view online as Video on Demand on Vimeo, and is free for all to view. 

After the onset of COVID-19 earlier this spring, executive director of Tasveer, Rita Meher, grew concerned that independent South Asian filmmakers would struggle to find an audience for their films.  Meher said in a Zoom interview that it was important to continue the festival as members of the South Asian community have come to rely on the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival — now in its 15th year —  for entertainment. This led her to discussions with other South Asian film festival leaders on how best to reach their communities at a time when in-person events can be hostile to health. CoSAFF grew out of those conversations.

This festival is a collaboration between seven U.S. and Canadian South Asian film festivals. They include Seattle’s Tasveer South Asian Film Festival, Chicago South Asian Film Festival, Washington DC South Asian Film Festival, Toronto’s Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival, Maryland’s Nepal America International Film Festival, South Asian Film Festival of Montreal, and Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival.  

In a Zoom interview, artistic director of CoSAFF Pulkit Datta said that festival programmers from all seven organizations combed through their submissions and selected their best for this unprecedented collaboration. The festival opens with “Mee Raqsam” by Baba Azmi, a veteran cinematographer making his directorial debut.  Audiences will be spoilt for choice with films from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, as well as the South Asian diaspora in Canada, South Africa, UK and US, screening over the 15 days of the festival. 

Many of the films have an independent focus Datta noted, and span a variety of genres including feature films, shorts, animation and documentaries.  He was excited about Our Animated Lives, a block of cutting-edge animation such as Wade, directed by Kiran Bhakta Joshi, a short from Nepal about climate change.  Another animation short to screen in the segment is Cyberchondria, directed by Upamanyu Bhattacharyya and Kalp Sanghvi, about one man’s deep dive into the digital life.

Meher added that India has a strong animation industry that works on films produced in Hollywood but it is only recently that South Asian animators are creating their own works, contemporary films less focused on the traditional “song and dance” or “mythological” stories associated with Bollywood.

Other topical themes in the short films focus on LGBTQ stories, films created by women filmmakers, and shorts about racism in South Asian communities in Black Lives Matter Everywhere.  Tarun Jain’s Kaala portrays the prejudice experienced by a Nigerian man working in India, and the challenges he faces dating an Indian woman. “First and Last” directed by Badar Tareen tackles racism towards African Americans in the South Asian American community as represented in the friendship between an Indian American woman and her African American boyfriend.

Along with films, CoSAFF also offers live virtual Q&As with filmmakers as well as industry panels and workshops.  Audiences can check out discussions with actors including Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi in Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, in the panel “Beyond Representation with South Asian Diaspora Actors,” and a masterclass workshop with actor, director and writer Nandita Das. Filmmakers can sign up for industry panels about entertainment law, crowdfunding, and “My First Feature Film.” Panels and workshops are free but require registration. 

The festival schedule for CoSAFF is online at tasveer.org. The festival is online from Oct. 3 – October 17 and is free to all. 

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