In its 10th year, from March 23 to March 26, 2023, Canada’s leading South Asian film fest, the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF), headed to Mississauga, showcasing a series of 8 new features, 4 documentaries, and 28 shorts from filmmakers across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Caribbean.
Supported by Telefilm Canada and Ontario Creates, the festival included a starry red carpet (including Pakistani star Sania Saeed), premieres, and a host of Q&As.
As festival director Arshad Khan shared in a press statement, “MISAFF takes the liberty of showcasing courageous and ground-breaking films. We welcome audiences from Mississauga and the GTA, and while it is a South Asian film festival, the stories and movies are for everyone irrespective of ethnicity or background.”
Below is a list of six must-see films from this year’s festival.
1. Joyland, directed by Saim Sadiq (Pakistan)
As one man, Haider, begins work as a (not so great) dancer at a Lahore cabaret, he also finds love with star dancer Biba, a transgender woman. All the while, Haider’s wife Mumtaz is struggling at home under her father-in-law’s pressure for a granddaughter, and her own dreams outside the house.
A progressive look at sex, desire, and identity, Joyland became the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation along with the Jury Prize and Queer Palm prize for best LGBTQ, queer or feminist theme movie at the festival. It also became the first Pakistani film to be shortlisted for the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film earlier this year. It also won four MISAFF awards, including Best International Feature Film.
2. Hawa, directed by Mejbaur Rahman Sumon (Bangladesh)
This mystery-drama follows a group of men on a fishing trawler after they make an unlikely catch: a beautiful woman. But when misfortune befalls the group in the days after, they begin to question if she’s brought a sinister energy with her on board. Needless to say, hijinks (and plenty of commentary on gender dynamics) ensue. Based on a fairy tale, and with mouth-watering under-water cinematography, Hawa is a big moment for Bangladeshi cinema.
The film won five MISAFF awards, including for Best Director and Best Actor.
3. Kamli, directed by Sarmad Khoosat (Pakistan)
The festival’s opening premiere follows three women coming to terms with their deep desires for love, and their haunting memories of loss. A devastating but incredibly moving drama, it’s led by three of Pakistan’s biggest stars: Saba Qamar, Sania Saeed (who won MISAFF’s award for Best Actress), and Nimra Bucha.
Notably, Khoosat, who is also a producer on Joyland, is a popular actor and director in Pakistan, and one of the country’s boldest, having previously received death threats and faced censorship demands for his work. Needless to say, then, Kamli (and whatever culture war it might wage) is highly anticipated.
4. To Kill A Tiger, directed by Nisha Pahuja (Canada)
One hell of a tearjerker, this documentary follows a father in India ceaselessly fighting for justice after his young daughter is brutally raped. After her rapists are arrested, his efforts only become more harrowing as their village campaigns against them, demanding the family drop the charges. Both about a cultural reckoning, and the love of a father, the documentary’s intimate look inside one family’s heartbreak demands revolt – a sentiment still being felt in India today.
The film is currently nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards, including for Best Feature Length Documentary, and won Best Canadian Film at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It also won MISAFF’s award for Best Canadian Documentary Feature.
5. An Act of Worship, directed by Nausheen Dadabhoy (U.S.A.)
An examination of the last 30 years of Muslim life in America, An Act of Worship showcases the broad and colourful community that is Muslim Americans, along with the impact of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy on young Muslims who grew up after 9/11.
6. Desi Standard Time Travel, directed by Kashif Pasta (Canada)
After his father’s sudden death, a man travels briefly back in time in order to end things on a better note. The heartwarming and witty short is sure to be a nostalgic watch for anyone who has lost someone close to them, but also for those fathers and sons who keep their emotions close and quiet, and who should maybe call home as the credits roll. The film also won MISAFF’s award for Best Canadian Short.