Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you, Manoj, for that great introduction! It’s the second night in a row that you have introduced me! I’m getting used to it and even starting to believe some of the kind things that you have said about me. Thank you for your firm friendship. I applaud their passion and commitment for art and cinema.
Seriously, it is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to Norton Manor – our humble home! Debbie and I are delighted that you accepted our invitation to join us for this special event this evening.
We want to sincerely thank all of you for coming. We are pleased that you were able to take time off from the busy DC South Asian Film Festival schedule to be here.
It is the second year of our association with DC South Asian Film Festival, which, as I mentioned last night, has become a permanent feature of the DC South Asian calendar. I remember when the festival started three years ago. It was a modest beginning, at the Universities at Shady Grove.
Since its inception, however, the Festival has been able to draw great artists such as Shyam Benegal, late Farooq Sheikh, Parkash Jha, Nandita Das, and Sanjay Tripathi to name just a few. And, as you all know this year it has added to its impressive roster such as Aparna Sen, Huma Beg, and Suman Gosh.
In the four years of its existence, DC South Asian Film Festival has screened some of the finest movies to have come out of the subcontinent. It has also provided us with an opportunity to interact with directors and artists. There have been interactive sessions and workshops on various aspects of filmmaking, which helped broaden knowledge about movies – most especially about the invaluable contributions that independent films make to the betterment of society and to educate and advance social causes.
As you all know, independent films are not just about box office; they focus on stories and story-telling. They have social messages.
Being small budget films, most of the time, these movies cannot cast big stars. So, they must be particularly adept at bringing a story to life in order to bring and keep an audience in the theater.
Marketing is a big challenge for indie films as well. Television, one of the main promotional channels, has failed as a viable medium for marketing independent films. And, while the internet and social media have helped in the promotion of indie films, it is yet to be commercially viable, as internet users are inclined to expect free stuff, especially in South Asia.
Then, there is what I call the “curse of Bollywood.” Apart from yoga, India is known in the US for Bollywood. To the outside world, Bollywood films are Indian films.
They are extravagant, studio-backed and star-studded films. In order to succeed, indie films from India, in their quiet way, must overcome this stereotype and sea of noise in order to succeed.
This is what makes the job that Manoj and Geeta are doing with this Festival even more special. They are providing the much-needed space, as well as the opportunity for many directors and actors from the subcontinent to directly reach out to film lovers in this area. They are giving many new directors a launching pad to launch their careers.
My wife Debbie and I are thrilled to be associated with and part of their effort. That’s because we share the love of the arts with them.
Promoting art and culture is one of the missions of the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation. Debbie is on the board of the illustrious Shakespeare Theater Company, America’s premier classic theater and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO).
I am fortunate that President Obama has appointed me to serve as a trustee on the board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In the past, I served on the board of Strathmore Center for the Arts.
As you know Art plays a pivotal role in connecting, inspiring, engaging, and educating communities. We are always reminded and guided by the words of President Kennedy who said: If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. As a result, the arts and culture is a sweet spot for us. That is just one of the reasons it gives Debbie and me immense pleasure to be able to support DC South Asian Film Festival and its continuing and constant focus on independent films.
Another reason is that DC South Asian Film Festival is spawning a new generation of South Asian American independent films. In the next three days, you will see at least three films from South Asian Americans: “Partu”, a film by our own Nitin Adsul; “Miss India America” by Ravi Kapoor; and “For Here or To Go” by Rucha Humnabadkar. Based upon the quality of these productions and with the assistance of DC South Asian Film Festival. I would expect to see many more South Asian American filmmakers blossoming here in the states in the coming years.
In conclusion, let me once again salute the groundbreaking work that Geeta and Manoj are doing. But, more importantly, let me salute all of you and the great work that you are doing. Without your films there could be no DC South Asian Film Festival.
I firmly believe the best is yet to come. To steal a phrase, “we’ve only just begun.’
As I said yesterday, I am confident DC South Asian Film Festival will become an even bigger feature of the South Asian American calendar, not just in DC, but nationally. As a result, at some time in the not too distant future, I am confident that India will be known as the home for independent films and not as Bollywood.
Thanks again for joining us tonight. Enjoy the evening! Celebrate independent film. Celebrate yourselves. God bless you all.