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Assamese language film Village Rockstars takes the Best Feature prize at 16th annual IFFLA

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LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles concluded their 16th year Sunday, April 15 with nostalgia, thrilling mystery and light hearted optimism. The final day of the fest featured a tribute to the late Sridevi, with a special screening of Chandni, followed by the mystery thriller The Ashram which was preceded by the short Fifteen Years Later.

The closing night film was an Assamese language, coming of age story, Village Rockstars.

Before the final film, the awards ceremony honored the filmmakers for their achievements. The awards were decided by a jury as well as audience votes. When accepting the award for Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary (Lovesick), Priya Giri Desai said the best thing about IFFLA is the audience. During the week, the filmmakers in attendance participated in Q&As after their films and were blown away be the insightful and enthusiastic questions and comments from the audience. IFFLA is an intimate festival where the audience can easily approach the filmmakers and talk with them about their films. It really provides an inclusive atmosphere that celebrates the love of cinema.

Another thing that stood out to the filmmakers and festival attendees were the shorts. When asked what films they liked the most, many expressed how impressed they were by the shorts program this year. There were two shorts programs containing multiple films as well as a few features preceded by a short film. The fact that the shorts were so impactful in their short duration is also what made them noteworthy. At the start of the awards ceremony, the IFFLA programming team mentioned how they were blown away by the thrilling voices of the short films.

The Audience Choice Award: Best Short went to An Essay of the Rain directed by Nagraj Manjule. The Grand Jury Prize for Best Short was presented to The Caregiver, directed by Ruthy Pribar. Regarding the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short, the jury awarded, “a film that we loved for its elegant representation of the nuances between compassion and survival, and for its understated yet decisive storytelling.”

A special jury mention was made for Counterfeit Kunkoo, which the jury called “an incredible short film about apartment hunting in Mumbai that not only manages to be well-paced, gripping and bold but also a heart-wrenching perspective into gender inequality in metropolitan India.”

The audiences at this year’s IFFLA chose Take Off directed by Mahesh Narayanan as their favorite narrative feature film of the festival. Lovesick, directed by Priya Giri Desai and Ann S. Kim took the Audience Award for Best Documentary.

A special jury mention was made for Sushama Deshpande’s performance in AJJI. The jury stated: “Taking on difficult characters is always a challenge for an actor. It takes courage to humanize and portray a role that breaks the stereotypes. This actress demonstrated undeniable talent and commitment to deliver an authentic and grounded performance.”

Village Rockstars took home the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature. In awarding the Grand Prize, the narrative jury stated: “This film explores gender expectations in a gentle manner. It blends beautiful cinematography with naturalistic performances in a fun and uplifting coming-of age story. Working as a one woman army, this director created an unforgettable portrait of childhood.”

Female filmmakers made quite the impression this year so it was only fitting that the award winning Village Rockstars was the closing night film. Rima Das not only directed the film, but she also was the cinematographer, art director, editor and more. When asked about the origin of the film, Das explained that she was not sure she was going to make a feature alone. Over the course of four years, Das took on the many roles primarily due to lack of funds. She expressed it was challenging but there was also a freedom to being a ‘one woman show’; there was no pressure. So she just took the challenge.

She filmed in the village of Assam, where she is from, and as the main characters are children, whom she filmed early in the morning and after school. A benefit to this constraint was that she was always filming during “magic hour” and the optimal lighting hours. Also, the weather in the area is unpredictable so she had to always be ready to film which is much easier when she is the only crew to organize.

This style of filming, gave the film a documentary type feel. There was no full script but there was a structure. She would write a scene and go shoot it. In the initial stage, the story did not change – a girl dreaming of owning a guitar. However, over the course of filming, a sweet mother daughter relationship story developed. After the film, an audience member asked if they are actually mother and daughter and Das confirmed they are. The mother character is a strong woman and recalling the inspiration for that, Das mentioned how her own mother is strong and it was from her own imagination. Referring to the relationship in the film, Das expressed she wants motherhood to be like that.

Regarding the initial inspiration, Das said she met some amazing children in her village who inspired her and she liked how, “Children, they can dream”. She casted the boys first and the lead girl was around while they were doing the initial filming. Das recounted how the girl was so naughty and climbing trees; she sounds just like her character. Then this girl slowly was overpowering the boys with her presence. “There was something in her face, she was so strong” said Das. The children and the way they were filmed gives the film an extremely natural and realistic feel which in turn adds to the documentary vibe. The pacing of the over all film is a bit slow but this is not so much a problem as you are in this world exploring it with the children.

In the film, there is flood which happens annually in the area. At the time of filming, it was not on Das’ mind to include the flood as part of the story. Then a flood happened but she did not want to film it because her film was not a documentary. Then, it flooded again and she found it did fit within the story – it is a part of the characters’ lives. After a couple weeks, they all go back to their lives and that is how Das felt it fit within her story.

After the full week of films, film discussions and meeting new people, seeing old friends, attendees and filmmakers bid farewell to IFFLA and went back to their lives. However, there was one last time of mingling and some dancing at the closing night gala. A few filmmakers commented how their were sad that the festival was over but they had such a wonderful time.
Film festivals bring people together to celebrate their love of cinema and IFFLA did that once again.
Until next year!

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IFFLA celebrates 20 years with a focus to mentor the next generation

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IFFLA celebrates 20 years with a trip down memory lane

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — IFFLA celebrated their 20th anniversary with familiar faces, overwhelming excitement and new additions to Southern California’s largest Indian and South Asian focused film festival.

