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South Asian Film Festival celebrates ‘courageous films’

A new partnership with Telefilm Canada, a splashy taste for controversy and a fresh dedication toward the promotion of female filmmakers will mark the sixth edition of the National Bank Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF).

A new partnership with Telefilm Canada, a splashy taste for controversy and a fresh dedication toward the promotion of female filmmakers will mark the sixth edition of the National Bank Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF).

Within its program announcement of 13 feature films, four documentaries and 15 shorts, the Mississauga-based event revealed a Telefilm presentation of Deepa Mehta's Fire, a groundbreaking 1996 film that represented mainstream Indian cinema's first foray into homosexual (specifically, lesbian) love.

MISAFF's fresh focus on films helmed by Canadian-South Asian women includes a screening of A Better Man, a groundbreaking 2017 documentary from Attiya Khan and Lawrence Jackman that sees co-director Khan sitting down with an ex-boyfriend who physically abused her when she was a teenager, years earlier.

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Films that combat contemporary views of South Asian women include With This Ring, a documentary from Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian on female boxers.

"We've come so very far since Deepa Mehta made Fire in 1996," Anya McKenzie, festival co-director, told The Globe. "Our laws are changing. Things have changed, when it comes to issues such as young women living in marriages not of their choosing."

The festival, which runs from Aug. 3 to 6, will be presented at Cineplex Mississauga, in a city that is home to a large South Asian community that is considered to be fairly conservative. Asked about bringing in contentious films such as Fire and A Better Man, McKenzie speaks about challenging dominant ideas and telling bold, modern stories. "We take risks. We represent courageous films."

The opening night film is Moko Jumbie, the first feature from Trinidadian-American Vashti Anderson. The drama, set in ruins of a coconut plantation in rural Trinidad, involves taboo romance, family disapproval and political turmoil.

Telefilm Canada's closing-day presentation of Fire is to be followed by a talk with filmmaker Mehta, whose Anatomy of Violence from last year investigated the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a Delhi bus. "She's a vanguard filmmaker," McKenzie said. "She's a maverick, and we're proud and honoured to have her."

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