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Cinequest, the bastion of film and media-tech discovery, finally returns to downtown San Jose August 16-29, as an in-person festival. With a film lineup that is bigger and bolder than ever, they will showcase 220 movies (130 of which are World or US Premieres) along with hundreds of presenting artists from 55 countries.

“I think it will be a great experience,” co-founder and Festival Director Halfdan Hussey said. “The thing about Cinequest is you get people from all walks of life who get together to experience film. It’s going to be fun and joyous being together again.”

This year the filmmakers and stars are back in-person. Comedian/actor Jim Gaffigan will accept the Maverick Spirit award after the opening night screening of his film, Linoleum. Actor Alison Brie who will receive her award August 17 after the screening of Spin Me Round, which she co-wrote with director Jeff Baena.

This year, once again, India Currents will be presenting two of the four South Asian offerings, showcasing the talents of India’s rising stars behind and in front of the camera.

World Premiere Of The Other Side (‘Palyad’) Presented By India Currents

This is a story of a family: grandfather Mahadu, his widowed daughter-in-law Lakshmi, and her young son Shambhu. This family belongs to the Smashan Jogi community, a community who traditionally assist people in carrying out the last rites of their loved ones. As head of the family, Mahadu strongly believes in the traditional work of cremating people with age-old rituals and expects young Shambhu to carry on this tradition forward once he grows up, just like his late son did.

Yet Shambhu hates this traditional work of cremating people. Instead he is interested in donning a uniform and attending school. But education is forbidden for the Smashan Jogi community in this bigoted village, where the leader considers superstitious, and religious beliefs above progressive human endeavors. Shambhu stealthily attempts to attend the local school with help of his mother, but will he pay a heavy price?

IC: What was the most challenging aspect of directing this film?

Director and Producer Shailesh Bhimrao Dupare: “This is my debut film as a director. My co-writer Sudarshan Khadangale and I, together studied and researched the subject matter painstakingly to get the facts right since the subject matter of the film is based on existing tradition and ritual in remote rural India.

One of the challenges was to find a location. According to the needs of the story, it was necessary to find a village with the right kind of artefacts to support the storyline. Since the film was being made on a shoestring budget, we could not afford to erect grand sets. We visited 80 to 90 villages and shortlisted 9 to 10 villages as locations for the film.

Another challenge was to get a right child actor for Shambhu`s role. We always knew we would cast a non-actor for this role to keep the character real. Ruchit, a non-actor was selected for the pivotal role of Shambhu. Having never faced a camera before, it was a challenging task for us to prepare him for the role. Ruchit went through several script readings and 2 months of acting workshop to transport him into Shambhu`s skin.”

Thursday, August 18

 6:45 p.m.

California Theatre, San Jose

Friday, August 19

1:30 p.m.

Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose

Shoebox Presented By India Currents

‘Shoebox’ is the story of a man’s valiant struggle to keep alive a crumbling past. (Photo via Cinequest)

Mesmerizing, beautiful, inspirational. A girl watches her father struggle to keep his single-screen theatre alive, as her hometown Allahabad in India acquires a new name and starts losing traces of its past.

Looking development in the eye, an ailing Madhav Chatterjee battles to keep his decrepit single screen theatre alive. His daughter Mampu tends to her father, but finds him too immersed in the past, while she struggles to look both forward and back.

The theatre contains within its crumbling walls an entire childhood and her most anchored friendship. Much like a river disappearing, the gentle flow of memories are held ransom by demands of the present. As the last few strands of her identity trickle out of the theatre, Mampu struggles to find a sense of belonging in her shapeshifting hometown.

IC: Your debut film Shoebox is set in a changing city, ruminating on sentimentality for things, and preserving one’s way of life. It feels like it is told through a personal lens. How does Mampu’s dilemma—to stay and protect or leave and move forward—resonate with your own life? 

Director Faraz Ali: “I was born in a small town in India where I staged this film. Migration to a metropolis began my cycle of ‘returning home’ every year – when I slowly realized that I had become both the city and its observer in one. I saw many more like me, facing change and not understanding when or how it set in. We realized that we cannot stake claims over our collective past without living in it. This conflict between the sentimentality of the past and the practicality of the present led me to this story. We all have homes we wish we could return to. But a shapeshifting city has little interest in nostalgia.”

