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'Bindu' and 'Nomadland' featured at re-imagined San Diego International Film Festival

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 10/9/2020 Beth Wood
Megan Suri looking at the camera: Megan Suri as Bindu in "The MisEducation of Bindu," which will be screened at the San Diego International Film Festival. © Provided by San Diego Union Tribune Megan Suri as Bindu in "The MisEducation of Bindu," which will be screened at the San Diego International Film Festival.

Like almost everything else, the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically affected film festivals here and around the world. No more screenings in packed theaters. No more awards events. No more intimate Q&As with the movies’ directors and actors.

It’s tough for all cinephiles. But independent filmmakers like Prarthana Mohan are hit especially hard because they rely on the festival circuit to spread the word about their films. Mohan’s first feature, “The MisEducation of Bindu,” was released last fall.

Her fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age comedy will be shown at the San Diego International Film Festival: 2020 Re-Imagined. It runs from Thursday to Oct. 18.

All together, 24 features, 15 full-length documentaries and 75 short films will be shown over the weekend. Because indoor theaters are out of the picture, SDIFF will present drive-in movies at Westfield UTC. Its Virtual Fest will screen films and offer Q&As and panels online.

“As filmmakers included in the festival, we are grateful,” said Mohan, a native of Chennai, India, and longtime Los Angeles resident. “I’ve been impressed with how festivals have figured out inventive ways to connect with audiences.”

After being included in five fall festivals, “The MisEducation of Bindu” has been screened, mostly online, at 10 festivals since March. While Mohan is eager to participate in the online post-screening conversation in San Diego, she misses sharing her film with audiences in theaters.

“People who go to festivals are a special kind of moviegoing audience,” she said. “They’re the first to see the film, and they give us encouragement.

“The thing about independent filmmakers is that we’re good at coping with adversity. Nothing that brought us to this point was easy. So, we can deal with it.”

“Bindu” has been an off-and-on project for 10 years. Several times, Mohan and co-writer Kay Tuxford have seen their movie get close to production, only to fall apart.

After graduating from college in India, Mohan, 37, entered the Master of Fina Arts program at Orange County’s Chapman University, where she met and became working partners with Tuxford. At Chapman, Mohan also met Ed Timpe, who is now her husband and a producer of “Bindu.”

The three joined a competition called Hometown Heroes. It’s an initiative, by the crowdfunding platform Seed & Spark and filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass, to encourage filmmakers from underrepresented communities.

“The competition was the kick in the butt we needed to get the movie off the ground,” Mohan said. “We’d never done crowdfunding before, but we raised $50,000. We were one of two films selected by Hometown Heroes and welcomed the commitment from the Duplass brothers to be our mentors.

“They guided us and fine-tuned production and postproduction. These are folks are at the top of game and extremely good at making high-quality — and cheap — independent films.”

The Duplass connection also helped bring “The MisEducation of Bindu” to the attention of actor David Arquette, who plays the pivotal role of Bindu’s stepfather.

Arquette’s well-intentioned character is concerned that Bindu’s home schooling will keep her from a normal American social life. Thrust into a mostly White public school in Indiana, Bindu faces pranks, racism and harassment. As she desperately tries to test out of school, she creates bonds with other outliers and achieves a better sense of self.

Not going quietly

In figuring out what to do given pandemic restrictions, San Diego International Film Festival CEO and artistic director Tonya Mantooth and her staff considered several options.

“It would have been easier to go quiet this year,” she said. “But as we started to see social inequities, civil discord and environmental damage, we recognized the need to meet the core of what we stand for: a commitment to bring people together to discuss what we, as a community, are going through.”

Virtually, festival ticket holders will be able to watch movies or shorts, and participate in panels and Q&As.

For those who want to see films on the big screen, drive-in movies will be shown Thursday through Sunday. The much-buzzed-about “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand and directed by Chloé Zhao, will be the first drive-in selection.

With its ongoing interest in social-justice issues, the festival will present movies and conversations exploring those topics. Mantooth is particularly excited about the “Activism Through Film" panel, moderated by KGTV-ABC10 General Manager Leon Clark.

Two documentaries will be featured at the panel: “You Asked for the Facts: Bobby Kennedy at the University of Mississippi” and “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show.” Along with the films’ directors, Clark will lead 100 area high school students and other audience members in what should be a lively discussion.

The students’ inclusion was arranged through SDIFF’s year-round FOCUS on Impact Educational Program, in collaboration with San Diego County Office of Education and the San Diego Unified School District. The festival and SDUSD’s superintendent, Cindy Marten, are planning to expand and integrate the FOCUS program into the system’s curriculum.

With the new hybrid festival beginning Thursday, Mantooth is already discovering some advantages. The event’s website will differentiate between scheduled films and those you can see any time. The day passes cover midnight to midnight viewing.

“You can see more films than if the festival were live,” Mantooth said. “People can watch around the clock if they want. We’ve had interest from people outside the U.S. A group of Australians have bought passes. Maybe in 2021, they’ll want to travel here. We’d love to be a catalyst to bring people back to San Diego during recovery.”

Wood is a freelance writer.

San Diego International Film Festival: 2020 Re-Imagined

When: 10 a.m. Oct. 15 to 8 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: Drive-in movies: Westfield UTC, 4545 La Jolla Village Drive, University City; films and panels: Virtual Fest

Admission: Drive-in movies: $49 to $69 (one ticket per car) and $179 for a four-day pass; Virtual Fest: $39 for a single-day pass and $149 for a four-day, all-access pass. $249 for a pass to Virtual Fest and drive-in movies. VIP passes available.

Phone: (619) 818-2221

Tickets and more information: sdfilmfestival.com

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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