A Look Back at the 18th Tasveer Film Festival

This year, the Tasveer Film Festival became the first ever Oscar-qualifying South Asian film festival, allowing its films to vie for Academy Awards recognition, breaking reliance on the major festivals that often restrict visibility and screening opportunities for South Asian films.

A Look Back at the 18th Tasveer Film Festival
This year, the festival increased financial support for new filmmakers in the diaspora, amongst several other groundbreaking accomplishments.

The 18th Tasveer Film Festival has come to a close, bringing with it a bevy of historic achievements.

Most notably, the Tasveer Film Festival (or TSAFF for short) became the first ever Oscar-qualifying South Asian film festival earlier this year, allowing its films to vie for Academy Awards recognition. This newfound status underscores allows South Asian filmmakers to compete for Oscars in a streamlined way, breaking reliance on the major festivals that often restrict visibility and screening opportunities for South Asian films. It aligns with TSAFF's mission of celebrating cultural diversity and nurturing cross-cultural dialogue through cinema while expanding opportunities for South Asian filmmakers on the world stage.

With this in mind, “Yellow” (2023) by Elham Ehsas became the first film submitted to the Oscars by Tasveer since the festival achieved its Oscar-qualifying status; Ehas also wrote and starred in the film. The film follows a woman in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, when she walks into a chadari store in Kabul to buy her first full-body veil and faces an uncertain future.

Also submitted for consideration is Vishavjit Singh and Ryan Westra's “American Sikh” (2023). The short film is the true and unlikely story of an American born, turban-wearing Sikh man, Vishavjit Singh, who after a lifetime of facing prejudice, self-doubt and violence, finally finds acceptance in a superhero costume.

Meanwhile, Samyuktha Vijayan's “Blue Sunshine” (2023) took home the festival’s Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature, making it the first trans South Asian film to win the illustrious award in the history of the festival. The film follows Aravind, a high school teacher who wants to transition from male to female while working for a school in a small town in South India.

Tasveer Film Festival Director Rita Meher was particularly impressed by the accomplishment. In a statement, Meher said that, "This was a historic and enchanting moment for us, as ‘Blue Sunshine’ [was] the first trans South Asian film to clinch the prestigious Best Jury Award for Narrative Feature — the highest honor at any film festival."

This year, the festival included a new initiative to provide resources to emerging diasporic filmmakers. “Alone, Alone, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea” (2023) by Anvita Gattani was the short film honored with a world premiere as part of the initiative. The film follows estranged brothers Rajesh and Shiva, who reunite in the wake of their Amma's deteriorating health. Soon, the brothers clash over “Breathe,” an app offering to erase painful memories from their brains. Rajesh, a realist, and Shiva, a “Breathe” addict, grapple with divergent approaches to coping. Against the backdrop of a society seduced by memory erasure, their battle becomes a poignant exploration of family, culture, technology and the human spirit's resilience.

Finally, the festival enjoyed a significant increase to the Tasveer Film Fund (TFF), which was established in 2020 with the mission of providing financial support and mentorship to independent filmmakers of South Asian descent in the United States and Canada. Since its inception, TFF has distributed a total of $85,000 to these filmmakers to help them bring untold South Asian stories to screen. This year, TFF announced a significant increase in the grant value, now offering up to $25,000 for each film category. This represents a fivefold increase from the initial grant amount of $5,000 in the fund’s inaugural year. The Tasveer Film Fund is funded by Tasveer and Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.

After a rigorous process of deliberating over every script, TFF’s team of script readers narrowed down their top three contenders for each of the Tasveer Film Fund category, who pitched their films to a panel of judges on Oct. 12, 2023. The winning project for documentary short was Hemal Trivedi’s “Yatra,” which is about a young Indian American doctor who is haunted by her mother’s death and journeys back to India to find meaning. While there, an unexpected encounter with a young indigenous girl makes her confront her past and question her future. The winning narrative short was “Channel Bibi” by Rahan Gill, which explores generational trauma in a fantastical world of hashtags, followers and influencer status. When a lonely grandmother becomes an internet sensation on YouTube, she questions whether her online fans can replace her distant family. Finally, the winning LGBTQIA+ short was “Me and My Guardian Angel” by Ibrahim Rana, following Yassin, who faces a life-altering decision at a desolate bus stop. When fate takes an unexpected turn, Yassin and his resolute cousin Ayesha are propelled into a relentless quest for justice against an unforgivable injustice.

This year, the Tasveer Film Festival welcomed a record number of participating filmmakers to Seattle, held over 20 in-person screenings and special events over the course of just a few days and created lifelong memories. To call the event anything short of monumental would be an understatement, and the future of the Tasveer Film Festival looks even brighter.