The NYIFF Founders in 2015 [Source: Flickr user j-no]

New York Indian Film Festival 2020 Held Online, Concentrating on Social Impact


The New York Indian Film Festival, the oldest and most prestigious festival in North America centered around films from and about the Indian subcontinent, continues it’s 20th annual celebration, being held totally online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Festival was held from July 24th through August 2nd, and featured over 45 films ranging from features, shorts, documentaries, and animated films.

The Festival is completely organized by the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC), which was founded in 1998 by a group of notable artists and proponents of Indian culture living in the United States, including editor in chief of India Abroad Gopal Raju, choreographer Jonathan Hollander, and Aroon Shivdasani. They began the organization with the mission of promoting the Indian arts to mainstream American media, and in 2001, established the New York Indian Film Festival. Over the years, it has premiered critically acclaimed films such as “The Namesake” and “Slumdog Millionaire”.

As with previous years, the Festival does important work in pushing the boundaries of what Indian perception in the United States and greater Western society amounts to. For example, the festival responds to the notion that Bollywood and similar films in the Hindi-language are representative of greater Indian cinema by centering films in Nepali, Assamese, Malayalam, and many more regional dialects.

Alongside an abundance of related arts and history celebrations, the Festival represents another cornerstone in the bridging of cultural connections between India and not only New York but the greater United States. The Progressive Modern Artists, India’s first collective of modern artists, and their recent exhibition in at the Asia Society in New York, represents another important milestone in this movement. The exhibition was tied to a rising wave of South Asian artists being featured in more prominent western museums than ever before.

Ultimately, the New York Indian Film Festival has, despite current obstacles, for another year achieved its goal of building an awareness of Indian cinema, entertaining & educating North Americans about the real India, and adding to the amazing cultural diversity of New York City.

Tenzin Chomphel is a participant in the East-West Center Washington’s Young Professionals Program. He is also a graduate student studying international economics at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, specializing in the China-Pacific region.