What to See at this Year's South Asian Film Festival

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Miss India 2009, Pooja Chopra, posing for a photo.

The theme of this year's 3rd i South Asian Film Festival is really about celebrating their 10th year, says Ivan Jaigirdar, the artistic director of the festival, which runs from Sept. 19-23, with films at the Roxie and Castro theaters in San Francisco. This year they've also added a day, Sept. 30, in San Jose at the Camera 12.

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Some of that celebrating will happen at the Dance, Desi, Dance birthday bash at Café 780 on Sept. 20 at 10. There's also a reception with the filmmakers at the Castro Saturday, Sept. 22, before the Bollywood movie, Cocktail. They're letting loose with the movies as well, Jaigirdar says.

"We have some films that are more outside of the box this year," he said. "There's a mixture for different palates."

He points to a couple of examples:

"Herman's House is not a normal South Asian film," he said. "It's about an African-American man in solitary confinement and the prison industrial complex and what that does to humans."

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Sihle Dlamini as Lucky, Jayashree Basavaraj as Padma. Still from the film Lucky.

Jaigirdar also mentions Lucky, one of his favorites in the festival, made by Avie Luthra, a psychologist who loves films. The story, about an older Indian woman and a South African orphan, was first a short that got nominated for an Oscar, and the director has now made it into a feature.

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The Island President, a documentary by Jon Shenk

The opening night film is The Island President, made by Bay Area director Jon Shenk, about the president of the Maldives fighting against what climate change is doing to his low-lying island. Jaigirdar is excited that Shenk will be there for a Q&A, and he says the film, along with being about a topic, particularly important to South Asians, is visually stunning.

"Cinematically it's eye candy," he said. "But it's soul food at the same time."

Another director who will attend the festival to talk about her movie is CalArts graduate Tuni Chatterji, who made Okul Nodi (Endless River) about the river music in Bangladesh. It plays with a 35mm short, I Am Micro.

"Anuj and I are drawn to more lyrical and poetic films," said Jaigirdir, referring to associate director Anuj Vaidya. "When we saw it, it touched us on a deeper level. It has this rhythm."

Nisha Pahuja's The World Before Her, which won the World Documentary Competition at the Toronto Film Festival this year, shows young women preparing for the Miss India pageant as well as young girls in a camp run by the militant Hindu movement.

"What I'm trying to explore with the film is how women are being used in India to create two ideas of nationalism," Pahuja said. "There are these two competing ideologies and they are playing themselves out on the bodies of women."

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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