FOG Movie Fest delivers platter of great films

Hollywood actress, Norma Maldonado-Buha, accepting her award from FOG Ambassador, Prashantt Guptha.
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Actor-director Lom Harsh receiving his award from Manoj Bajpayee for “Yeh Hai India”

FREMONT, CA: The Festival of Globe (FOG) Movie Fest 2017 was held at Century Theaterson Pacific Commons, Fremont, California from Saturday, August 5 to Friday, August 11.

The international film festival, now in its fourth year, kicked off with three consecutive packed screenings of the docudrama, “Doctor By Heart”, a fictional adaptation of Dr. Romesh Japra’s life with real footage of past FOG parades and events. The film is written and directed by Dr. Ranu Sinha, PhD.
The other films of the day included:

• The White Coat Chef, a Bay Area documentary directed by Jamie Oi Ping Chung. The film follows Hishen Dang, a second generation Vietnamese-American who becomes a chef while following his passion for cooking and later takes the road to medical school to become a doctor and help people.

• French short film, “Le Petit” or “The Little One” – a simple tale of a young boy whose father is bedridden and requires daily care by his mother and a male nurse. (Owing to issues with obtaining the screening content, this film could not be shown)

• Late night feature “Welcome to Willits”, a thriller drama written and directed by Timothy and Trevor Ryan respectively. The story is about the possible dangers of marijuana and centers on a strange couple living in the town of Willits, the gateway to the Redwood forests of Northern California, part of a top marijuana-growing region nicknamed “the Emerald Triangle”.

Director of Photography (DoP) Ocean Ho and producer Arjun of “The White Coat Chef” and “Le Petit” director Lorenzo Bianchi’s local friends, were present for their segments.

Sunday (August 6) saw a platter of great films beginning with “Mojo”, a Kannada psychological/supernatural thriller directed by Sreesha Belakvaadi. Local producers, Gajanan Bhat and Satish Phatak, attended the screening, along with many members of the Bay Area Kannadiga community.

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“Nika” director, Leilani Amour Arenzana (second from right) and actress Lisa (far right) from the film on the red carpet

The evening showcased short films about one of the most pressing social issues in today’s America – the police’s targeting of minorities as suspects and the use of unwarranted force against them –
“Thug”, directed by Jayne Marie Smith and “I Can’t Breathe” by Kishore Tummala.

“Thug”, filmed in nearby Oakland and San Francisco, is the story of an African American young man who is shot dead while being mistaken for a criminal. During the Q & A session, director Jayne Marie spoke about examining ourselves, regardless of which community each one of us belongs to.

In “I Can’t Breathe”, a routine pullover for a traffic violation turns ugly when a cop shoots a young, promising African-American basketball champ riding in the passenger seat. The mother of the slain young man does not seek revenge; instead, she wants to bring about lasting change and reconciliation.
During the Q & A session with the director, some audience members suggested proper training for police officers to prevent such tragedies.

Other local Bay Area short films that were shown included:
“Palindrome”, a science-fiction film centered on a female scientist with a memory-diminishing illness, and “Null Hypothesis”, (directed by Archita Mandal Fallini), about a young woman who hires a private investigator to dig out the truth about her husband. (Due to technical issues, the screening of this film was interrupted.)

“Palindrome” director Mark Balunis and writer Mark Schwab were present.

Family sci-fi feature drama, “Tinker”, about a young boy and his uncle who work on an invention related to the lost papers of Nikola Tesla, was one of the festival’s highlights. Writer and co-producer Tom Bhramayana, DP Ryan Purvis, and executive producers Nick and Gretchen Stathakis attended the screening, after which an audience member thanked the team for an original film.

Humanitarian documentary, “Eyes of Amhara” closed the weekend. Directed by Neil Riha, who attended the screening, the hour-long film follows ophthalmologists from the Proctor Foundation in San Francisco, who travel to Amhara in Ethiopia to treat trachoma, a common infection and major cause of blindness there.

During the week, films were screened only during evening hours. The limited but extremely engaging selection had films such as “Kaaya”, a local Bay Area thriller, documentary “Enlightenment Now: The Awakening of Humanity” and feel-good personal journey film “NIKA”, another Bay Area venture,
“Kaaya” is the story of a couple (essayed by popular radio jockey Sunny Moza and Shilpa Thakur) that moves into a house, only to realize that there is another occupant there – the spirit of a young girl who was murdered thirty years ago.

