Film on Kashmirs famous lake wins World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance Festival
I wont say that I expected it,but I felt a positive energy from the audience after each screening, says a jubilant Musa Syeed,a Kashmiri-American director whose film,Valley of Saints,won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival on Sunday. From Utah in the US,where the festival was held,he talks about the first Kashmiri language feature film to play at Sundance. Despite how foreign it might seem,the film touches on a lot of universal experiences, he says.
Valley of Saints brings on screen a side of Kashmir that is rarely highlighted its environment. The film revolves around a young shikara owner,Gulzar,who decides to run away from the Valley,but is stopped by a curfew. While waiting,he meets a Kashmiri-American scientist,Asifa,who is carrying out tests on the contaminated waters of Kashmirs famous lake,and Gulzar finds himself slowly drawn back to the Valley.
Syeed,born and raised in the US,says he went through a phase of reconnecting with his roots while working on this film. One thing Id heard a lot from my parents was that Kashmir is the most beautiful place on earth, he says. When he arrived there,for the first time in 20 years,he was expecting a grand homecoming,a retreat to paradise. Instead,he found a beauty in despair. I went to the lake and it was cluttered with garbage,choked by weeds,and inundated with untreated sewage. It struck me that the lake was an allegory for Kashmir a great beauty surviving in the face of death and decay, he says.
Syeeds plans of shooting with an extensive crew and foreign cast came to a halt when a curfew was announced in the Valley. Shooting was restricted to the Dal Lake,and the crew was cut down to four. Syeed searched for a cast from the lake community. We were afraid of what would happen if we ventured beyond the lake into the unpredictable city. We often heard tear gas shells and gun shots a few miles away, says Syeed. The lead character,Gulzar is a real-life boatman,while Asifa is a local TV actor.
But,Valley of Saints,is finally,about hope. Ultimately,the audience wants to see beauty and feel a sense of hope,and I think the film delivers that, he says.