MISAFF: Art Films With a Side Order Of Consciousness

Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF) enjoyed its sixth successful run earlier this August in Mississauga, showcasing a collection of critically acclaimed, Canadian and international films.

MISAFF is home to keenly executed indie productions with controversial narratives, attracting a likeminded audience to come together once a year and harvest the efforts of these brilliant filmmakers. Although identified as a South Asian film festival and rooted in culture specific to the subcontinent, the diverse program recognizes movies from all over the world including the UK, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands.

Unlike other festivals, MISAFF offers a medium for exploring provocative themes; stories that make you think and question cultural norms and traditions. As well as stories that remind us of love and its acceptance in all forms. Storylines are particularly rich in history and grounded in community, addressing interracial unity, gender equality, LGBTQ support, and one’s willingness to sharing the harsh realities of abuse, violence and the complex nature of human relationships. Of course, born from the desire to address social issues within the South Asian community, the focus still remains on films from the Indian subcontinent or those involving filmmakers and actors with a South Asian heritage. The festival allows for a platform to promote the authentic culture and recognize talent within our community. It is a voice and a channel of expression for desi artists. In return, the films promise some form of growth, within ourselves and our perspective.

This year’s festival kicked off with the premiere of Moko Jumbie, by Trinidadian-American filmmaker, Vashti Anderson. It was my first time attending MISAFF, and not knowing what to expect. Clueless as I was, I walked into the red carpet interviews with an unsuspecting face. I witnessed cast members share their strenuous journey through the countless months dedicated to the film. It wasn’t long before the initiative was inspired by a dimension of film not yet explored by mainstream South Asian cinema. My excitement grew by the minute. The premiere for Moko Jumbie began with an introduction from festival director and filmmaker, Arshad Khan as he shared his vision and work with MISAFF. Moko Jumbie director, Vashti Anderson and cast member, Dinesh Maharaj, soon followed with their tales of life on and off set. What ensued was a complete surprise.

The lights dimmed and we watched the preview of VENUS, an upcoming production that reveals a father’s course of self acceptance as a transgendered woman, as well as her evolving relationship with her son. The film, a sensitive portrayal of gendered identity, addresses an uneasy truth often left undisclosed, and shrouded in secrecy out of shame. Moko Jumbie was up next. Rich in cinematography and ambience, the film provided an escape from the gritty suburban grind. The plot outlined love and attraction among a young interracial couple, untainted from the harsh experiences and misteachings of their elders. Both burned by curiosity and desire, Asha and Roger comfortably embraced their differences. The movie also highlights the existence of mysterious and spirit forces and their relevance to modern society. It was, however, the effortless portrayal of situations uncommon in mainstream cinema, South Asian or otherwise, that really left me speechless.

Ultimately, the festival is a celebration of life- in all forms. It vocalizes the differences and then reunites us from the illusion of separation. It takes away the box and reminds us of what it means to be unabashedly, unapologetically, irrevocably different. Films produced by and subsequently consumed by marginalized communities enable these societal “outcasts” to embrace themselves whole. They are no longer lone subjects existing in sparse, trivial narratives – instead, they are multidimensional complex beings deserving of entire plot lines dedicated to them. Their lives matter. Their stories matter. Their views are understood and accepted, even if by an enlightened few. The efforts of the MISAFF team and the multitalented filmmakers make all this possible, and I feel so lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to share my discovery. The Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival is an artistic and engaging instrument for wrestling old, outdated beliefs and growing our collective consciousness as a community. It definitively and sincerely deserves more recognition.