My Voice - 2020


A Unique Film Coalition in the Time of Pandemic

By Shivani Tripathi

During October, the newly minted Coalition of South Asian Film Festivals, or CoSAFF, is making curated cinematic content available, free of charge, at the click of a button.

During this time of anxiety and uncertainty, many of us have turned to cinema and streaming to lift our mood or to simply escape from what we are experiencing. In response to the challenges a pandemic has presented, South Asian film festivals from North America have created a first-of-its-kind virtual event: Coalition of South Asian Film Festivals, or CoSAFF. Led by the Seattle-based Tasveer South Asian Film Festival or TSAFF, CoSAFF will present films, live Q&As, industry panels, workshops and more from October 3 -17, 2020 at no cost to viewers. The opening night film is Mee Raqsam starring Naseeruddin Shah and is being presented by actress Shabana Azmi. Nepali film Lato Kosero is the centerpiece and the comedic drama about repelling monkeys in New Delhi, Eeb Allay Ooo will close the festival. I interviewed TSAFF's Artistic Director, Pulkit Datta, about the innovative film festival coalition, what it means to the filmmaking community and what CoSAFF has in store for audiences.

How did the idea to have a coalition of South Asian film festivals come about?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it threw a lot of the film festivals into uncertainty. Several festivals decided to cancel or postpone indefinitely. We at Tasveer South Asian Film Festival started speaking with some other South Asian festivals like Washington DC South Asian Film Festival and Chicago South Asian Film Festival, and that's when we started discussing the idea of building a coalition. Then we invited other festivals to join the discussions, where we brainstormed what a coalition could look like, and how this would work. Eventually, we all landed on some common principles and goals that everyone agreed to, and the Coalition of South Asian Film Festivals was born. This is truly a case of solidarity and mutual support emerging out of uncertainty and a challenging time.

Why are only North American festivals included in CoSAFF? How was it decided which festivals will be part of the coalition?

Since this was the first time any of us were attempting such a coalition, we thought that we should focus on North American festivals to begin with. Several festivals from around North America were invited to the discussions or approached with this idea. Some of them were unable to participate due to bandwidth or resource limitations, and the ones who were able to commit formed the coalition. CoSAFF comprises the following member festivals: Tasveer South Asian Film Festival (TSAFF), Chicago South Asian Film Festival (CSAFF), Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF), Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF), Nepal America International Film Festival (NAIFF), South Asian Film Festival of Montreal (SAFFM), and Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival (VISAFF).

The film screenings, panel discussions and more are free of cost to audiences, which is a great draw!

Among our founding principles of CoSAFF, we wanted to support and uplift the filmmaking community, and show solidarity among the South Asian community at large. The pandemic hit the arts so badly, with many people losing jobs and sources of income. So, we all decided that it's important to uplift and support our communities by firstly giving a platform to the filmmakers, then also bringing amazing cinema and discussions to people's homes, and remove the financial barrier to entry. This way, anyone can watch our great selection of films and discussions, and share with family and friends. And we also hope that we can reach even wider audiences who may not have traditionally gone to a film festival or had access to any of the festivals in our coalition.

What makes this an exciting film festival? What sets it apart?

This is the first time that so many South Asian film festivals have come together for a common cause. This hasn't happened before, and this coalition of seven festivals also makes CoSAFF the largest South Asian film festival this year. It's been a truly collaborative effort, where all of our films were collectively selected by a programming team representing all the festivals. This is an exciting opportunity for audiences to watch films that have been selected by consensus by so many different festivals, which means the variety and quality of films is incredible. We have films from all the South Asian countries, as well as from the diaspora of the US, Canada, and beyond.

The premise of the opening night film, Mee Raqsam is interesting and original. Why was it chosen to open CoSAFF?

Mee Raqsam is a lovely film that addresses so many timely and important themes, including celebrating the arts and finding commonalities and unity between us despite people having different religious or cultural backgrounds. It speaks to the ideas of tolerance and social justice, and about allowing young people to pursue their dreams, to thrive, and to embrace multiculturalism. In some ways, opening CoSAFF with such a film also exemplifies many of the ideals we all stand for as a coalition and individual festivals. So, it was a fitting choice for us.

For someone who is new to film festivals, how would you suggest they navigate CoSAFF?

The very first step is to visit our website Cosaff.org and register for free. This will put you on our audience list for the festival, and how you will get up to date information on how and when to watch the films. Then, check out our festival schedule, which is also available on the site. It can be sorted by various themes and tags. So, one way to navigate CoSAFF is to filter our films by tags that appeal to you. For example, you can filter films by the themes of Diaspora, Comedy, LGBTQI, Documentary, Women focus, and lots more. We have also organized our schedule to show films that are available as Video on Demand (VOD), which means they are available to watch anytime during our 15-day festival, or Live, which means there will be a scheduled livestream of the film followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers on specific days and times.

CoSAFF has been created in response to a very challenging time. What is the greater message of CoSAFF?

In difficult times, people should come together to support each other. We've been seeing this happen around us during this year with the pandemic. And this applies for the South Asian arts/film community as well. The pandemic is a very challenging time for everyone, but through CoSAFF we hope to show that by coming together and continuing to do what we are passionate about, we can get through this. Additionally, we want to continue highlighting the significance of the arts in our lives. When people were in lockdown, they all relied on the arts in its various forms to get them through the days. CoSAFF is here to show filmmakers that we want to support them, and to show our audiences that great cinema is still accessible and may even help a little bit in getting them through this difficult time.

Is there more you would like for the audience to know, that isn't available on the website?

One of the great benefits of a virtual festival is that people anywhere can watch these films. They don't have to travel to a physical location. And for the filmmakers, it's a wonderful opportunity for their work to be seen by so many more people. So, something we would recommend to our audiences is to reach out to the filmmakers whose films you watch, and share your feelings and appreciation of their work. It means a lot to filmmakers to hear from audiences, and in this age of social media and everything being virtual, it's easier than ever to connect filmmakers to audiences. So, if you watch a film at CoSAFF that moves you, reach out to the filmmaker and show your appreciation. This is another way for us to bring people together.

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Shivani Tripathi cannot remember a time she wasn't madly in love with Indian cinema and writing. She spends time in New York, North Carolina and Twitterpur at @Shivani510