Monday, August 22

6:45 p.m.

California Theatre, San Jose

Thursday, August 25

12:30 p.m.

Pruneyard Cinemas, Campbell

Saturday, August 27

2:30 p.m.

Pruneyard Cinemas, Campbell

Mixtape Trilogy: Stories Of The Power Of Music

Rapper and activist Talib Kweli in ‘The Mixtape Trilogy, which also features pianist Vijay Iyer. (Photo via India Currents)

This film explores one of the most intense and unique relationships between people who rarely meet: music artists and their fans. Folk-rock icons Indigo Girls openly share their journey, which has powerfully influenced the life of their biggest fan. Composer and pianist Vijay Iyer examines issues of immigration and race through his music; his work touches the heart of Garnette, a “man of the streets” from Kingston, Jamaica. Rapper and activist Talib Kweli inspires and transforms the life of Mike, a “Hip Hop” architect from Detroit.

The director unpacks the music and the audience is invited to fall into it. The art of listening unfolds and inspires us to listen to music and, perhaps, each other in new ways.

IC: How is this production bringing something new to this story?

Kathleen Ermitage, Director/Producer: Our film is about the power of music. We focused on the “conversation” between musicians and fans, which can be a life-long journey together.

There are three stories in the film. In the second story the audience sees how New-York-born pianist and composer Vijay Iyer touches the heart, soul, and mind of a man who was born in Jamaica. The audience witnesses these two men as they come of age and come together through music. 

The two other stories feature rock-folk duo Indigo Girls and hip hop artist Talib Kweli.

Each of these stories in the film take the audience on a ride through the conversations that happen through music. Musicians and fans—and the audience—may be forever changed by these experiences.”

Monday, August 22

7:00 p.m.

Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose

Thursday, August 25

4:30 p.m.

Pruneyard Cinemas, Campbell

With This Breath I Fly

Preceded by the music video Freedom.

A scene from ‘With This Breath, I Fly.’ (Photo provided by Cinequest)

At the height of the international occupation of Afghanistan, two women are imprisoned on charges of “moral crimes” by an Afghan justice system that is supported by billions of dollars of aid money from the European Union.

Shot over ten years, With This Breath I Fly follows these two courageous women as they fight for their freedom against a patriarchal Afghan society determined to keep them bound to tribal culture. The film exposes the complicity of the European Union in censoring their voices, and how the international press – and this documentary itself – forever alters the course of their lives.

IC: This film was shot over 10 years, and touches uptown such a sensitive and poignant time in the lives of the two women. How did the narrative change over the years? 

Director Sam French: “Our goal with the film was to present their story using verite filmmaking to allow the audience to identify on a human level with their fight for freedom. However, halfway through filming, the European Union (who provided the initial funding for the film) decided to ban the film and in effect censor their voices. The unintentional outcome of this decision was that the international press decided to cover the story, leading to widespread news coverage. One of the women in the film, Gulnaz, became the face of women’s rights in Afghanistan, and because of this intense media pressure, President Karzai issued Gulnaz an unprecedented Presidential pardon.

With This Breath I Fly could not be more relevant today. Thousands of women are still imprisoned for “moral crimes” in Afghanistan. And now that the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan’s government, women’s rights are under threat more than ever before. The Taliban have already instituted a draconian enforcement of sharia law, denying women education, forcing them out of public life, and instituting even stricter punishments for “moral crimes.” 

By shining a spotlight on this injustice, and by presenting an intimate story of two Afghan women fighting for their freedom, we hope to remind the international community not to abandon the thousands of Afghan women trapped in a patriarchal tribal culture which has already led to Afghanistan itself becoming a prison.”

Tue, Aug 16

4:45 p.m.

3Below, San Jose  

Sat, Aug 27

 2:45 p.m.

Pruneyard Cinemas, Campbell

Sun, Aug 28

2:00 p.m.

Pruneyard Cinemas, Campbell

This is the first “Summertime Cinequest,” allowing everyone to enjoy a new outdoor beer/wine garden, along with indoors lounges—both facilitating the renowned Cinequest

connectivity and hospitality.

Tickets and passes for the festival are on sale at www.cinequest.org.

Mona Shah

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...