The Austin Chronicle

The 2017 Indie Meme Film Fest

Bringing in the best of South Asian films

By Jessi Cape, April 14, 2017, Screens

Indie Meme cherishes Austin's receptive film audiences, and the schedule for their sophomore film festival serves up a veritable cinematic rainbow full of South Asian flavor. In the current wackadoodle political climate of clowns and separatists, cultural awareness is imperative for coexistence, and film has a unique way of providing perspective. "I truly believe in the power of cinema to influence social consciousness. It helps initiate a dialogue that has the potential to turn into action to impact many lives. Indie Meme Film Festival was a natural extension of what we were already doing through the year – screening the best of meaningful indie cinema from South Asia," says co-founder Tripti Bhatnagar.

Last year's women-centric schedule was a success, and this year's theme also emerged organically as a dynamic and socially relevant lineup. "All the films were in some way about exercising your rights and freedoms. They may be political rights in a democracy, or the right to express sexual affiliation. It might be the right to dream, to [make] a better life, to change, to cope with change our way. We are careful about the voices we amplify: They are the most deserving, creatively progressive ones," says co-founder Alka Bhanot.

Their curated cinematic journey through South Asia features nine full-length films and six shorts, across multiple genres, hailing from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, and America. The team prides themselves on offering screenings of films that many people might not have easy access to, by independent filmmakers who need a platform to showcase their work. In fact, both the opening and closing night films are banned in India. "An Insignificant Man is a film about protesters and outsiders who are trying to break into the biggest democracy in the world, India. At the heart of the film is [Chief Minister of Delhi] Arvind Kejriwal, one of the most polarizing figures in India today. The 100-minute film has been distilled from 400 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot over a course of two years. It's a political party's journey. In India, this is not an easy release," explains Bhatnagar. "Lipstick Under My Burkha is one of those very bold films that comes around once in a while. It was denied certificate for its 'sexual references and use of abusive words, among other reasons.' The filmmaker is still fighting to get the rights to release the film in India." Dallas International Film Festival screened Lipstick last weekend, and Indie Meme is offering Austin the chance to see this remarkable film.

Films that highlight connectivity seem particularly relevant. Alka says the Pakistani short film "Me Chabbar and Abu Chachu" offers a ubiquitous look at a sleepy, anywhere town, and the people who live there. Chronicles of Hari examines transgender issues – a particularly sensitive topic in the region. "The Robe" (from Myanmar) and White Sun (from Nepal), along with the rest of the program, bring out the human element from the stories, explains Bhatnagar. "You realize how different yet similar we all are: Our hopes and disappointments, pains and sorrows, laughter and happiness, all feelings are the same, universal. Creating awareness of other cultures also helps in reducing the stereotype impressions from peoples' minds."

Bhatnagar adds: "Of course, India always has the most diverse, offbeat cinema, but this year we have seen a few remarkable films from the Iran/Afghanistan region." The Oscar-nominated film Parting opens the Saturday screenings, and tells the story of a couple trying to flee Afghanistan to Europe. "It shows what the refugees go through day in and day out for a promise of a better life. I think this is an important film, especially at this time when the world seems to be closing doors and going backwards," adds Festival Director Sai Pramod Mohan.

Bhatnagar adds, "As they say, the more you know, the less you fear. The films that we show offer a chance to familiarize yourselves with the people from that part of the world, their lives and challenges, their struggles and perspectives. If you enjoy independent cinema, you gotta be there."

The Indie Meme Film Festival runs April 20-23, Thu. through Sun., at the Regal Arbor 8 (9828 Great Hills Trail). Festival badges run $75; individual tickets are $12-15. For the full schedule and more info, see

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