3rd i’s 16th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival Nov 1-4 in San Francisco; Nov 17 in Palo Alto

3rd i’s 16th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF) launches at the New People and Castro Theaters in San Francisco from November 1st-4th, moving to Palo Alto two weeks later on November 17th. The five-day Festival will screen over a dozen programs of narrative and documentary features and shorts by independent filmmakers from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, including stories from India, Sri Lanka, Canada, and the USA. Staking claim to two-thirds of our program, women filmmakers dominate this year’s line-up, training their lens on issues ranging from homelessness and domestic violence, to comic book and real-life superheroes.

Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival last year, Rima Das’ VILLAGE ROCKSTARS (India, 2017) is a labor of love to Assam (where Das grew up), every frame brimming with affection. A feel-good indie favorite and India’s entry to the 2019 Oscars, it follows the feisty young Dhunu and her frolicking band of friends, who rock out to their styrofoam instruments and dream of becoming real musicians. When the village elders complain about Dhunu’s tomboyish ways, her mother stands up for her, in the film’s subtle yet radical feminist gesture. A part of our continuing focus on women in South Asian cinema, this not-to-be-missed offering is as visually stunning as it is delightful, and a perfect anti-dote to “poverty porn”.

Another stellar narrative is Rohena Gera’s SIR (2018), which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A nuanced and sensual film, it explores the forbidden attraction between Ratna, a maid, and her employer Ashwin, a wealthy Mumbai bachelor, with each character quietly yearning to break free from the narrow bounds of their class and gender-based expectations. Gera achieves a particular delicacy in her directing, combining an appealing, understated sweetness with an edge, and thwarting all expectations and stereotypes of a typical Indian love story.

Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra similarly put women’s issues at the center of their doc A SUITABLE GIRL (India/USA, 2017). Winner of the prestigious Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca International Film Festival in 2017, the doc is a rarely-seen portrait of India’s urban middle class. Following three young women, it documents their arranged marriage and matchmaking process in vérité over four years, and examines the many nuanced ways that these women negotiate social expectations with their own dreams.

This year, we explore the theme of healing, of confronting the fears that haunt our memories – personal and collective, and how important it is to dialogue, to meet and speak with the enemy, in order to find a way through. For Attiya Khan, this happens 20 years after her abusive relationship with her then boyfriend Steve. Working with Toronto-based filmmaker Lawrence Jackson, she invites Steve to have a conversation with her about that relationship, in the hopes of putting those ghosts to rest. A BETTER MAN (Canada, 2017) – which received rave reviews at HotDocs – is a brave and compassionate film, showing us how we can change the conversation on domestic abuse, especially when men take responsibility for their actions.

For Jude Ratnam, director of DEMONS IN PARADISE (Sri Lanka/France, 2017) this journey takes him back to northern Sri Lanka, from where he fled as a 5 year old. Released to critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, Ratnam’s revealing documentary digs deep to unearth the traces of civil war hidden in the country’s psyche – reuniting with old friends, reliving past traumas, discovering the legacy of the Tamil Tigers, and leaving open the possibility of finding peace once again.

Local talent is showcased in our opening film, GOOD GUY BAD GUY (USA, 2017), by San Francisco based filmmaker Indu Krishnan. Deftly composed, smart, and socially-engaged, this doc chronicles five years in the tumultuous life of Zakhir, a gentle soul who lives on the streets of Bangalore (India’s Silicon Valley), with an ill-fitting murder-charge to his name. He feeds the monkeys and performs odd jobs by day, and drinks himself to sleep at night, to escape the violence of the streets. Following Zakhir’s filmi dreams, his court case, and the mad color of urban life in India, Indu reveals a hidden city that thrives on the margins of conspicuous consumption.

Harleen Singh (also from San Francisco) gathers together three comic book artists (SF-based Keith Knight and Eileen Alden, and NY-based Vishvajit Singh aka “Sikh Captain America”) to examine issues of diversity, representation, and racism, in her stereo-type busting doc about comic book superheroes, DRAWN TOGETHER: COMICS, DIVERSITY, AND STEREOTYPES (USA, 2017). The film will screen alongside Berkeley-based Rucha Chitnis’ short IN THE LAND OF MY ANCESTORS (USA, 2018) which celebrates the living legacy of Ohlone elder Ann Marie Sayers, and MACHER JHOL (India, 2017), Abhishek Verma’s animation that captures the trials and tribulations of coming out in India.

