Friday, 21 September 2007
I had never been to the North of England, and I kept thinking it would be just like the images I had from East is East, my favorite Indian diaspora film. After a comfortable flight in, and a major traffic jam getting in to Bradford, I managed to get to the National Museum just in time to snag a glass of white wine at the opening night cocktail. A lively dance troupe was working the crowd and in a corner, I saw a cameraman interviewing Jimi Mistry (star of East is East). I later put two and two together: he was in Bradford because he starred in the Opening Night film, Vic Sarin's Partition. Introducing the film was the festival director, Addy Rutter. I was stunned to see him on stage, because though probably in his early 30's, but he looks about 25. All of our phone conversations gave me the impression that he was a man in his 50's. After the film, there was a great Q and A, where we met Vic Sarin and heard great stories - the most remarkable one was that it took NINETEEN years to make his film. What persistence! The other thing that impressed me was that Vic shot his film. I still feel very shy about handling a camera - something like I am afraid I will drop it or break it or mess something up.
Saturday, 22 September 2007
My top priority this morning was to find a belt. My film screening was slated for 5:30 that afternoon, and I knew I would be called up to the stage. The belt I was wearing was falling apart, so before the festivities of the day got going, I hoofed it over to the High Street of Bradford, and found a nice, simple black belt, which I now call "my English belt". Along with tons of screenings, the weekend consisted of several conferences, and one of them was particularly beneficial: the Media presentation given by Agnieszka Moody. She talked about all the programs that Europe's Media program offers. She told me about the Talent Campus, and six months later, my producer Julien was in Berlin attending that very event. The other fantastic talk was by Anamaria Willis about the ways in which artists also need to be entrepreneurs in order to succeed. I related to what she had to say, and it made me want to consult with her someday. Her company in London is called CIDA 2000. For artists who are stalled, I think she has the answers. I sprinted out of that talk, because moments later, my screening was starting.
Our block of films was uneven. I absolutely loved Zam Sallim's very clever Laid Off. And I was a little miffed with Jayprad Desai's Rosebush, because it does a lackluster job plagiarizing my favorite Jhumpa Lahiri short story, A Temporary Matter.
The screening of Saving Mom and Dad went really well. I really enjoyed the venue: the Cubby Broccoli Cinema in the National Museum is a comfortable theater that seats about 200, I would guess. It felt nice screening to an Asian audience. One of the highlights for me was meeting TN, a screenwriter whose parents are of Pakistani Muslim origin. With great emotion, he shared that he has a strong feeling for Sikhs which is connected to a family event: at partition, Sikhs saved his mother's life. Hearing stories like this made the Bradford experience unlike other festival showings of SMD.
The big surprise of the screening came when someone entered the theater in the middle. In the darkness, I could make out that it was none other than actor Matt Duggan. Matt and I made a film together in Paris in June 2004. I love that film, and at the heart it is Matt's courageous performance. We had hardly seen each other since he moved to London. And here he was. He had driven up for the screening. I was flabbergasted. It was a great reunion. At the cocktail afterward, we caught up and I also introduced him to some casting people. When things wrapped up there, we went out for a curry. So great to catch up. He is still in London acting, and I can only say that any director should consider herself lucky to have Matt on her film. With our bellies full, around 11pm, Matt dropped me at the hotel, then drove back to London! What energy! It was so nice having a friend in the audience.
Sunday, 23 September 2007
Up early, and the morning was spent going to gurudwaras, the two gurudwaras in Bradford that are closest to the center. I was excited to take the temperature of the local Sikh community there. It was great to meet with the Sikhs and get a sense of what it is like growing up Asian in England. I would get this type of knowledge throughout the trip.
I pulled myself away from the gurudwara just in time to take in a wonderful discussion on Partition. Mussarrat Abbasi of the BBC moderated. The beginning of the talk was with Irna Qureshi, a woman who collects stories and who made a film traveling along the highway that crosses Punjab, half in India and half in Pakistan. Dr Tej Purewal was also present, and I felt like I was seeing someone like me! She was a Punjabi, and she was born in the US and became an expatriate to Europe. It was fun hearing an American accent, and her knowledge of the issues of Partition was more than impressive. I was fortunate to see her in Bradford, because shortly thereafter, she moved on to Lahore to do research.
My own analysis of the situation is that the Partition is something that created a lot of suffering. Some want things back the way they were pre-1947. Others don't. But a greater India will never reemerge. Too much water under the bridge. Once contradiction which I always find remarkable. Physically, I look more like a Pakistani Punjabi than a Keralite or a Tamilian. And yet, the latter are my countrymen, and the former are enemies of India. It is rubbish. If you ever get the chance, see Khamosh Pani (2003), starring Kiron Kher.
The rest of the afternoon was taken at a leisurely pace, drinking tea, and awaiting something that I was waiting for all weekend. The festival had procured a 70mm print of Gandhi. It was set to screen at 7pm. This is one of the films that made we want to make movies, so I was thrilled at the idea of discovering it again. I first saw it at age 8 in the Glenwood Theater in Kansas City. Brilliant filmmaking, great storytelling – and for me, it was the first time I was seeing Indian faces in movies. For these reasons, the film will always be important for me.
As I took my seat in the theater, I was seated with some local South Asian filmmakers. The movie started, and I was really starting to get involved in it. The beauty of 70mm besides the superior image quality due to larger frames is that the sound is so dense and sophisticated, again due to the extra room on the 70mm frame.
Then something happened. As I sat there in front of Gandhi, I thought that this was my last night in Bradford, and it did not make sense to spend it sitting in front of a movie, no matter how good. Moreover, there was an opportunity to spend time with people, and that made more sense. So, I whispered to the local filmmakers seated by me, proposing we duck out and go catch a drink.
It was a wise choice. Walking through Bradford in the evening was quite an experience. One thing I noticed was there are mostly Muslim men walking the streets and out at night, you hardly see any women. Also, at one point, we came across an aggressive man, which made me think that the place is not altogether safe at night. But I was learning, more and ever more about this experience of being Asian in Britain, and it was really relevant for me in my own thoughts about identity and about growing up in Kansas.
A delicious dinner followed at a wonderful restaurant called Mumtaz. And our conversation continued throughout the evening and well into the night. This was much better than even Gandhi.
Though much of this was rich, it also had its darker side. One thing I learned from these filmmakers is the harassment that is going on all the time in Britain. For example, one of them, a woman screenwriter, confided that on that very day, she had been spit on by a passerby. This broke my heart. I thought, wow. I never experienced any racism in Kansas – I mean, maybe 2-3 minor incidents, but nothing that I lost any sleep over. The British Asian experience is very different, very intense. It makes me want to come to Britain and make a film. Maybe this is what Bradford was for me: discovering an exciting place that is compelling and pivotal for South Asians. And maybe a seed was planted in me on this trip, to come back one day. We'll see.