Festival of Lights (2010/2012)
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Opened: 11/02/2012 Limited
|NoHo 7||11/09/2012 - 11/15/2012||7 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
Separated, but never truly apart.
A rebellious teenage girl struggles to navigate a broken relationship with her mother and a troubled adolescence, while memories of her absent father continue to haunt her. After receiving shocking news about her father, she embarks on a journey from New York to Guyana to discover the truth about her family's mysterious past.
A father and daughter are separated but are never truly apart in this touching story of a family tragically divided. Reshma is a troubled teenager in 1980s New York who struggles to discover a sense of self and strength amidst a daunting array of pressures and betrayals. While continually grappling with her tumultuous relationship with her mother, Reshma holds on to her dreams of reuniting with the father in Guyana she has not seen or heard from in thirteen years. Documentary filmmaker Shundell Prasad's ambitious feature debut, which spans two continents and three decades, offers a nuanced and empathetic lens into the plight of displaced immigrant families struggling to create a brighter future for their children.
Festival of Lights is nothing short of a miracle, and sharing it with the world this November marks a victory for everyone involved in its making.
Directing a movie that encompasses my homeland's story was a profound experience for me, however I truly believe its themes are universal.
I began my career at HBO Documentaries in New York, where I had the chance to meet and work with the leading documentary filmmakers in the world. They were all passionate about their work and the lives their films were changing, which helped inform the type of movies I would eventually make.
My first film-- Once More Removed: a journey back to India tells the story of my forefathers - Indian indentured servants brought to Guyana to work the sugar plantations. Two years later, while living in Mumbai, I visited Pakistan to make Unholy Matrimony. Now after three years in the making in New York and Guyana, Festival of Lights is ready for its debut.
After the British relinquished control of Guyana in 1966 a bloody struggle for power subsequently ensued, placing the country under a dictatorial regime for nearly 30 years. The tiny, fledging nation all but collapsed during this time and saw a massive exodus of its population. Large Guyanese communities sprang up in cities across the word: New York, Toronto, London and others. The immigration process was complex and often times destructive, creating deep, irreparable rifts within families. I was four when my parents left Guyana, leaving me in the care of relatives. I didn't rejoin them in the US until age 6. As an adolescent, and perhaps until now, I still struggle with separation anxiety and an overall lack of being grounded. Immigration and resettlement often leads to a loss in one's culture and thus a loss of identity. I've seen this exemplified hundreds of times among the Indo-Guyanese populations I've visited around the world.
I felt compelled to tell the story of the Indo-Guyanese experience in America and thus began the cinematic journey of creating Festival of Lights. This time I departed from the documentary tradition, which afforded me the opportunity to create and mold a plot with characters.
I'm often asked if Reshma's story is autobiographical. My response is Reshma's story is not my story, but in my opinion, it's the story of many Guyanese people who have fled their homeland to carve out their place in a foreign society. Reshma's light, unwavering against the brutality inflicted upon her, is a special homage to those who have fought and struggled for a better life. It's a gritty battle, but there is hope. As a 75-year-old Guyanese man once wrote to me, "we Indo- Guyanese in America are a displaced lot but we are not completely destroyed."
The casting process was challenging because I wanted authentic Guyanese actors and unfortunately there aren't many of them. I was ecstatic when I learned about the incredibly talented, Indo-Canadian actress, Melinda Shankar, whose parents are both Guyanese. After watching an episode of Degrassi High, I knew she was my Reshma! Casting Meena, Reshma's mother, was an undertaking. We meet Meena as a wide-eyed girl in Guyana, married to Vishnu (played by Jimi Mistry) and witness her transformation into a reserved businesswoman in New York, now remarried to Adem (Aidan Quinn). The right actress had to have diversity and skill. She also had to convince the world she was Guyanese. It was an exhaustive process -- it felt like I auditioned every actress of Indian origin in New York and even considered bringing in an actress from India to play the role, until Ritu Singh Pande walked into my office near Madison Square Garden. In her audition, she nailed the role of the older Meena. She intrigued me, especially when I learned her family descended from Bihar, India. Interestingly, the Indo- Guyanese people also trace their roots to the same region of India. But the question remained - can she transform herself into a young, simple, village girl? Ritu brought an innocence and grace to young Meena that even I couldn't imagine.
It was important, but challenging, to shoot on-location in Guyana. We shot on super 16mm film and since there wasn't a film rental house in Guyana, we had to ship several tons of equipment from the US to Guyana. At the time of writing, there isn't even a film commission. Nevertheless, Guyana was a beautiful canvas for the story of Vishnu, Meena and little Reshma. The entire opening sequence of the film is filled with lush, sweeping imagery of Guyana, shot lovingly by cinematographer, Valentina Caniglia. Guyana's geographic diversity allowed us to create beautiful, memorable images.
One of my favorite parts of the film is the score. It encompasses a nation and a people in transition and heightens the emotional arc of a young woman searching for her place in the world. Composer Ronen Landa created a musical experience using the charango, cello, woodwinds from India and South America, acoustic and electric guitars, and a string orchestra.
The small army that created this film is now a group of people I consider family. With each film I've grown as a person. Festival of Lights has been an enormous, life-altering journey, and a movie I couldn't be more proud to call my own. This Diwali, I invite you to see Festival of Lights with your friends, family and community. Please help ensure that these niche American stories, and others like it, continue to get told.
-- Shundell Prasad