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Never been to a film festival before? Due to the pandemic, they’re more accessible than ever, having pivoted to digital extravaganzas inviting people to “attend” who might not have had the chance otherwise. 

One of the premier festivals promoting diverse images of South Asians through the independent film is 3rd i’s 18th annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF), offered for free Oct 23-25, 2020, as a completely virtual experience.

Part of the appeal of a film festival is our surrender to the collective experience: we walk into the theatre, sit down with everyone else and watch a movie together. In the best version of that experience, the audience becomes a single organism, a coming together of people in the spirit of discovery, a connection we make with our fellow attendees. 

So, what will it mean for us to watch these independent films in the privacy of our homes, alone in our living rooms? Art. That is the reason we lend our attention to a film festival. Art gives comfort and solace, a reason to hope. In the end, art’s power is more important than where or how we see it.

India Currents writer Mona Shah in conversation with 3rd i’s Artistic Director Ivan Jaigirdar about how the festival has innovated to keep our attention rapt.

IC: What in your opinion is the silver lining to taking the festival virtual? 

Ivan Jaigirdar: 3rd i audiences are not just from the Bay Area or those who fly in, but it gives access to audiences anywhere in the world, reaching the Diaspora globally. Given Covid-19, we’re able to still hold the festival, celebrate South Asian cinema, and keep safe. Making the programs free this year allows greater access to new audiences. 

We get to interview filmmakers from abroad and reduce the carbon footprint since they are not flying in. With Zoom interviews for the Festival in their homes, it feels more accessible with the casual atmosphere.

IC: How important is the in-person experience? 

Ivan Jaigirdar: Celebrating diversity and community is the key to our Film Festival and there lies the importance of in-person experience. That’s to say, a lot of activity happens in terms of our awareness of each other and of “the other”—both within ourselves “the other,” and outside of ourselves when we experience a film together in person.  We get to dream together and have emotions about a film and then discuss it together.

IC: Do you see this as a shift, a portend of how things might change for film festivals in the future? 

Ivan Jaigirdar: As festivals are discovering the benefits of online programming, they may consider hybrid programming in the future, for example online and in theaters during a Festival, and developing 3-D virtual.

This year get thrilled by stumbling onto something new – a film, a filmmaker, a movement.

Here are a few of the notable selections from the festival to add to your watch-list.

Opening Night: 10/23 @ 7:30pm “Levity and Artivism with Fawzia Mirza” will have a post-screening live Q&A (discussing her work across theater, TV, and film, and her thoughts on feminist and queer politics in South Asia, specifically Pakistan.) with viewers submitting questions in an online chat after the screening.

The screening will be of her short films Queen Of My Dreams (2012), and I Know Her (2019) which recently made the rounds of the Cannes Film Festival. Free with registration.

Artist, SETI X

Closing Night:  10/25 @7pm Word to Your Motherland with artist SETI X will screen a short then do live performance before the LIVE Q&A  with viewers submitting questions in an online chat after it. Free with registration.

Movie: Road to Ladakh

A homage to one of the greats of Indian cinema, Irrfan Khan, Road To Ladakh. A sensual suspenseful love story revolving around an encounter between two strangers thrown together by chance into the magnificent wilderness of Ladakh. A post-screening discussion will follow with Oscar nominee, director Ashvin Kumar. Free with registration.

Movie: Lucky

Avie Luthra’s Lucky, a narrative based on a short of the same name, was nominated for an Oscar award in 2005. Delicately crafted, both in story and visual style, this beautiful, emotional tale explores the unusual alliance between an elderly Indian woman (with an irrational fear of Africans) and a South African orphan in post-Apartheid South Africa.  Luthra’s film will be followed by a discussion with the filmmaker about the South Asian community and its relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement. Free with registration.

Knock, Knock, Knock, a crossword puzzle master and a young student develop a “cat and mouse” relationship in an enigmatic and engrossing psychological thriller set against the stunning locales of the hill-station Darjeeling. A post-screening discussion will follow with director Sudhansu Saria. Free with registration.

More information about the festival is available on our website at: www.thirdi.org


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines. 

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