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Arts & Culture » Movies

South Asian & Filipino perspectives

by David Lamble

The 2017 edition of 3rd i Films' San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond unspools at San Francisco's Castro Theatre and New People Cinema (1746 Post St.). Plus, this year the AMC Kabuki 8 theaters (1881 Post St.) are the venues for the Cinematografo International Film Festival, a festival of Filipino-American films. Both series run Nov. 9-12.

"Abu (Father)" Arshad Khan's doc is an offbeat immigrant story depicting the bumpy early-90s adventure resulting from his Pakistani clan's move to Canada. Arshad's realization that he was gay, early in his teens, upset his family's custom of juggling traditional Islamic homophobia with the unsettling customs of Canada's increasingly diverse and inclusive society.

Arshad movingly remembers a tortuous balancing act: navigating his family's religious views with his own radically different dreams. His one-time-liberal parents had swapped their old goal of assimilating into Canada for a fundamentalist, less tolerant, conservative view of Islam. Illustrated with an eclectic array of animations, Bollywood snippets and a treasure trove of home-movie footage, "Abu" is a complex and nuanced study of a family trying to hold onto one another in spite of all the challenges. (New People Cinema, 11/9)

"An Insignificant Man" Called by some "India's Bernie Sanders," Arvind Kejriwal rocked India's caste-balkanized electoral world. This Dutch/Indian co-production explores perhaps the biggest political upheaval in the subcontinent nation since the 1947 separation from British rule. Screening is followed by a panel discussion. (Castro, 11/11)

"Sunday Beauty Queen" (2016) Filipino filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama produces a small gem of a doc with this close-up view of the world of Filipino women working as domestic servants and childcare workers in the former British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. The challenges faced by these Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are quite extraordinary: forbidden to leave jobs without permission, sometimes forced to sleep in an apartment bathroom or on a kitchen floor, and having to spend months and sometimes years away from their families and young children, the women are remarkably upbeat about their lives, taking pride in using Sunday, their one full day off, to stage their own special beauty pageants. One of the remarkable things for a Bay Area viewer of the film is how closely San Francisco resembles Hong Kong and the other major Pacific Rim cities. (Kabuki, 11/12)

"Those Long-Haired Nights" (2017) Gerardo Calagui's docudrama captures the high and lows of three "lady-boys," transgender women who, at night in Manila's red-light Burgos district, offer sexual services. Abused sometimes by customers and male pimps, Tuesday, Amanda and Barbie survive partly through their close friendships. Follows closely in the footsteps of such earlier Filipino queer classics as "Macho Dancer." In Tagalog with English subtitles. (Kabuki, 11/10, 11)

"Out Run" Co-directors S. Leo Chiang & Johnny Symons take us inside the growing pains of possibly the world's only queer political party, the Philippines' new queer congressional party LadLad. The filmmakers flashback to a time prior to the country's 2013 national elections. Under the Philippines' election laws designed to increase minority representation in the national Congress, a new political party must get a certain number of votes in order to have a crack at winning between one to three seats. Many of the LadLad members and candidates have emerged from the country's growing numbers of out trans women, a particularly oppressed group in a country obsessed with "macho" values. A particularly poignant moment unfolds when a newly out 47-year-old gay man running for Congress is urged to be more macho by a conservative female voter. (Kabuki, 11/10)

Arshad and Abu in Arshad Khan's documentary about being gay in a Pakistani clan, "Abu (Father)." Photo: Courtesy 3rd i Films

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