CINCINNATI -- The inaugural Indian Film Festival of Cincinnati opens Saturday at the Cincinnati Art Museum, featuring four films that tackle a range of topics from societal pressures to human trafficking.
"India is a very diverse country," said Ratee Apana, co-chair of the festival and a founding president of festival sponsor India Sister Cities. "What happens in one region can be diametrically different from what happens in another region … these movies are educating Indians as much as they are others about happenings in different parts of the country."
Apana said the original impetus behind the festival belongs to India Sister Cities president Pat Niskode, who initially sought to use popular family films as a medium to bring folks together. The project eventually evolved into a festival of independent films from India.
Apana served on the Cincinnati City Council’s immigration task force and co-authored a government report on ways to make Cincinnati a more immigrant-friendly city.
"The film festival serves to bring India to Cincinnati through the medium of film," said Apana. “We have a growing Indian population in the Tri-State area. We would like this festival to serve as a bridge between cultures in our society while providing a look at the sophisticated indie movie industry in India."
Independent Indian films -- and film in general -- have the power to help transcend cultural boundaries, said Apana. Most people are likely familiar with colorful Bollywood musicals that have made their way stateside; stars such as Aishwarya Rai and films such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” although it is not a traditional Bollywood film, have seeped into mainstream U.S. film culture.
"The indie film industry is quite different and has always attracted different kinds of viewers," said Apana. “This vibrant cinematographic scene of today’s world inspires people globally, despite political and cultural differences, and highlights some of the universal issues we all face: fear, ignorance, greed, human behavior, human rights, etc."
The four full-length films featured in the festival include “Parched," "Saankal" (Shackle), "English Vinglish" and "Na Bangaru Thalli" (My Dearest Daughter).
"Parched" focuses on four women living in a the northwest region of India, where societal traditions such as forced child marriage and dire financial issues are still rampant. The film was released in 2015 and won numerous international film festival awards.
"Saankal" (Shackle), based on a true story, depicts how war creates new borders that divide societies. It’s the tale of one village that arbitrarily chooses a system to deal with maintaining its community.
"English Vinglish" is the most lighthearted film of the group, dealing with the societal and educational value of knowing how to speak English.
"Naa Bangaru Thalli" deals with human trafficking, a topic close to Apana’s heart: As an associate professor of business at the University of Cincinnati and a UC Forward fellow, Apana ran a class called "Transforming Lives," leading students in studying the approach of overseas nonprofits toward human trafficking, with a goal of global learning for local application. Human trafficking is a huge problem in Cincinnati and Ohio, said Apana, and some of her students are now working on medical and law degrees to focus on solving this issue.
Panel discussions with some of the films’ directors, via Skype, as well as members of the community, will follow each screening.
Screenings at 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive
General admission: $10; $5 for students and CAM members.