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Seventeen years after the French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere showed six short films at Mumbai’s Watson’s Hotel (Esplanade Mansion) in 1898, and twelve years before Eisenstein’s masterpiece Battleship Potemkin, there was Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, a silent film featuring an all-male cast that premiered at the Coronation Cinema in Mumbai on April 21st 1913. Historians credit the film for heralding the start of India’s film industry.
One hundred years later and Bay Area film buffs will have a chance to view Raja Harishchandra at 3rd i Film’s 11th San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival running from November 7 through 10 at the New People and Castro Theatres in San Francisco and on November 16 at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto. This year’s theme celebrates one hundred years of Indian cinema from across the silver-screened spectrum with classics, documentaries, experimental film and cutting-edge Bollywood.
In addition to Raja Harishchandra, the history of cinema in India will be honored with Celluloid Man, the award winning portrait of the founder of India’s National Film Archive, P.K. Nair.
The Revolutionary Optimist, one of several fascinating documentaries being screened, has a Bay Area connection. Film makers Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham are professors at Stanford University. Grainger-Monsen is a physician and director of the Program in Bioethics in Film at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. Nicole Newnham, her co-director, is a documentary film maker, writer and filmmaker-in-residence at the Stanford Center for biomedical Ethics Program in Bioethics and Film. Their documentary tells the story of teacher Amlan Ganguly as he empowers children in his charge to save lives in the slums of Kolkata.
Ganguly is a former lawyer who left is career with the hope that he might make meaningful change in the world.Amlan Ganguly doesn’t rescue slum children. He empowers them to become agents of change.
Filmed over three years we follow Ganguly and three of his young charges as they battle poverty and transform their neighborhoods.
Films with a focus on Pakistan include These Birds Walk. This Sundance Film has been compared to The 400 Blows, Truffaut’s story of a 12-year-old runaway named Antoine. Shot in observational cinema verite style Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s film captures life in Karachi through the eyes of an ambulance driver and a runaway boy.
Struggling to move beyond her humble origins, the protagonist in Sabiha Sumar’s film, Good Morning Karachi, pushes back at tradition. Determined to succeed as a fashion model in the city, we watch as a young girl balances the demands of family with aspiring dreams.
A highlight of the festival’s focus on gender is certain to be From Mohammad to Maya. Jeff Roy’s film documents the story of Mohammad, a 42-year-old Tamil, Muslim man and his journey to Singapore for sexual reassignment surgery and ultimate transformation to Maya. In the film Roy explores the concepts of letting go in order to begin again and the rites of passage endured as we transform. Mohammed to Maya won the Special Jury Award at the 2012 Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. It also won the Audience Choice Award at the 2011 Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival. Both Maya and Jeff Roy will be appearing at this year’s festival. With doctorates in natural medicine and homeopathy, Maya is currently based in Los Angeles. Jeff Roy, ethnomusicologist and violinist divides his time between Los Angeles and Mumbai.
Nishtha Jain will also appear at the festival. Her film, Gulabi Gang, received the Best Documentary Award at the Dubai Film Festival in 2012. The Gulabi Gang is a women’s movement founded by Sampat Pal Devi not quite a decade ago in the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh. Known for their bright pink saris and bamboo sticks, these women fight against gender violence, female illiteracy, caste oppression and corruption.
Beyond All Boundaries is Sushrut Jain’s documentary about India’s campaign to win the 2011 World Cup. The movie draws in three distinct arcs to tell the stories of the exuberant fan Sudhir Gautam, a 12-year-old batting prodigy named Prithvi Shaw and Akshaya Surve, an 18-year-old girl trying out for the Mumbai under-19 team. Filmmaker Sushrut Jain, like the directors of The Revolutionary Optimist, has a Stanford connection. After receiving her PhD in Economics, Jain opted out of the corporate life to attend film school at the University of Southern California.
3rd i Films promotes diverse images of South Asians through independent film. They showcase innovative and experimental work from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the global South Asian Diaspora.
November 6-10, San Francisco, November 16, Palo Alto. www.thirdi.org. Single tickets for films $12. Passes $34-$125.