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“Tinker” team – Executive Producers, Nick and Gretchen Stathakis (first and second from left), and writer -producer, Tom Bhramayana (far right)

Writer-director Akshay Prem Vyas, lead actress Shilpa Thakur, supporting cast members and the Director of Photography answered questions from an appreciative audience.

“Enlightenment Now: The Awakening of Humanity “is about the great spiritual traditions of India and featured gurus such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. Director Gwen Lentz and Director of Photography, Randall, attended the screening.

“NIKA”, written and directed by Leilani Amour Arenzana, follows a model-turned escort-turned-dance teacher, Nika through ups and downs in her career and life. Leilani and some of the cast and crew were present, as were a sizable number of friends and supporters.

This year, FOG partnered with Delhi International Film Festival (DIFF). They sent us “Pratyahban – The Challenge” – an Assamese language film, directed by Nipon Dholua. It tells the story of a handicapped boy, Akash (played by Nipon’s own son, Dishan Dholua), who is in love with Zerifa, a beautiful teacher from a neighboring school. Zerifa herself has been through her own tribulations, running away from her abusive husband, only to be sexually exploited by Akash’s father, an influential police inspector.

New Zealand crossover romantic comedy, “Curry Munchers aka Vindaloo Empire”, with producer Anand Raj Naidu in the lead role, was in the esteemed selection, too.

The film, directed by Cristobal Araus Lobos, follows an Indian immigrant family in New Zealand and the challenges they face trying to build a life in their adopted country along with a difference in generational aspirations. Anand Raj attended not just his screening but also was present for quite some time before and after, until the Awards night, and was a very gracious guest.

International short films on current issues such as the Middle East and refugee crises in Europe, added to the repertoire of FOG’s quality lineup – “The Bus Trip” from Sweden, directed by Sarah Gampel, “Jonah” from Austria/Italy, directed by Michael Maschina, and “Thirteen” from the United States, directed by the 19-year-old Sasha Sibley.

Thursday and Friday featured two great films from India.

“Buddha in a Traffic Jam”, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, is about the flawed, destructive ideology of the underground Communist movement in India and their nexus with the intellectual class. The supporting cast includes Agnihotri’s wife, Pallavi Joshi, a seasoned television and film actress. Both Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi were FOG guests of honor and represented the film.
One could see that the audience was very engaged as was evident by their queries during the Q & A session.

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Hollywood actress, Norma Maldonado-Buha, accepting her award from FOG Ambassador, Prashantt Guptha.

An Iranian short film named “Mwah” that deals with the sensitive subject of abortion, kicked off closing night. Young female director, Sara Soheili, was one of FOG’s international attendees.

Director and main supporting actor Lom Harsh brought the patriotic closing night film, “Yeh Hai India” to FOG. The protagonist in the film is a young man of Indian origin nicknamed Mickey (Gavie Chahal), who while on a visit to his father’s land, spearheads changes that win him both fans and a few enemies from the powerful political class. This idealistic movie points out the glory of India from ancient times to its present. Audience members, including Hollywood actress Norma Maldonado, were highly impressed and stirred. Overall, the film festival was a successful, well-attended event this year.

FOG Movie Fest Awards
Best Short Film – “I Can’t Breathe”
Best Documentary Film – “Eyes of Amhara”
Best Regional Film – “Mojo”
Best Global Film – “Curry Munchers aka Vindaloo Empire”
Best International Regional Film – “Pratyahban (The Challenge)”
Best Debutante Filmmaker – Sara Soheili for “Mwah”
FOG Award of Appreciation (Upcoming Actress in Bollywood and Telugu film industry) – Jyotsna Bendapudi Sharma for the trailer launch of her film, “Butterflies”
Best Director (Bay Area Film Initiative) – Ranu Sinha for “Doctor By Heart”
Best Director (Hollywood) – Leilani Amour Arenzana for “NIKA”
Best Female Actor – Pallavi Joshi for “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”
Pride of India Filmmaker – Vivek Agnihotri for “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”
FOG Icon of Indian Cinema – Manoj Bajpayee
FOG Award of Cinematic Excellence – Jaishree
FOG Award of Cinematic Excellence – Norma Maldonado
Best Director – Lom Harsh for “Yeh Hai India”
Best Film – “Yeh Hai India”

Lakshmi Iyer
India Post News Service