There’s more to South Asian cinema than Bollywood.
That’s the impetus behind North Texas’ newest film festival, the Dallas Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival, beginning Feb. 27 at the Angelika Plano. The three-day, 14-film event will showcase indie dramas, comedies, documentaries and shorts from and about the subcontinent and its people.
They include the acclaimed Fire in the Blood (a doc about Western pharmaceutical companies’ approach to treating AIDS in Africa and Asia), Sold (a feature about sex slavery starring David Arquette and Gillian Anderson), and the father-son drama Brahmin Bulls starring Sendhil Ramamurthy, from the TV series Heroes, and Mary Steenburgen.
“South Asian films are prominent [in North Texas], but they’re very much in the Bollywood genre,” says festival director Jitin Hingorani. “While Bollywood is fantastic, the South Asian audience is getting more sophisticated, and they don’t want just a song and dance with a moral at the end. … We’re way more sophisticated than Indian audiences back home.”
Hingorani, who went to the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a reporter in Austin, divides his time between New York and Dallas while running Jingo Media, a public relations/events management company, and has worked with the New York Indian Film Festival. As such, he was mystified that while North Texas supports the Asian Film Festival of Dallas — which mostly focuses on China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam — there was nothing that put the spotlight on South Asia.
“Dallas is a top five media market, yet it didn’t have a South Asian film festival,” he says, noting that it was odd “given the huge [South Asian] population in DFW.”
A curated approach
Unlike many other festivals in the region, which seek submissions from filmmakers, this festival is filled with movies that Hingorani and his staff sought out.
“I like the idea of a curated film festival. At the New York festival, they get 400-500 film submissions every year. To sift through all these films and pick the 40 best, that is a huge challenge,” Hingorani says.
“We are a first-year festival, so we thought the way to go would be to curate rather than do submissions. I like the fact that we’ve gone around the world and picked these films. It makes our festival stand out.”
Part of the plan involved not choosing to show works that might be too controversial.
“Given that this was a first-time festival, we wanted to play it safe,” Hingorani explains. “There were a lot of films that we didn’t consider because this market is more conservative.
“We wanted to introduce them to the idea of South Asian independent cinema. Once we get them accustomed to the genre, then we will introduce different films.”
Hingorani is hoping non-South Asians show up.
“We made sure to showcase films that are in English, in addition to Indian languages. We want to attract a mainstream audience and show the wider community that we are part of the American fabric,” he says.
“Brahmin Bulls is about a father-son who live in L.A., and they have the same problems like any other father and son you would meet.”
Other films in the lineup include Just Friends (a teen rom-com), Katiyabaaz (a drama about a man who steals electricity), The World of Goopi and Bagha (an animated feature), Tomorrow We Disappear (a doc about the Indian slum of Kathputli) and Acceptance, about an Indian student who lies about getting into Harvard University.
Hingorani says he would like for the festival to be more than a once-a-year event.
He wants to work with other festivals, such as the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, the Dallas International Film Festival and Fort Worth’s Lone Star Film Festival, to sponsor screenings of South Asian films at their events.
“My goal is not to come here and steal their audience and take away from someone else’s work. We want to showcase our films in this market. ... I want to work with [them], and they’ve been supportive,” he says.
He chose Angelika Plano, over the Angelika Dallas or other venues in North Texas, because it sits in the heart of the North Texas South Asian community.
“One of the things we wanted to learn early on was that there are nuances to the South Asian community and people don’t want to drive to Dallas [to the Angelika],” he said.
“So, we said, ‘Let’s take the festival to them, take it to their back yard.’ We wanted to partner with Angelika and align with a brand like Angelika and they just happen to have one in Plano, where so many Indians live.”
DFW South Asian Film Festival
▪ Friday-March 1
▪ Angelika Plano, 7205 Bishop Road, Plano
▪ $15 for individual screenings; $120 festival pass