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Now Playing! SF’s South Asian Film Festival Rocks Your House

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A woman records another woman on a tablet, three others look on.
Still from ‘Writing With Fire.’ (Courtesy of 3rd i)

We’ll have to wait yet another year to dance in our seats at one of the highlights of the Bay Area film festival calendar. I’m referring, obviously (or mysteriously, if you’ve never had the pleasure), to 3rd i’s annual Bollywood blowout at the Castro. Indeed, the entire San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, which continues through Nov. 16, is online for the second consecutive year.

Couch-dancing at home is possible with the U.K. documentary White Riot, though foot-stomping (and irritated neighbors) is far more likely. Rubika Shah’s crackling 2019 history of the Rock Against Racism movement of the mid-late ’70s (which would have also fit perfectly in the recent Decibels Music Film Festival) adopts the cut-and-paste visual aesthetic of RAR’s handmade ’zine Temporary Hoardings to excellent effect, summoning the punk sensibility without it feeling gimmickry.

I would have enjoyed even more rock (for once) under the archival film and photos and splendid contemporary interviews. But I shouldn’t let my affection for the Clash obscure the relevance of White Riot: With white nationalism once again climbing the charts, now is the time for a similar youth-driven coalition of anti-fascist street protests and outdoor concerts—in the U.S.

The power of both individual and organizational conscience is also on full display in Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas’ not-to-be-missed Writing With Fire. This ground-level portrait of the all-women newspaper Khabar Lahariya (Waves of News) closely follows three unbelievably brave reporters on the job and at home (where they find no respite from patriarchal prejudice and resistance) in Uttar Pradesh.


The documentary, which won Special Jury and Audience Awards at Sundance, spans the period when the uncompromising Khabar Lahariya is ramping up its online coverage, so the journalists must become adept at shooting video interviews with smartphones. Their skill and persistence in confronting police and politicians about injustices, including uninvestigated rapes, illegal mining and the lack of electricity is, frankly, breathtaking.

The Chronicle—and New York Times and Washington Post—should require every staffer to see Writing With Fire. More than a film about journalism, though, or even democracy, it’s a vivid saga of women claiming their independence and authority against deeply embedded opposition.

A woman shakes hands with a man while another man stands by and smiles.
Still from ‘The Ants and the Grasshopper.’ (Courtesy 3rd i)

With climate change on the front page this week (this month, this year, this millennium), the cross-cultural environmental doc The Ants and the Grasshopper lands on time. Produced by Chicago-based Kartemquin Films, the film opens in a remote Malawi village where the stalwart Anita Chitaya and Esther Lupafya persevere to advance sustainable farming as well as men’s participation in what’s viewed as traditional female roles (cooking, notably).

Once we’re habituated to village life, filmmakers Raj Patel and Zak Piper bring Chitaya and Lupafya to the U.S. to meet farmers in Wisconsin, Iowa, Detroit and Oakland. The women aren’t so much interested in seeing how Americans farm sustainably as to convey how our behavior contributes to climate change (especially declining rainfall) on the other side of the world.

The Ants and the Grasshopper is the gentlest advocacy film imaginable, with the (average urban) viewer left without a guide to tangible action. We’re nudged to “think globally” before we’re so affected by environmental problems that it’s too late to “act locally.” Something else to stomp your feet about.

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