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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Dal Moment at Sundance

I won’t 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.

Written by Pallavi Pundir | Published: February 2, 2012 3:38:34 am

A film on Kashmir’s famous lake wins World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance Festival

I won’t 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 to the world a side of Kashmir that is rarely highlighted — its environment. “The Dal is famous for being a living lake,and is home to thousands who live on boats and small islands,” says the 27-year-old. The film revolves around a young shikara owner,Gulzar,who decides to run away from the Valley,but is stopped by a curfew. As armed men patrol the outdoors,he finds himself ferrying a Kashmiri-American scientist Asifa across the waters of the lake. She is carrying out tests on the contaminated water of Kashmir’s 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 I’d heard a lot from my parents was that Kashmir is the most beautiful place on earth,” he says. When he arrived in Kashmir,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.

Syeed’s plans of shooting with an extensive crew and foreign cast came to a halt when a curfew was announced in the Valley. Restricting the shooting to the Dal Lake and the crew to just four people,Syeed found himself searching for a cast from the lake community. “We were afraid of what would happen if we ventured beyond the toursity lake into the unpredictable city. We often heard tear gas shells and gun shots,” says Syeed.

The lead role,Gulzar,for instance,is an actual boatman,while Asifa is a local television 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 does that in an authentic way,” he says. Sundance agrees.

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