Virtual Film Festival Pioneer Indie Meme Hits Its Stride
The celebration of South Asian cinema is still on your screens for year two
When the pandemic lockdown forced film festivals to cancel their in-person plans, Indie Meme – the Austin-based celebration of South Asian cinema – was one of the first to go completely online. With their first virtual festival behind them, IMFF is taking on a second over two weekends this month, having grown in staff and scope to embrace a new digital landscape.
In the U.S., even in the arthouses, it is rare to find a variety of curated South Asian films. IMFF features a selection of 10 features and 15 shorts from seven countries stretching from Iran to Sri Lanka, including over 20 world, U.S., and Texas premieres. In past years, the festival has highlighted both well-known and promising new directors, and IMFF Director of Programming Sweta Rajesh promised that IMFF 2021 continues this trend. She said she was surprised to find in this massively diverse region a selection of films that shared similarities. While curating the selection, she said she was intrigued to find that across the board there was a focus on "women-centric stories, and a lot of them have been made by male filmmakers."
As has been true globally, making a film during the pandemic in South Asia has been hindered by increased restrictions on mobility and intimate connection. Rajesh found it "very very cool" to have "found a few filmmakers who actually did some remote directing." Those films will be featured in a package of shorts under the banner of "In Lockdown."
Speaking from her experience of pulling off a major event during a global crisis, Rajesh said, "It's not easy to make films during the lockdown." Last year, she and the festival team rapidly devised a way to screen their films on Vimeo with Q&As hosted over Zoom. This year, IMFF has partnered with Filmocracy, a web-based festival screening platform. The application offers a virtual lobby where attendees can chat before and after a film. That's important, Rajesh explained, because the festival's main directive is "to build communities through cinema." The dialogue between festivalgoers and filmmakers remains a cherished aspect of this year's fest, which encourages audience interaction just as much as their viewing the films. IMFF is pairing with local human rights organizations to take part in these conversations and ensure that dialogue can have an impact beyond the (virtual) theatre.
Indie Meme and its dedicated community continues to expand in 2021, despite clear speed bumps. The organization has recently hired team members to account for a new need for technological troubleshooting. Rajesh cited this growth as a reason why IMFF will continue to thrive in the coming years. New staff have provided a fresh perspective on how to respond to challenges and continue the connection between Texas and South Asian art. "I'm very, very proud of my team, as well as our schedule this year," she said, adding that they are already planning in earnest for IMFF 2022. "I really want to go back to doing it in person."
Indie Meme Virtual Festival 2021, April 16-18 and 23-25. All titles are geolocked to the U.S. badges, party info, and more details are found at www.indiememe.org.