Is it only the third annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival? It seems like it's been around much longer, given its quality and reach. (We're also impressed by the breadth of parent organization 3rd I's vision, "to promote diverse images of South Asians through independent film," with a special emphasis on supporting women filmmakers.) In one weekend, viewers can experience a wide range of cinema covering the lives of Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and others, whether it's the latest Bollywood product or a documentary about an obscure scandal.
This reviewer saw a disproportionate number of excellent documentaries made by Canadian South Asians, including Nishtha Jain's City of Photos, a haunting look at Calcutta photo studios. Bet you didn't know that some families have their portraits taken before a painted backdrop of the Orissa supercyclone of 1999 or, even more disconcerting, jets approaching burning twin towers. For couples, digital photo manipulation now permits romantic pairings of lovers not allowed to be seen (and certainly not photographed) together in real life.
Also strongly recommended is the West Coast premiere of the doc No More Tears, Sister: An Anatomy of Hope and Betrayal by Helene Klowdawsky. Subtle re-enactment and the testimony of her vivacious sisters bring alive the story of Sri Lankan human rights activist Dr. Rajani Thiranagama and her fateful ties to the Tamil Tigers revolutionary organization, as well as her marriage to a Sinhalese political prisoner. Another superb Canadian production is Ali Kazimi's Continuous Journey, the fascinating account of an historical outrage: the 1914 voyage of the wandering Komagata Maru, the first ship bearing migrants to be turned away from Canadian shores.
Admission is $8-9
It's My Country Too, though it covers 21st-century outrages like fear and hatred of Pakistanis in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, is nonetheless entertaining and funny. The British production pits Pakistani-American rock star Salman Ahmed, leader of the popular Junoon (the "U2 of South Asia"), against his wealthy and influential pro-George Bush aunt Seeme Hasan and ultrapatriotic cousin Muhammad (Webmaster of www.muslimsforbush.com); in addition, it profiles the comedy troupe Allah Made Me Funny and a Detroit lawyer working for Abu Ghraib detainees, including some who appear in the notorious photos. Ahmed attends a Q&A session after the screening.
The latest Bollywood musical romance? That's the freshly released Paheli, based on a tale from Rajasthan, featuring the extraordinarily popular Shah Rukh Khan in a dual role as both bridegroom and love-smitten ghost. Apparently there's a climactic camel race shot in remote Jaisalmer that mustn't be missed.
Finally, here's a rare chance to see the innovative and self-destructive Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak's 1960 Cloud-Capped Star, a brilliant domestic tragedy tracing the effects of the 1948 Partition of Bengal on a middle-class family. This intensely moving film possesses great aural and lyrical power, with a remarkably audacious sound design and exquisite songs.