10 Amazing Films By Asian Female Directors For Those Suffering From Bollywood Fatigue

Posted by Sourya Majumder in Culture-Vulture
February 27, 2017

At a time when women are still grossly under represented in mainstream movie industries, be it Hollywood or Bollywood, Indie cinema is, as ever, proving fertile ground for fresh perspectives and experimental endeavors from women creators. And the 13th IAWRT (International Association Of Women In Radio And Television) Women’s Film Festival, to be held from March 2-4, is all set to showcase the works of Asian women from all over the world on subjects as varied as burlesques and schizophrenia. It looks to be genuinely refreshing for those suffering from Bollywood fatigue. Just take a gander at these 10 films, grouped according to three broad categories:

Celebrating Women

1. Velvet Revolution (Cameroon/India/Philippines/UK/USA)

Spearheaded by Nupur Basu, this collaborative documentary featuring six female directors from the aforementioned countries, attempts to chart the lives and works of female journalists in a world that is constantly hostile to both women and journalists. What does it take then to be a woman willing to speak truth to power? What drives these women? The film features journalists who have operated in conflict zones and risked their lives, like Zaina Erhaim from Syria, Kimberlie Ngabit Quitasol from the Philippines, and Bonya Ahmed from Bangladesh (who is also the wife of slain Bangladeshi blogger, Avijit Roy). With a name that evokes the velvet revolution of Czechoslovakia that deposed the one-party Government in 1989, this is bound to be an important, even revolutionary documentary for (and of) our times.

2. League of Exotique Dancers (Canada)

Directed by Rama Rau, this documentary is a unique ‘backstage tour’ of the golden age of Burlesque, through the lives of the colorful women who provided its sparkle and dazzle. With some of the most iconic striptease performers being the tour ‘guides’, the film attempts to cut through all the myths and misconceptions to take a deep, nuanced, and emotional look at the rise and fall of the Burlesque – at the sexism, the racism, the stigma, and the trials and tribulations of the working class women who bonded together to make this quintessentially American institution what it was – and thus, investigate how it reflects the changing society of mid-20th century America.

3. Inja Sandaliha Khalist/ Here The Seats Are Vacant (Iran)

This film, directed by Shiva Sanjari, tells the story of Shehrzad, Iran’s first female director, who was sold by her father when she was 12 and forced to dance in a cabaret in Tehran. Through conversations and clips, the film charts the journey of Shehrzad from being an award winning actress to becoming an acclaimed director, and subsequently being sent to Evin prison (and institutionalized in a mental hospital upon release) by the new Government after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The camera follows the now 72-year old Shehrzad, living her life in a small Iranian village, as she speaks candidly about her experiences and the injustice of how she and her works have been almost completely erased from public memory by the Government.

4. Lissa Aisha (Jordan-Lebanon)

This bold documentary by Asma Bseiso is the story of 27-year old psychology graduate Aisha, who was abandoned by her parents and raised as an orphan in a society where family name and status are paramount. The film shows how she dealt with the lifelong stigma, and the consequent trials and tribulations as she struggled to be accepted by society. Following her journey from 2010 to 2014, this intimate film is an inspiring and captivating portrait of a charismatic, funny, and fiercely persistent woman, determined to find her place in life – in a country where her rights are anything but guaranteed.

Celebrating Difference

5. Crossing (Israel)

Centred on Elias, Aviram, and Oz – three Jerusalemite drag queens who dress up as their own mothers and perform together in underground queer parties called ‘Jerusalem is Burning’ – this ‘political-comic’ documentary directed by Inbar Horesh explores the tensions between drag performance and public life, expressed through the lives and conflicts of the three queens as they prepare for their last show together. Touching upon an aspect of culture from Jerusalem, which is not often explored, this film is poised to be an intriguing exploration of the divide between the stage and the ‘real world’.

6. Calalai In-Betweenness (Indonesia)

The Bugis culture of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, has always believed in the existence of five genders – one of them being ‘Calalai’ – an ‘in-between’ identity between man and woman. This documentary, directed by Kiki Febriyanti explores the question, “who is Calalai?” by talking to Calalai people, investigating their own ideas and psychology as well as the importance of gender diversity and the position of Calalai people in Bugis culture – and how Calalais see themselves in an increasingly westernized world with binary conceptions of gender. In a world grappling more and more with questions of gender and queer identity, this could be an essential film.

7. Schizophrenia (Japan)

This dialogue-less, 10 minute short by Yuri Muraoka is a ‘self-portrait’ of the director in her 7th year of treatment for schizophrenia. Told through absurd mise-en-scene, hallucinogenic still images, and a maudlin soundtrack, this film provides a unique first person viewing experience of reality falling apart – growing slowly in intensity and threatening to destroy the creator’s sense of self.

Immigration/ Identity/ Belonging

8. In Between (Spain)

Documenting the story of Bangladeshi immigrants in Madrid, this film directed by Paromita Dhar follows four characters – Bobby, a singer who tells his stories through his songs; Titly, a young mother who got married over phone and subsequently left behind her home and family in Bangladesh, only to discover the gulf between her dreams, and reality; Sattar, an airport worker who interacts with immigrants every day, even as he wishes to become a legal, documented Spanish citizen; and Somon, a beer seller who drives the crew of the film and tells his story through how he navigates this vibrant, ancient city.

9. Soz – A Ballad of Maladies (India)

Art has always been a vital form of resistance – fostering, documenting and channelling revolutions and revolutionary ideas. This documentary by Sarvnik Kaur and Tushar Madhav looks at how art is used as resistance in one of the worst militarized zones in the world – Kashmir. Moving from traditional Kashmiri art to modern folk, rock, and hip-hop, and featuring artists like MC Kash, Showkat Kathju, and Anees Zargar, the film depicts the transformation of the collective consciousness of an entire people, and how Kashmiri culture has come to manifest these voices of resistance to brutal, unceasing state repression – shattering stereotypical notions of Kashmir as a beautiful ‘paradise’ and forcing us to confront reality.

10. Flood of Memory (India)

The devastating 2006 Rajasthan floods are well-known, courtesy of the extensive media coverage. However, what is far less known is how the Barmer district villagers were left to truly come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy – with their grief and loss – once the cameras departed and the incident faded from public memory. Director Anitha Balachandran attempts to create a document of this time – of the collective memory of the villagers, of their struggles – in a truly unique manner: through a combination of live footage and charcoal and sand animation that evokes the desert. What emerges is a powerful and haunting depiction of loss, regrets, helplessness, and a collective struggle that the nation forgot.

If you’re in the city, be sure to catch these amazing films from March 2-4, 2017 at the India International Centre, and let us know what you think! For more information, head here.