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Scenes from South Asia

Featured Photo from Scenes from South Asia

A Longwood woman’s vision will blossom on local screens in October at the 25th annual South Asian Film Festival

Jasbir Mehta walked into the Enzian theater in the mid-1990s on a very specific mission: She wanted to start a South Asian film festival at the Maitland movie house.

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” chuckles Jasbir, a Longwood resident and the executive director of the Asian Cultural Association (ACA).

Still, Enzian representatives were open to Jasbir’s idea and agreed to work with the ACA. Their partnership resulted in the launch of the South Asian Film Festival the following year,  in 1995.

This October, the festival will celebrate a major milestone – its 25th year of bringing South Asian-themed films to local audiences. This year’s expanded festival will include movie screenings at the Enzian from October 12-14 plus extra events at other venues.

The South Asian Film Festival showcases the diversity, culture, and heritage of the Indian subcontinent – which includes India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bhutan. Movies are submitted from filmmakers all over the world.

“The goal was to give young, independent filmmakers a forum to present their work,” Jasbir says. “That was the driving force and what motivated me.”

Jasbir founded the nonprofit ACA in 1991, initially as a performing-arts organization focused on music and dance. Since then, the association has expanded its scope to include media arts (film), visual arts, and educational programming.

The film festival has become one of the ACA’s most popular events, drawing a diverse demographic of moviegoers. It is also the oldest, continuously-running event of its kind in North America, according to Jasbir and Enzian representatives Matthew Curtis and Tim Anderson.

“It’s something we’re very proud of,” says Matthew, the theater’s programming director. “This really is an international festival of the highest order.”

From the start, the festival has steered clear of Bollywood films – epic-length Indian movies filled with lavish costumes, stunning locations, and plenty of lively music and dancing. The one exception organizers have made to their no Bollywood rule was screening the Oscar-nominated Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India at the request of the filmmakers. Instead of big, glitzy studio films, the festival showcases an eclectic mix of dramas, comedies, documentaries, and shorts.

“We want to showcase independent voices and visions outside Bollywood,” Matthew says.

Tim, the Enzian’s programming coordinator, adds, “These are smaller, very personalized stories.

Every year, Jasbir, Matthew, and Tim, watch several dozen movies before making their final selections. In previous years, the festival has showcased everything from feel-good movies such as Meet the Patels to Sold, a drama about human trafficking.

“I really respect that Jasbir does not shy away from programming films that may be controversial to the South Asian community,” Tim says.

Most of the festival selections are premieres, which means local audiences are treated to movies they can’t see elsewhere. The film committee doesn’t choose movies that are already available to the public via mainstream sources like Netflix.

Festival organizers are proud to have featured the work of up-and-coming directors before they made it big, such as Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha. Mira’s films include the drama Monsoon Wedding, and Gurinder’s include the hit comedy Bend It Like Beckham.

For Jasbir, the festival is not just about the images on the big screen. The event is intended to be an immersive experience for moviegoers. To add to the ambiance, the Enzian serves a South Asian menu during the festival, including Indian beer.

“It’s not about watching a movie and then going home,” Jasbir says. “You can have discussions with other audience members in between movies, enjoy the South Asian menu, and interact with filmmakers. It’s about experiencing the culture.”

Beyond Bollywood: 
The 25th Annual South Asian Film Festival is a weeklong affair this year, from October 7-14, with movie screenings from October 12-14 at the Enzian, a single-screen cinema café in Maitland. Additional events will be presented at other venues from October 7-11.

 Five programs will be shown at the Enzian – four full-length feature films and one block of movie shorts. A series pass is $55 for all five programs. Individual tickets are $12. For the movie schedule or to purchase tickets, go to Enzian.org.

Special events will include:
A screening of the documentary Girija: A Lifetime in Music, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on October 8 at the UCF Student Union. The movie, coproduced by Madhu Chandra of Winter Park, is about the late Girija Devi, a celebrated classical vocalist in India. Also, singer Rashmi Agarwal, who was a student of Girija’s, will perform.

A lecture at 6:00 p.m. on October 10 at Rollins College given by Dr. Yudit Kornberg Greenberg. She will talk about Jewish actresses in the early years of Indian cinema.

A pre-festival gala at 7:00 p.m. on October 11 at the Winter Park Community Center, with filmmakers as special guests.

Admission is free to the events at UCF and Rollins, but attendees must RSVP to ACAOrgFL@gmail.com. To purchase gala tickets, go to ACA-Florida.org.

 

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