More Indian Film Than Ever at This Year's Cinequest

"Love and Shukla," a poignant profile of a young married couple in Mumbai, directed by Siddhartha Jatla, is one of a record number of Indian films in this year's Cinequest. (Photo: Courtesy o Cinequest)

Cinequest, the annual Silicon Valley film festival, is undeniably huge: two weeks, 258 films, and if attendance this year is anything like last year's, more than 105,000 attendees in San Jose and Redwood City.

As with watching the Olympics, you kind of have to pick your focus or risk getting lost in the enormity of it all. Cinequest is perhaps known for embracing new technologies, like virtual reality and augmented reality, starting last year — but that's either your cup of tea or it's not.

So why not dial in on Indian films? More than eight are playing this year, a record for Cinequest.

"We’re in Silicon Valley and the Indian community is huge for us, and has been forever, and we bring some exciting choice every year," says Halfdan Hussey, co-founder and director of Cinequest, which is now in its 28th year.

In Venus, a transgender Indian-Canadian’s life is thrown upside down when her teenage son shows up.

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While Venus is the epitome of a comedic melodrama, the other films include a documentary about an observant Muslim girl with a non-traditional passion for cricket, to a New Age mystery set in a Himalayan ashram, and a short film that summarizes the generational divide between a young Indian-American woman and her dad by focusing on his sartorially unfortunate fanny pack.

Hussey says such variety reflects India’s well-established tradition and passion for filmmaking. "It’s just a part of the fabric and the DNA of the culture," he explains, adding that film festivals can deliver a sense of where global cultures are now in a way that glossy, big-budget blockbusters can’t.

Hussey says many film showcases highlight already famous movies, because that's what draws in the big crowds. "And we do a lot of that at Cinequest, and it’s wonderful," Hussey says. "But I’m very proud of our commitment to the emerging artists... to showcasing artists who are not famous yet."

"Not famous yet” means they might not even have distribution deals … meaning you can’t see many of these movies online.

Ben Rekhi, director of The Ashram, which is premiering at Cinequest, says there's something irreplaceable about seeing a film on the big screen.

"While the online/streaming experience is fantastic for reaching a large audience, the downside is that there is no physical interaction or shared experience with that audience. And because theatrical distribution has become increasingly difficult for independent films, oftentimes the festival circuit is the only chance filmmakers and audiences have to marvel in the wonder of these pictures on the big screen."

Cinequest opens Feb. 27, and continues through March 11 at the California and Hammer Theatres in San Jose, and at the Century Downtown 20 theaters in Redwood City. Details here.

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