UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 10 Summer 19 Library
Samhita SunyaI (Credit: John Robinson)
Virginia Film Festival

VAFF Welcomes Guest Programmer Samhita Sunya

A stressed-out gangster falls in love with his yoga teacher. An Egyptian military band goes to secure the release of a kidnapped ambassador. The elderly caretaker of a remote morgue discovers the body of an unknown woman killed in a protest. These are just some of the stories that found their way from the other side of the world to the 2018 Virginia Film Festival. How they got there is a story that exemplifies what makes the VAFF unique among other major regional festivals around the country. The films were part of a seven-title sidebar programmed by Samhita Sunya, Assistant Professor of Cinema in UVA’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, that brought Festival audiences into a world rarely seen in this country. “In both my research and teaching, I emphasize the importance of understanding the ways in which access to film and media can shape our sense of their related geographies and histories,” she said. “I hope to share with local audiences a sense of the robustness and range of filmmaking practices ‘over there.’  In the process, we end up understanding more about ourselves, and about how we are interconnected - what takes us by surprise, what we don’t know, the extent to which we are moved by creativity and imagination, the gravitas of challenges that abound in this world, and the extent to which we shoulder responsibilities that ensue from positions of privilege and comfort.”  

Hell In India (Gahim Fel Hend) at the 2018 VAFF.
(Photo: The Virginia Film Festival)

VAFF Director Jody Kielbasa and Programmer Wesley Harris met Sunya soon after her arrival in Charlottesville, and the conversation left all parties excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. Coming to Charlottesville after working across the spectrum of film presentation, from projectionist to curator, in major metropolitan centers like Houston and Beirut, she admits to having some concern about coming here. “I was initially worried that a smaller college town like Charlottesville would not have an active filmgoing scene, in terms of audiences, venues, and events. For me, this would have been a deal-breaker. But after talking to Jody and Wes, I was so excited by the possibilities of continuing my curatorial work here in Charlottesville. In many ways, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised since coming here - among other things, by the energy of our audiences.  I am very hopeful that this is just the beginning.” 

An Indian Father (Bir Baba Hindu) at the 2018 VAFF.
(Photo: The Virginia Film Festival)

“We are very fortunate to have Samhita here,” Harris said, “and to work with her to open up our scope of consideration beyond what normally reaches the North American festival circuit. Through the films she brought us, we were able to go beyond the art house-fare or documentaries that American audiences typically see from the Middle East and South Asia. Instead, we got to see the fun and the silly and the joyful movie making being done in these regions, work that doesn’t necessarily find a platform in the U.S.” The partnership highlights the kind of collaborative possibilities that set a University-based film festival apart, Harris said. “We are really only able to put on this kind of platform in our festival because of our ability to collaborate with faculty like Samhita, who is literally out there on the ground making connections in national film archives, production companies, and film sets in a part of the globe that doesn’t frequently get to talk to this part of the globe. We look forward to what this partnership will bring in the future.”

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