DIRECTOR OF MISAFF
(Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival)
WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING A FESTIVAL DIRECTOR?
I finished film school at Concordia Drama Film School for Cinema in 2012, at the same time I had a few shorts that were on the festival circuit and I went to the Cannes Film Festival, which I had been to before, and in while there I discovered some amazing South Asian cinema. From this new moment of seeing cinema which was not in Bollywood, using technology, there were better stories being told, allowing more access for storytellers and filmmakers, and all of sudden Bollywood was challenged. When I came back to Canada, I realized that nowhere in Canada were these works being given a platform or being showcased. I had been programming for the Mosaic Festival (South Asian Heritage) and I had been showing my films there over the last 12 years, because the Mosaic Festival is the biggest festival after the music festival and they were our component. I discussed it with the Mosaic team and I partnered with my friend Anya McKenzie (who had experience in digital content and acquisitions) … I said why don’t we look into this and we decided to have the first MISAFF (Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival of Mississauga) – where I bring these great films to a community that is very under serviced, a community that was lacking good Indian cinema. Then I was hearing numerous voices coming forward, South Asians from around the world, the Caribbean, Africa, North America, Europe, everywhere … all with different stories to tell. So we decided that we were going to have a film festival that represents the different diverse voices. And it took off from there. The people liked the notion of having a South Asian Festival. Toronto and the GTA is so diverse and have supported us, we’ve obtained good sponsorship and we receive a lot of love from the local communities, and other film festivals … that’s how we started.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR JOB?
I’m a filmmaker but while working with the film festival, MISAFF is non-profit, we’re not here to make money … we’re here to excite people about good cinema and to make them understand that the cinema experience is a beautiful and there’s a proper way to watch these films that have been created … to watch them with big sound on the big screen in a proper theatrical environment – which is a totally different experience from watching a film on your iPad, laptop or even in your home. When you’re watching it with an audience, you feel the energy of the audience. You understand things you may have missed. We live in such a technical obsessed society, where it seems that no-one can live without their phone for five minutes. So the theatre is the place where everyone can disconnect and concentrate on the creative work of art … and that experience, that’s most exciting. So for me, what’s most exciting … is bringing these incredible films, to the screen, for the audience and help make their experience very special. This is something they will not get anywhere else. It’s a unique experience and I’m excited to share these great films with the audience.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO BE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR?
This year most of our films are directed by women. We didn’t say “films have to be directed by women”. It just so happened that women are making incredible stories in cinema, especially South Asian women, so their voices are getting amplification at MISAFF, which is very exciting. Also, we’re opening the festival with Moko Jumbie, which is a Trini-American film, from Trinidad and Tobago, that’s never been done before. This is a totally new thing for us. Not very many films are made in Trinidad, it’s a small country, so for them to have this premiere at the festival, is very exciting. A lot of times, the people from the island feel that they’re not respected in the same way and some feel that they’re not being seen on equal terms. So we need to change that way of thinking and we need to make them feel welcome in the community and let them know that they are just as welcome as everyone else. We need to get their work in the South Asian communities, so that’s why this is an important bridge that we’re creating here for the Trinidad & Tobago community. This is our attempt to bring people of different South Asian heritages together – thru cinema.
HOW HAVE YOU USED SOCIAL MEDIA TO RAISE THE PROFILE FOR MISAFF?
We have a great publicist, Amy Saunders is amazing and we have a Social Media Director, we have a presence on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, our website gets a lot of hits as well. On the site, we get hundreds of daily impressions for the festival, which is really exciting.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY CHANGE OR GROW?
The reason we have to have a South Asian Film Festival or any kind of minority festival is because those voices are often drowned out by mainstream Hollywood or by the mainstream. We don’t get the same exposure, we don’t get the same attention, we don’t get the same reach. We need to make sure that we don’t follow anyone else’s standards, we make our own, to make more equality and respect. It’s about a shared human experience. I feel that the media has done a huge disservice by being controlled by corporate interest or by messaging certain communities over others, creating standards which are unrealistic for people of color, for women or for minorities. I think that it’s important that diverse voices be given a chance. We had the “Oscar So White” movement a couple of years ago, which resulted in people being more aware. We just need to have more diversity because this is a reality. As a brown person, as a brown Pakistani queer person, I felt that my voice wasn’t being heard. I felt that I wasn’t being represented. Why is someone else defining who I am? That’s not me. So in MISAFF, these voices of people telling their own stories is essential towards a better world. It brings a better understanding between people. A better sharing of the joint condition beyond class, culture, race and creed. That’s why MISAFF posters say “Films for everyone”, that means MISAFF is a festival for every culture, every ethnicity, every person – we’re not just a festival for South Asians … the reason we are showcasing South Asian cinema is because we want to build better understanding.
MISAFF exists so that the greater Toronto and Mississauga community has a place to come and watch incredible cinema that speaks to them – no matter where they are from – it will help them understand people, help us understand each other better.
WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS AND WHY?
The one person that comes to mind right away for me is the filmmaker Deepa Mehta. I met her 1999 in flight and we became friends. She had just come out with her film FIRE a few years prior to that. She has been really integral in helping me, to inviting me to work on MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (her feature film that was shot in Sri Lanka), to helping me with my film ABU (where she actually directed by narration) … she has been a great film mentor for me. She has mentored many people and helped them, guided them. Personally … she’s been inspirational to me and my career.
INVITATION TO EVERYONE OUT THERE
Bring your family, friends and children to MISAFF. We have a beautiful festival planned … Four days of excellent cinema, dress-up., attend the amazing gala, red carpets, take photos of the stars, photos at the video wall, watch movies, participate in the Q&A after the show with the filmmakers and attend the opening party. Events like this don’t happen in Mississauga, so this is a unique opportunity. Come out and celebrate the beautiful cinema with beautiful people from around the world.
MISAFF runs until Sun. August 6th
For additional information or to purchase tickets – CLICK HERE