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Film Fri Oct 08 2010

Chicago South Asian Film Festival, Part Two

filmy.jpgThis past weekend marked the first anniversary of the Chicago South Asian Film Festival. The brand new festival seeks to bring films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to the Midwest as well as featuring filmmakers of South Asian decent. Before this Chicago didn't have a film festival that represented only the South Asian community. Considering Illinois has one of the highest populations of South Asian families this festival seemed like a long time coming. The films offered spanned everything from shorts, features, and documentaries all with an Asian twist. We review the documentary Warrior Boyz and Sunday's closing film 7 Days In Slow Motion after the jump.

7 Days In Slow Motion (2009, dir. Umakanth Thumrugoti)
When you're a kid, going to the movies is a big deal. Back in the day people would get dressed up to go to the big movie houses. Now we take this kind of thing for granted. We don't know how lucky we are to have such an open and vibrant film culture in the US. We can now shoot movies where ever, when ever, through our phones even. In 7 Days In Slow Motion we experience the flip side of that. Ravi, a 6th grader in India from a middle-class family, is lent a camera for the week. He and his friend consider this a privilege and an adventure, but there's one catch - exams are this week too. Ravi feels immense pressure to do well in his exams because of his mother's overbearing influence over him and fears that she'll do something dangerous if he fails. Ravi and his camera travel through the week carefully, balancing his mother's expectations and his own creative ambition.

Where Raspberry Magic explored the modern family dynamic of an Indian family in America, 7 Days in Slow Motion delves into a very different one in India. Ravi is a bright kid and does well in school. But it's the unnecessary and unwarranted pressure from his mother that pushes him from interested school kid to constant academic. When he receives the camera for the week his creative side starts to shine and he starts to dream about making his own movie. But it's this unchecked need to live up to his mother's expectations that is the main point of conflict for the main character. Ravi's mother does this partially out of motherly love but more from an urge to impress her mother, who has always been more partial to her sister. A lot of kids never really realize this until they're much older but Ravi catches on to it very quickly and is afraid to fail. He's plagued with nightmares about his mother committing suicide if he fails his exams. There's also a side story that shows how arranged marriages are still in practice in the Indian culture and many examples of female relationships throughout the film. First time writer/director Umakanth Thumrugoti, who is a graphic engineer from Walt Disney, does a fantastic job of showing the freedoms many kids take for granted through Ravi and his friends. The camera is way more than a toy to them. It's an escape from their home lives, from what their families push upon them, from the future that's already been sketched out for them without their consent.

Warrior Boyz (2008, dir. Baljit Sangra)
If you live in a city, chances are you know of one or two gangs. In Chicago we know it's present but the majority of us will never experience or see a gang activity. In Vancouver it's very different. Gang activity is on the rise and surprisingly it's from the Indian community. There's the Independent Soldiers, the Sanghera Crime Group, the Buttar gang, and a dozen more all who are Indo-Canadians. Now the question is why? Why is the South Asian community so involved in gang activity? Warrior Boyz, a documentary by Baljit Sangra, shows the underbelly of the Vancouver gang culture.
There's a certain notion that many people who join gangs come from low-income families and broken homes. But in the Indo-Canadian gangs that's far from true. Most gang members come from tight-knit middle class homes and first generation Indian families. Their activities in their respective gangs ranges from drug distribution, money laundering, robbery, even kidnapping. Sangra tries to show how these kids get involved in this type of activity even when they have strong family relationships and, for most members, good schooling. Sangra follows four real life people in the gang community to show how these ties connect - a school principal and a former gang member who team up to keep teenagers out of gangs and help others get out, and two active gang members with opposite ambitions.

The documentary has some flaws. Though it's emotionally and mentally engaging it lacks that something extra to push it to a place where Babies Made in India was able to reach. It takes on a more informative role than a socially-engaging one. Which is completely fine. Most Americans probably know next to nothing about Canadian gang activity, let alone the huge Indian culture just north of us. Docs like Warrior Boyz let us know that gang activity is more than Bloods and Crips, or Latin Kings and Black Disciples for Chicago, and can take on many shapes and forms. One thing Sangra threads throughout the film is that a lot of these kids come from Sikh culture or the Jat people and that perhaps it's from a sense of cultural duty that these kids join gangs. Another point is a universal one, that these kids join gangs because it's "glamorous" and that being a gang member is admirable. The commentary provided by the former gang member is especially enlightening on all of these points. For whatever reason, it's only increasing. It's breached just gangs and has now targeted outside, with gangs attacking reporters now. I can see this film being very helpful within the community because finally there's a film that shows the other side of gang life. It's important that these people have a voice and that more people know what's going on in their community, even if it is across the boarder. This screening was the Chicago premiere of the documentary and I hope it's success brings it back to the city so more people have the opportunity to see it. Yet another fitting documentary for the South Asian Film Festival.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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