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Chicago South Asian Film Festival Returns With a Great Line Up of Independent Films and Talent

Chicago South Asian Film Festival Returns With a Great Line Up of Independent Films and Talent

  • With 27 world premieres scheduled, the festival has come a long way since its inception in 2010, says Jigar Shah, the director of the festival.

More than 125 filmmakers and artists are flocking to Chicago to attend the 13th annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival from September 22 to 25.

After a hiatus of two years, the festival is back with a bang with a carefully curated line of independent films, shorts, documentaries, and discussions. It is set to present over 80 films in Downtown Chicago at the Columbia Film Row in the South Loop and DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Poster of 13th annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival. Top photo, a scene from Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s “Lost.”

Founded in 2010, the festival has become one of the largest South Asian events in the heartland of America. Organized by the Chicago South Asian Arts Council Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing diversity in Chicagoland through international cinema, conversation, and culture, this year the festival showcases 27 world premieres, 23 U.S. premieres, and 30 plus Chicago premieres.

Jigar Shah, the director of the festival, on his toes managing the upcoming event took the time to connect with me over a phone call. When asked about the reaction of the diaspora audience as they learned about the re-emergence of the festival following the pandemic he said, “the audience missed it as the festival has become a homely affair now. They look forward to seeing the films, mingling, and connecting with the directors.”

The festival has come a long way since its inception in 2010 when it screened 16 films, and now in its 13th year the number of films being exhibited has grown five times. When asked what accounts for such exponential growth, Shah said, “there is a growing demand for meaningful conversations after people watch the films. Art house films have a strong message that needs to be absorbed and festivals like ours enable that close interaction with directors and actors.”

Shah observes that this year is special not only because there has been a sharp rise in diversity and inclusion in content but also for combining transnational boundaries. “There are more transnational stories that have brought together directors and actors from different continents.”

He sees resilience surface as a common theme given the pre and post-production nightmare many of the films have experienced because of the pandemic. The festival has had its share of troubles as well. “With the big businesses, especially the hospitality business struggling with the pandemic slowdown, getting sponsors were challenging this time but we have also seen individual sponsors step up and save the day.”

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The opening night includes the world premiere of the film “LOST” by director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, starring Yami Gautam Dhar and Rahul Khanna. “No Man’s Land” by Bangladeshi filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki and Shrihare Sathe starring Nawazuddin Siddique is featured at the festival. There are several films and documentaries by upcoming women directors from Canada like “Marginalizing Minorities” by Dipti Gupta and ‘This Stained Dawn’ by Anam Abbas at the festival. It also showcases a heart-touching short film ‘Periyanayaki’ which centers around the story of a Srilankan in New Zealand by Bala Murali Shingade.

What also makes the festival extra special this year is the happy mix of networking events and after parties with utilitarian workshops that will bring in industry experts to talk about critical topics like post-production and distribution. “Out of the 80 films shown only five to ten will get picked up by OTT platforms like Netflix, what about the rest? That is where our workshops come in handy.”

Sreya Sarkar is a public policy analyst based out of Boston.

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