Pan Nalin opened the festival with his film Last Film Show, a love letter to cinema and loosely based on his childhood.

“I think IFFLA over the years, it has been like a home in Hollywood. So I was always able to come here and invite people from the industry to see these movies,” said Nalin. “There are producers who usually don’t go to see Indian cinema. So I feel that it’s really important.”

Director Anurag Kashyap returned to host a MasterClass — a way to give back to the festival and fellow filmmakers.

“It is always good to be back here because for me this is where it all started from. And it’s amazing to see that this festival has grown so much and has been sustaining for so long,” said Kashyap.

New filmmakers were honored to be part of the lineup this year, especially after no in-person IFFLA for the last two years.

Hena Asraf, Director of The Return, shares “it feels a little unreal. It feels great! I think especially to be at a festival in person, after over two years.” 

“The community is amazing. The welcome is very warm. It feels just so honoring to be a part of this festival and amongst these filmmakers. I can’t wait to see all the other films,” said The Return Editor Esther Shubinski.

It’s that family feeling that makes IFFLA special and keeps filmmakers, attendees, and staff keep coming back.

Actor and director Ravi Kapoor is “just so grateful for this festival. It has been such a supporter of me. And they’ve helped bring the South Asian diasporic community here in LA together as well. Thank god they’ve lasted 20 years.”

Actor & musician Monica Dogra points out “what’s wonderful about IFFLA [is] it’s super niche, South Asians in LA of all places. [And] it’s small enough so you actually see people anyway.”

Actor Pooja Batra added, “I think they’ve always been eclectic with their mix of selection that they bring around here — smaller budget, smaller sort of productions also need a shout out.”

One of the new additions this year is the Spotlight on South Asia.

Festival founder Christina Marouda added this vertical to present films from different countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. “We’re putting a spotlight on projects we want to support,” said Marouda.

The other major new change this year was a live table read of IFFLA alum Kahlil Maskati’s feature script, Alim Uncle, rather than a closing night film. Fawzia Mirza directed the piece.

These changes reflect IFFLA’s commitment to supporting filmmakers while giving audiences more than a viewing experience. In fact, they are able to be part of the filmmaking process.

Marouda says after 20 years, this is IFFLA’s direction moving forward — a full effort to mentor budding filmmakers, while showcasing new films.

Ravi Kapur and Deepti Dawar contributed to this report.

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Garcetti’s ambassadorship to India in limbo

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Garcetti's ambassadorship to India in limbo | Diya TV News

WASHINGTON DC (Diya TV) — Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has lifted the “hold” on the Senate confirmation of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been nominated by US President Joe Biden as the country’s next ambassador to India. Initially, Grassley planned to object to the nomination, saying Garcetti failed to properly investigate sexual assault allegations and harassment by a close advisor.

Protesters in Sri Lanka have burned down homes belonging to 38 politicians as the crisis-hit country plunged further into chaos, with the government ordering troops to shoot anyone caught destroying property. Even the former Prime Minister had to be evacuated from his home. Angry Sri Lankans continue to defy a nationwide curfew to protest against what they say is the government’s mishandling of the country’s worst economic crisis since 1948.

Internationally recognized Indian American energy expert Arun Majumdar will head the new Stanford University Doerr School of Sustainability, which aims to tackle urgent climate and sustainability challenges,

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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LA Kings host first Indian cultural night

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LA Kings host first ever Indian Cultural Night

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — The Los Angeles Kings hosted their first Indian Cultural Night at the Crypto.com Arena, a new initiative intended to broaden their appeal to a growing demographic. Many of the guests in attendance and the special invitees on hand talked about what the representation of the evening means to them.

Robin Bawa, the first South Asian NHL Player, said “this is great. This is a good idea that the Kings are doing. The first Indian Cultural Night here in the US, and they did a good job – coming down here to be part of this was also a great honor. You know it is all about spreading the word and getting the Indian community involved in these types of things and bringing them out to games.”

“We are here to grow the game, and this allows other people to understand the game and really get embraced by it,” said Dampy Brar, APNA Hockey Co-Founder. “So there’s a lot of South Asian families and population here. When they have nights like this, more will come, more will get introduced to hockey, educate themselves. So to be part of this night and to be able to do what I did today was special.”

Amrit Gill, host of Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition, concurred. “If you can see it, you can be it, as cliche as it sounds. It is one of the most powerful tools in helping create more inclusion not only in sports, but in society as well. So I am over the moon to be here, but this is just the beginning.”

Indian American TikTok stars Kiran and Nivi sang the National Anthem. Kiran explained that this is their “first time attending a game and performing the national anthem.” Nivi added she was “just so grateful to be part of this.”

Indian American actress Sway Bhatia says representation matters in sports and media. Bhatia portrays a hockey player on Disney’s brand new Mighty Ducks TV show.

“Seeing so many people with faces of color, and to be one of those people, is just so empowering,” said Bhatia. And you know, other people in the stadium are able to see who we are and see what we do. I mean we had two amazing brown people of color sing the national anthem, which was so beautiful.”

Organizers are calling the evening a success after a larger than expected turnout and hope this continues to expand the popularity of the game.

Randip Janda, Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition Host, points out that “this is a moment where not only hockey fans are able to celebrate what’s going on tonight but this is a community coming together and celebrating those common bonds whether you’re Indian, whether South Asian or not. A celebration like this, it shows you something. That the rink, where you go and you might be having a bad day but you’re going to celebrate. Win, lose or draw, it should be a party every single time. I think this helps us understand people around us and our communities and hockey can be a vessel of that.”

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