Tomorrow kicks off the outdoor opening night of Mustard Seed Film Festival, Philadelphia’s first South Asian film festival, in a tunnel under the city’s Reading Viaduct. With 14 feature, short, and documentary films spread over two days at various locations across the city, in addition to panels, workshops, dance performances and food offerings, Mustard Seed aims to increase access to South Asian films and promote crosscultural exchange.
Mustard Seed will screen films from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kashmir, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. The name of the festival was chosen for the ubiquity of the mustard seed across South Asian cultures, and the festival’s website explains:
We wanted an evocative and inclusive title for festival that connected with the South Asian subcontinent and the diaspora without favoring one region or religion over another. They come in a variety of colors from yellowish-white to black, and are known for their spicy and textured flavor. Mustard seeds are used by people from Afghanistan to Bhutan to Sri Lanka season dishes and represent the many cultures and peoples that call South Asia home.
Founders Natasha Cohen-Carroll and Hariprasad Kowtha began exploring the idea of setting up an independent South Asian film festival in Philadelphia earlier this year, and got things going quickly after that.
In an interview on the Decentered blog of her alma mater Haverford College, Cohen-Carroll shared how things started:
The first moment when Mustard Seed became an inkling of an idea was when co-creator/ co-director Hariprasad Kowtha and I were at a race, media and social justice symposium— held by CAMRA at UPenn— with Gabriel Dattatreyan (who taught anthropology at Haverford last year, funnily enough). After a screening of an Indian documentary, Hariprasad mentioned how wonderful it would be to have a South Asian film festival in Philly, and we all three began joking about doing it ourselves. Three weeks later though, it was still on our minds, and even if it was already the end of May, we decided to go for it, and by the beginning of June we already had three films confirmed.
Dattatreyan’s feature-length doc in collaboration with filmmakers Hassan Abdi, Ahmed Ex, Young Hafes, AbdullahiIdris, and Abdul Abdulkhadir appears in the festival lineup — Cry Out Loud explores the experiences of individuals who are part of Delhi’s African community. Other films on the schedule include Lyari Notes — a doc filmed over three years about young girls who attend a Karachi music school opened by a Pakistani rock star famous for his hard-hitting political lyrics, Doubles With Slight Pepper — a story of a young man who is supporting his mother by selling Trinidad’s quintessential street food when his estranged father returns from Canada, and Valley of Saints — a budding romance between a boatman and a scientist amid violence in war-torn Kashmir.
Read The Aerogram’s interview with Chai Dingari, one of the filmmakers whose short doc film Hyphen-American, inspired by Martin Scorsese’s work, is part of this year’s Mustard Seed Film Festival.
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