This Weekend’s SF Film Festivals Find Community amid a Changing City

The 3rd i International South Asian Film Festival and the Transgender Film Festival offer an impressive program of movies.

There seems to always be a different film festival happening every week in the Bay Area. From Mill Valley to the Frozen Film Festival (named after San Francisco’s infamously cold summers, not the Disney princess movie), local cinema fests abound, and this weekend is no exception. Two film festivals — the 3rd i International South Asian Film Festival and the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival — are screening some of the best work from our Bay Area communities and beyond.

3rd i International South Asian Film Festival

“If 3rd i had not existed, I would not have become a filmmaker,” Mission-resident Neshma Friend says. It was actually Ivan Jaigirdar, one of the co-founders of the festival, who encouraged Friend to screen her work at the festival some years ago. “I just went on. I kept making films,” Friend says.

Friend came to the Mission about 17 years ago, and her home is heavily featured in Como Mínimo, a feminist psycho-pop music video starring Friend’s alter-ego Micropixie. Como Mínimo will be screened on Nov. 10 at the New People Cinema as part of 3rd i’s shorts program. You’ll be able to see The Women’s Building, Lovejoy’s Tea Room, and other Mission locations on the big screen.

Abhi Singh is another San Francisco resident whose documentary, When the Dust Came In, will be screened along with Friend’s. When the Dust Came In follows Mongolian herders who organized to protect their way of living in the face of a huge gold and copper mining operation. Singh, who’s had his work screened at multiple international festivals, finds that 3rd i is undoubtedly unique. 

“Because of who the organizers are, it’s one of the warmest welcomes anyone can get as a filmmaker,” Singh says.

Singh also notes that the community at 3rd i plays a big role.

“I’m a South Asian filmmaker and to be able to engage with like-minded people — it’s a unique opportunity in that way. The audience at Third i is so amazing,” Singh says. “We have so many choices — Netflix, Amazon Prime. That audience always comes out to support filmmakers like myself.”

Moreover, 3rd i is an incredible showcase of what Singh says is “the richness of South Asian cinema, and how much is being done here in the Bay Area through the work of South Asian filmmakers.”

San Francisco Transgender Film Festival

Since 1997, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival has been a bit like a “punk music label” with its DIY aesthetic and focus on underrepresented voices, says artistic director Shawna Virago. Virago calls it an “outsider festival,” and to a certain extent, they’ve always preferred it that way.

“We don’t aspire to join corporate Hollywood,” Virago says. “Quite the opposite.”

But in the past decade, Virago believes that evictions and rising rent costs have been putting the communities that support the Transgender Film Festival at risk.

“The queer and trans audiences who attended the festival still lived in the city,” Virago says. That’s not entirely the case anymore.

The Transgender Film Festival still serves as a safe, artistic space, especially at a time when Virago says our “transgender communities are really under attack by our right wing government.” This year, standout films from the festival’s programming include Neelu Bhuman’s ASL-interpreted, sci-fi stories Transfinite (Nov. 7); This Is For Us (Nov. 9), Shanel Edwards’ visualization of joy and friendship for Black Queer Femmes; and Daryl B. Jones’ story of black trans women, San Francisco’s housing crisis, and the Tenderloin in Tender (Nov. 10).

“We’re really proud to present these really brave trans filmmakers with their super queer imaginations,” Virago says. San Francisco may be changing, but its artistic spaces are still thriving.

The 3rd i South Asian Film Festival opens Nov. 7 at New People Cinema.

The Transgender Film Festival opens Nov. 7 at Roxie Theater.

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