Festival directors Anya McKenzie and Arshad Khan join us on Close-up Culture to preview the 7th Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival.
Running from August 1st – August 4th at the Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga, the festival will showcase eight fiction films, three documentaries, and seven shorts from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Italy, the UK and Canada. This year, women’s and familial struggle stories lead the way with themes of love, comedies on complex relationships, explorations of art and ancestry, and a closer investigative look at domestic partner violence.
Q: The Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF) returns for its 7th year this August. What do you have in store for audiences this year?
Arshad Khan: This year we are opening with the North American premiere of the sensational Italian comedy Bangla, by Italian-Bangladeshi filmmaker Phaim Bhuiyan, who will join us for the opening night red carpet gala and party. This is part of our focus on Bengali cinema at MISAFF19.
For closing night and awards we will host the Canadian premiere of Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab (Round Figure) and he will join us all the way from Mumbai. There will also be a director’s MISAFF Chat with six directors speaking about making their first feature film.
Anya Mckenzie: Our MISAFF Star is the brilliant actor Hamza Haq (Transplant, The 410, Indian Detective). MISAFF will continue to showcase and celebrate Canadian South Asian talents like Toronto native Supinder Wraich, producer/writer/star of the digital original The 410, Akash Sherman (Clara) and Zana Shammi (Untying the Knot) and Eisha Marjara (Venus).
Q: What were you looking for from this year’s selections?
AK: For MISAFF19 we came up with the theme “courageous cinema” because of the sheer amount of unique voices and thrilling subject matter we came across.
AM: We have representation from several generations of female filmmakers who speak to contemporary social issues, changing human relationships and presenting stories of empowerment, identity and courage.
The shorts program is concentrating on actor driven cinema whereby actors have themselves produced, written or directed their films.
Q: What are you most excited to see audiences interact with at MISAFF? Any hidden gems we should keep an eye out for?
AK: Without exaggeration, there are literally too many gems at this year’s festival and it would be very hard to pick a few – but we shall try.
We are presenting Australia’s entry to the Oscar, a film called Jirga that is directed by Benjamin Gilmour – who is an author and a paramedic who worked in Afghanistan and brings to us the tale of an Australian soldier seeking restorative justice after killing an innocent man during the war in Afghanistan. It is really an unbelievable and powerful tale of war and reconciliation.
AM: And, if you are in the mood for romance, you could check out the beautifully shot Photograph – starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra and directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, Our Souls at Night).
Another incredible title to watch is the film Indus Blues by Pakistani filmmaker Jawad Sharif. It documents the plight of folk musicians and their struggle against a culture increasingly hostile to music. The He Without Him by Amartya Bhattacharya is another hilarious film that represents unusual storytelling and independent storytelling strides in Bengali cinema.
Q: This year’s festival jury of includes musician and actor Rup Magnon, Pakistani Canadian film director Omar Majeed, TIFF associate programmer Liane Cunje and actor Huse Madhavji, Producer/Journalist Saman Malik among others. How excited are you to have these respected figures involved?
AK: It is important to engage leading figures and change makers from the South Asian community to be on our jury. This helps build confidence and recognition. It is also important for filmmakers to be recognised by peers and professionals and their contemporaries. We often invite previous year award winners as jury members if they are in town.
Stepping away from the norm, this year we have invited filmmaker and creator of the extremely popular Facebook group I Need A Producer ETC, Stacey Tennenmaum, as a jury member as well.
Q: What type of people do you hope visit and participate in MISAFF? What kind of environment do you try to foster at the festival?
AK: MISAFF is a festival for everyone irrespective of their ethnicity or culture. It is a community festival where the public can meet and interact with film professionals, actors, producers and directors. This kind of interaction makes it better for engagement in the art work rather than passively watching something on a home screen.
AM: We want to provoke conversations, inspire audiences, make memories and show case the rich diversity in South Asian cinema.
Q: As I mentioned, the festival is now in its 7th year. How has the festival evolved over the years and how would you like it to continue to grow?
AK: We have gone and made more movies and gained valuable industry experience by going to over 50 festivals in the last two years alone. This helps us understand what the public wants and also helps to engage sponsors.
We would like to see more venues for cultural engagement for the public and make the festival grow. We want the South Asian community to learn to appreciate the multiple voices in South Asian cinema today and we want the communities outside the South Asian diaspora to see the thrilling work that is being presented at MISAFF.
Q: Do you ever find time to enjoy the festival or is it usually a chaotic few days for you both?
AK: We have the best time in Mississauga during the festival. Our friends come to support us and we make new friends and introduce people to great cinema. It is very rewarding.
AM: We work so hard on this labour of love that it is indeed fulfilling to see it all come together and to share our love for cinema with the wider community. Come join us at the movies!
Q: And lastly, what are your hopes for this year’s festival?
AK: Not to boast but MISAFF often invites stars on the verge on exploding on the international scene. Rajkumar Rao and Richie Mehta are two such talents. We hope to see packed screenings and engaged audiences at our films and our talks and mixer events. We have some dedicated cinephiles coming to MISAFF now and that is something we hope will continue to grow and flourish.
AM: I also hope that the filmmakers find connections, have a chance to meet audiences who are thirsty for their work and that new creative relationships are formed, and that MISAFF continues to reflect our stories and to inspire us.