The Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) at the University of Michigan will launch the South Asian Film Series in October 2023. The first film to be screened will be Shoebox, made in 2021, written by Faraz Ali and Noopur Sinha.
"We are really excited about establishing this film series under the creative direction of our founding curator, Veerendra Prasad of Michigan’s Film, Television, and Media department,” says Matthew Hull, director of the Center for South Asian Studies. "We will be inviting filmmakers and covering popular and art house films, old and new, as well as collections of video shorts shown with English subtitles. Film is a wonderful way to understand the region, and our goal is for these film events to engage the entire South Asia community, including undergraduates and residents of Southeast Michigan beyond the campus.”
A screenwriter, director, and lecturer at U-M, Veerendra Prasad, will serve as curator for the series. Prasad has an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. In addition to his work as a filmmaker, instructor, and consultant, Prasad has served as a programmer for the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, specializing in films from South India and the Indian Diaspora.
“I want to pick films that present a thorough picture of what is happening in India,” says Prasad. “With thriving industries in multiple languages, South Asia has a rich, diverse filmmaking tradition. By featuring monthly events throughout the fall and winter, this film series will introduce film lovers to this vibrant cinema by showcasing contemporary works from across South Asia and the diaspora and bringing these filmmakers to Ann Arbor to discuss their work.
“The South Asian Film Series will co-host screenings, including retrospectives, throughout the year, as part of its mission to cultivate new audiences for a cinema that has long been ignored in the West.”
The series' first film, Shoebox, will be screened on October 18 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, and the movie’s director and co-writer, Faraz Ali, will be on hand to discuss the film. Shoebox has traveled to various film festivals worldwide and has won awards and nominations at many, including the New York India Film Festival and the Mumbai Film Festival.
“Shoebox is an exploration of the evolving urban landscape in India, particularly through the lens of Allahabad's transformation,” says Ali as he describes the film. “It encapsulates the struggle to preserve identity, memory, and heritage in the face of rapid development and change. As a filmmaker, I've experienced the profound impact of such transitions firsthand, having grown up in a small Indian town that eventually gave way to urbanization.
“The human story around a single-screen theatre, intertwined with the city's renaming and the backdrop of the Kumbh Mela, reflects a universal narrative of how communities grapple with progress while honoring their history. As a director, I believe that this film holds a mirror to the challenges many regions across South Asia face as they navigate the intricate balance between preserving cultural heritage and embracing modernity.
“By showcasing Shoebox to the audience at the Center for South Asian Studies, I hope to spark meaningful conversations about the multifaceted dimensions of development, identity, and the value of preserving cultural roots. I'm excited to contribute to the dialogue and offer a glimpse into the emotional journey that my protagonist undertakes, searching for belonging amidst the changes in her hometown,” adds Ali.
CSAS will also partner with the historical Michigan Theater to showcase the film series.
“We are an independent art house cinema, and a lot of what we do are narrative features and documentaries from all over the world,” says Alicia Pani, the theater’s interim chief operations officer and director of development. “One of the ways we can do this is by partnering with different departments at the University of Michigan. I used to work at the International Institute at Michigan, so I knew this would be a perfect fit.”
“I saw Shoebox at a film festival last year, and it immediately struck me,” concludes Curator Prasad. “I think it will be a perfect way to kick off the festival and our partnership with the theater.”
Please see our event posting for more information about the October 18 screening of Shoebox.