Documentaries abound in this year’s line up, including the mesmerizing  UP, DOWN & SIDEWAYS  (India, 2017) by Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar. Hypnotic rhythms and complex polyphonic music reverberate through the hills of Nagaland in this portrait of an indigenous community and their remarkable musical traditions, set in the alluring northeast of India. The villagers of Phek sing Lis – “call and response” style work songs – as they labor over their rice paddies, echoing timeless themes of love and the land. Along with VILLAGE ROCKSTARS, this doc offers a mini-focus on the Northeast of India (which has come under recent scrutiny due to the current Indian government’s xenophobic attempts to restrict citizenship in the region), celebrating the bewildering diversity of the country and its many regions.

Vaishali Sinha’s ASK THE SEXPERT  (USA/India, 2017) provides a decidedly different kind of portrait, one rooted in the teeming metropolis of Bombay, where Dr. Mahinder Watsa works as a highly popular 93-year-old sex advice columnist for a daily newspaper in Mumbai. The conversations in this film revolve less around metaphorical love, but focus instead on its physical expressions. The coy, entertaining, and insightful Dr. Watsa addresses topics like masturbation, gender equality, and sexual pleasure in non-moralistic terms, making him a willing combatant against the conservative elements of Indian society. Sinha (whose previous films include Made in India) will skype in for a post-screening Q&A from New York City.

Sabiha Sumar (Dinner with the President) directly confronts the expanding specter of fundamentalism in both both India and Pakistan in her probing documentary AZMAISH: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE SUBCONTINENT (Pakistan, 2017). Traveling the two nations, Sumar and Indian actress Kalki Koechlin (Margarita with a Straw), witness radically changing political landscapes, their encounters giving rise to a personal and poetic search to uncover the voices of the silent majority, particularly those of women. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, contextualizing the film in relation to the rise of political nationalism in the US today.

Bollywood comes two ways again this year. As always, we bring you Bollywood at the Castro – this time on Friday night, and not our typical Saturday – with BEFIKRE (India, 2016). An exuberant, fun, romantic comedy, directed by the legendary Aditya Chopra (DDLJ), this sexy film is set in the picturesque city of love — Paris. Bollywood’s hottest stars, Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor, star as two commitment-phobic friends whose sparkling on-screen chemistry is enhanced with passionate kisses, rumpled bed sheets, musical showstoppers and a narrative that wonderfully stretches credulity and entertains at all times. SHALOM BOLLYWOOD: THE UNTOLD STORY OF INDIAN CINEMA (Australia, 2017), on the other hand, reveals the forgotten history of early Indian cinema, when Jewish stars reigned supreme on the desi screen. Ben-Moshe’s entertaining and eye-opening doc follows the stories of four nice Jewish girls who ruled the Indian screen for over four decades. What began with Ruby Myers – aka Sulochana, the first lady of Indian cinema in the 1920s – was cemented with Nadira, the quintessential vamp in the 1960s.

3rd i also offers a perfect post-Halloween treat featuring sumptuous cinematography this year, with TUMBBAD  (India/Sweden, 2018). This Tim Burton-esque light horror transcends its genre barriers, opening International Critics Week at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Sohum Shah’s and Anand Gandhi’s (Ship of Theseus) gothic fantasy spans India’s colonial past through independence and beyond, leading to a jaw-dropping denouement that is as spectacular as it is sobering. The Fantastic Fest describes it thus, “Mad creature-feature designs, Academy-worthy blends of color and pristine optical packaging… Tumbbad is a full genre package seasoned with a pungent foreign kick. A welcoming breed of horror that transcends barrier, creeds, and beliefs.”

Passes ($130) and Castro 2-for-1 tix ($11) are only available online. Tickets to individual films are $11/online and $13/at the door. More information about the festival, including expanded program, guest and ticketing information, is available on our website at: www.thirdi.org