Photos by Tiffany Bri
On October 15, South Asian-centric arts organization Tasveer opened the 10th Annual Seattle South Asian Film Festival with their Opening Night Gala. Themed “Coming Home,” SSAFF 2015 explores the issues of identity, transition and diaspora through an impressive total of 59 films from nine different countries. Through its ten years, SSAFF has become the largest South Asian film festival in the United States, and aims to add their voice to the continuing conversation surrounding social justice and human rights through film.
AMC Pacific Place downtown was filled with actors, filmmakers and movie lovers, mingling in gorgeous attire and enjoying catered Indian cuisine from Chutney’s. The opening party included a screening of several film shorts and the feature film For Here Or To Go?, a comedy told through the eyes of a young Indian software engineer in Silicon Valley, witnessing firsthand the challenges faced by immigrants in America. Our burgeoning, tech-filled city was the perfect place for its premiere. The film addresses the festival’s theme of “Coming Home” in a lighthearted but thought-provoking manner, exploring cultural displacement and the very real challenge of establishing a life in a new location and through a tangled bureaucracy.
The gala surged with energy from the first moment. The red carpet opened just a short thirty minutes before the screening was to start, and the director of For Here Or To Go?, Rucha Humnabadkar, was one of the first to arrive in a beautiful tunic inspired by traditional Indian saris. The directors of the night’s two short film selections, Vivek Elangovan (Fox Hunt) and Sai Selvarajan (Sugarless Tea) also graced the red carpet, as did many other filmmakers, including Sumit Judge, the director of Vishal, and Monalisa Dasgupta.
Attendees took the opportunity to wear exquisite saris, and most were highly detailed and colorful, but SSAFF Creative Director Smeeta Hirani stunned in a sexy all-black ensemble with exposed midriff. Naturally, the SSAFF leadership were all present, including Executive Director Rita Meher and Festival Director Kiran Dillon. Other representatives of the world of film and broadcasting made appearances, including KUOW‘s Community Engagement Director, Caroline Dodge, and KUOW journalist Liz Jones. Goers from the political sphere included recent Seattle City Council candidate Debadutta Dash and Deputy Public Affairs Administrator of Renton Preeti Shridhar, who also showed her Indian pride in a gorgeous sari—in fact ethnic pride could be felt throughout the whole celebration.
The gala was alluring, uplifting and, on a personal level, quite nostalgic. As a first generation American, I have observed the challenges that immigrants face on a day-to-day basis through my parents, who originated in the Philippines and India. Coming up the escalator at AMC Pacific Place, one could already smell the steaming lentils of the reception’s buffet–and it really did feel like I was “Coming Home.”
It brought me joy to see that the Indian community is not only thriving in Seattle but greeting others with open arms. Among the many art events in Seattle, I did not expect that SSAFF would be the one that I attended that completely eschewed the sense of long-established cliques and exclusivity. I reveled with gratitude in the welcoming nature of a community that is already embedded in my roots, and I hope others will find their own way of connecting with this festival this year and in years to come.
SSAFF continues through October 25. Be sure to check out their extensive schedule.