TSAFF 2023’s hybrid format offers in-person screenings from October 12-15 and continues virtually on TasveerTV from October 16-22 • Courtesy

‘Breaking Cinematic Barriers’ is the theme for Seattle’s 18th Tasveer South Asian Film Festival (TSAFF), which opens on October 12th across multiple venues in the city.

The festival consists of 83 curated films, reflecting the vast diversity, range, and cinematic excellence of South Asia. The lineup includes 23 features, 60 shorts, 20 documentaries, and 63 narratives, as well as work from 55 filmmakers, 33 of whom are female-identified, and spans 11 countries and 26 languages.

2023 is also a special year for TSAFF, as it becomes the first and only South Asian film festival whose winning films are now eligible for submission to the Oscars. The inclusion marks a very important watershed moment in Tasveer’s over two decades of advocacy for representation and inclusion of historically underrepresented South Asian narratives and stories. 

“As the only Oscar-qualifying South Asian festival, we are committed to presenting a program of unparalleled depth and significance,” said Tasveer co-founder Rita Meher. “Our festival winners can directly compete in the Academy Awards run, allowing authentic South Asian narratives to shine on the grandest stage, unfiltered and unmediated.”

A film still from ‘Munnel,’ which will open TSAFF on October 12, 2023.

The festival opens at the Pacific Science Center with Munnel (2023) by Sri Lankan filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaram. The drama centers around protagonist Rudran, an ex-Tamil militant, who returns home after military detention in search of his lover Vaani, who vanished after the war. Chandrasekaram’s cinematic restraint and sensitive portrayal of Rudran by actor Sivakumar Lingeswaran, who will both be present for the post-screening Q&A session, is striking. 

The list of films selected for TSAFF 2023 is wide-ranging, and while it is not possible to name all of them, here are some that I loved. These works made me reflect on gender bias, breaking stereotypes, representation, displacement and belonging of diasporic peoples, environmental issues, and LGBTQIA+ concerns throughout the South Asian diaspora.

The film poster for TSAFF’s centerpiece film, ‘Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest.’

The centerpiece film Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest (2021), directed by Nancy Svendsen, follows Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Mount Everest in 1993. She battled racism and gender bias in pursuit of her goal and her unwavering tenacity serves as an inspiration for future generations. Blue Sunshine (2023), by filmmaker Samyuktha Vijayan, is a biopic on the everyday struggles of Aravind who is transitioning from male to female while working as a teacher in a conservative school in Southern India. 

Reema Maya’s film Nocturnal Burger (2023) unfolds in the middle of the night in a Mumbai police station. As the investigation into a child abuse case deepens, layers of trauma are stripped bare. It is gritty. It is noir. It transports the viewer to the underbelly of Mumbai. 

Roots in the Wind (2022), directed by Soraya Akhlaqi, explores the trauma of diasporic displacement and the insecurity of straddling two worlds. In the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, there was a mass exodus of Afghanis to Iran. But despite living there for decades, there is a constant state of suspension between two cultures, belonging to neither — not accepted as Irani citizens yet have never seen their homeland Afghanistan. Filmmaker Akhlaqi centers unheard voices and human rights in her films: “An immigrant since I was born in Iran … I was born in a country where I was always called an outsider. Someone who should return to her homeland one day! But which homeland?”

American Sikh (2023) by Vishavjit Singh and Ryan Westra is an animated true story of Vishvajit Singh who, in his avatar as a superhero, breaks stereotypes about the Sikh community that are often subjected to violent hate crimes in the U.S., especially after the events of  9/11. The Wing Luke Museum showcased Singh’s WHAM! BAM! POW! Cartoons, Turbans, & Confronting Hate exhibit in 2019.

Interspersed with screenings are a series of industry panels, where experts offer insights into the world of film production, including behind-the-scenes perspectives on filmmaking and funding. TSAFF will also host Q&A discussions with directors, producers, and actors in attendance.

A film still from ‘Catfish,’ which shows at TSAFF’s closing night.

TSAFF 2023 will conclude with its program ‘Perspectives from Pakistan,’ comprising three brilliant short films from Pakistan. The first is Catfish (2023) by Abdullah Shahid, which is a “satirical exploration of male homosocial relationships in the Pakistani workplace.” Then, City of Men (2021), directed by Hira Yousafzai, about female rebellion in conservative, patriarchal Pashtun society where the honor, or ghairat, rests solely on the woman’s shoulders. And lastly, Eid Mubarak (2022) by Mahnoor Euceph, where 6-year-old Iman tries to save her beloved goat on the festival of Eid. 

These films collectively celebrate the cinematic range and excellence of independent filmmakers from Pakistan and will be followed by a post-screening Q&A with both Catfish screenwriter and director Abdullah Shahid and composer Natasha Shields, and an award ceremony and reception.

TSAFF 2023’s hybrid format offers in-person screenings from October 12 – 15 and continues virtually on TasveerTV from October 16 – 22. For complete details on the festival, visit https://tasveerfestival.org/

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