Joanne Parsont, Director of Education at the San Francisco Film Society, reflects on SFFS’ incomparable artist in residence, Ashim Ahluwalia…
Each time the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) invites an international filmmaker to participate in our Artist in Residence program (funded this winter by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences), there’s a mix of eager anticipation and wary uncertainty. We’ve seen their films, but what will they actually be like in person? Will they take full advantage of their two weeks in San Francisco? Will they be any fun to hang out with? For our latest Artist in Residence (and, really, all of our previous residents), the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “yes.”
Indian filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia arrived in San Francisco from Mumbai on February 23 and spent the next 14 days fully immersed in the Bay Area community, sharing his films and his ideas about filmmaking with high school and college students, fellow filmmakers and filmgoers—and, as noted by film journalist and instructor Michael Fox after a visit to his Documentary Ethics class at the San Francisco Art Institute, “blowing a few minds in the process.” Ahluwalia is a bit of a maverick in the Indian film scene, not only in the types of stories he tells but in the way he gets his films made and in his deliberate genre-blurring style. Film professor Susan Tavernetti at De Anza College remarked after his visit to her Contemporary World Cinema class: “He is an amazing filmmaker and guest: talented and with a rare original vision and can-do spirit, exuding a passion for film—whether discussing his own work or Godard’s Alphaville—and animated and charismatic, funny and honest.” That was the kind of response Ahluwalia received wherever he went.
And Ahluwalia covered a lot of ground in his two weeks in San Francisco. On February 28, we screened his most recent and highly anticipated film, Miss Lovely, at New People Cinema to a sold-out house. On March 5, he presented an Artist Talk at SFFS’ FilmHouse, moderated by SFFS Executive Director Ted Hope. In addition to SFAI and De Anza, he visited classes at Berkeley High School and Oakland School of the Arts as well as an introductory film class at California College of the Arts, an MFA documentary film class at Stanford University, and an editing class at City College of San Francisco.
But wait, there’s more. In addition to all of the effort made to bring filmmakers to the educational community, the SFFS Artist in Residence program is also designed to actively engage them with the local film community. This cultural and artistic exchange is full of fruitful opportunities for connection and collaboration among peers. After a lively lunch gathering at FilmHouse with more than a dozen current residents on February 26, Ahluwalia spent the evening at a GFI-hosted happy hour, where he was able to meet many more members of the Bay Area film community. And over the next ten days, we hooked Ahluwalia up with an array of local film organizations, including Artists’ Television Access, Canyon Cinema, Oddball Film, Other Cinema, and the Pacific Film Archive, and introduced him to local experimental filmmakers such as Craig Baldwin, Stephen Parr, and Kerry Laitala.
But let’s go back for a moment to the seed of all this, to the point of contact: the moment when GFI Program Director Santhosh Daniel first recommended Ahluwalia to me as a candidate for the Artist in Residence program, just as he did for two of our previous residents: Federico Veiroj from Uruguay and Oday Rasheed from Iraq. Daniel has scored three for three now, and I have come to trust his recommendations wholeheartedly. Every one of these residencies has proved to be enormously rich, rewarding and successful, and they have each clearly demonstrated the value of our ongoing SFFS-GFI collaboration.
As GFI continues to support filmmakers in lesser-served countries by funding their films, SFFS will continue to follow up with residencies in San Francisco to help them further develop their careers and share their work with the world. It’s a powerful one-two punch that we hope to keep delivering.
Joanne Parsont has worked in the Bay Area film community for 15 years as a film programmer, writer, editor, consultant, project manager and media educator, specializing in outreach, education, youth media, children’s and documentary programming. She spent eight years directing the Mill Valley Film Festival’s Children’s FilmFest and the Film Society’s Schools at the Festival program and curated children’s programs for the Pacific Film Archive and the Boston Museum of Fine Art. She has a bachelor’s degree in Russian and political science from Duke University and a master’s degree in mass communication studies from the University of Michigan. She worked in Washington, D.C. for both the Public Broadcasting Service and the Learning Channel before arriving in the Bay Area in 1994.