Good things sometimes come in fives.
Both the opening and closing films of the 2018 DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF), taking place Friday through Sunday, Sept. 7, 8 and 9, have the number in their titles.
The first offering in the festival, now in its seventh year, is “5 Rupya,” starring Shabana Azmi, whom Manoj Singh, the festival’s executive director, calls “the Meryl Streep of India.” Azmi plays the grandmother of a 7-year-old orphaned boy named Hamid, who lives with her in a small village in the scenic Kashmir Valley.
“Director Piyush Panjwani has woven together a beautiful film that captures the essence of Munshi Premchand’s ‘Idgah,’ a story that’s considered one of the classics in Indian literature,” said Singh, who co-founded the film festival with his wife Geeta Singh, who serves as hospitality chief and festival director.
The closing film, “5 Weddings,” directed by Namrata Singh Gujral, stars Rajkumar Rao and Nargis Fakhri. This is the North American premiere of the film, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.
The involvement of the Singhs in a film festival may seem surprising since Manoj is in IT management consulting, and Geeta is a banker. “But we both are movie buffs,” he said. “I participated in some plays and made short films and took film-making classes at Montgomery College.” He is also a member of the Actors Center as well as the DC Area Storytellers.
In 2012, the Singhs created Ceasar Productions — a premier company, Manoj Singh said, for hosting South Asian theater, music, film and book-reading events and supporting various charities. After attending film festivals in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, the Gaithersburg couple decided to start one for the Washington, D.C.-area audience.
The DC South Asian Film Festival begins with an Opening Night Gala, at 6:30 on Friday evening, featuring a conversation with producer Boney Kapoor, whose films include “Mr. India,” and a screening of “5 Rupya,” in Hindi/Urdu.
This year, for the first time, the festival is partnering with Women in Film and Television International (WIFTI), a membership organization that advocates for and advances the careers of women working in the screen industries – to achieve parity and transform culture through educational programs.
The film festival has an educational component as well; two workshops will be offered, one titled “Casting to Direction” and the other, “Smart Phone Film Making.” American University Professor Claudia Myers and actor Meera Narasimhan will conduct the first one, and Professor Biljana Milenkovic of Montgomery College’s Film and Video Program, the second. Also scheduled is a panel discussion on “Diversity and Inclusion: Challenges of Film Funding.”
The William Wyler and Catherine Wyler Award — named for the legendary, much-honored film director and his producer daughter — will be presented at the WIFTI Gala night. But, said Singh, the organization does not want the honoree to be released in advance.
In addition to special guest, former Miss World and actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, luminaries from Hollywood and Bollywood attending will include director Zoya Akhtqr, actresses Swara Bhaskar and Aamina Sheikh, actor Suraj Sharma (“Life of Pi”), actor-director Namrata Singh Gujral (“5 Weddings) and producer Catherine Hand (“A Wrinkle in Time,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey).
In all, 34 independent feature films, short films and documentaries will be screened during the festival. The movies come from India (in both Hindi and regional languages), Pakistan and Afghanistan, but all have English subtitles. “Many of the films in the festival are either American or D.C. premieres,” Singh said.
Among the other noteworthy films to be screened will be “What Will People Say,” concerning a Pakistani family living in Norway, “Half Widow,” about the battle between India and Pakistan over Kashmir; and “Black Kite,” an Afghani movie about a simple kite maker caught in the country’s political turmoil.
“This is an opportunity to see many independent art films, which may never be released commercially,” said Singh. “The festival also features post-screening Q&As with directors and actors.”
The WIFTI Awards Gala Night will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda. Screenings take place at Montgomery College in Rockville, with whom DCSAFF is partnering with for the third consecutive year. Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, Theatre Arts Arena and Music Recital Hall will serve as venues.
“The college thinks that DCSAFF is a good platform for educating students about South Asian culture and diversity,” said Manoj Singh. “They support us with the use of their facilities.”
Beginning this year, Montgomery College will give Scholarship Awards to film school project winners.
Preceding the formal events of the festival, on Wednesday, Sept. 5, DCSAFF will present a Special Documentary Night, featuring award-winning films from among those submitted to the organization.
A committee of five to seven individuals selects the films in the festival, often tracking other film festivals to see which movies have received good reviews.
Although films are the essence of DCSAFF, they are not the end-all-and-be-all of it. “We want to be much more than a film festival,” said Manoj Singh. “We’re a platform for learning about cultural diversity.”
The 2018 DC South Asian Film Festival will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 to 9, on the Montgomery College campus, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. The WIFT Awards Gala Night will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Hyatt Regency,1 Bethesda Metro Center, Bethesda. A full schedule and tickets are available at www.dcsaff.com and www.montgomerycollege.edu/pac. Call 301-529-8008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.