Which is the start of the San Jose weekend of the festival. Interesting thing about Asianfest--I always plan my San Jose weekend first. It's easier when there's only 2 screens to choose from (if that), and then I use my choices to narrow down what I'll see in San Francisco. I've done this for the past 3 years, and I've had a pattern of choosing some of my favorite movies in San Jose. Not that I don't have a great time up in SF, but on Thursday when everyone else is talking about "the end of the festival", I know that the best is still to come.
For example, the San Jose opening night gala was "Amal", which was won the jury award for best narrative in San Francisco. Awesome! Wanna hear double awesome--it was previously a short film (by the same director), which I saw (I believe at Cinequest) a couple of years ago, and liked. Wann hear triple awesome--U. S. Congressman Mike Honda (California's 15th district, which is San Jose) was there for the screening and said a few words beforehand:
So hows that for rubbing elbows with bigwigs? Oh yeah, and there was a movie. "Amal" is an Indian film (director Richie Mehta is Indian-Canadian, from Toronto) about an autorickshaw driver in Bombay. Amal is proud to drive his rickshaw, proud to give his customers a good, fair deal, and make a humble living with his mother, a few friends, and his regular customers. In fact, his pride is so great that when a beggar girl steals a purse from his passenger, he chases her into traffic, where she's hit by a car and hospitalized. Feeling guilty, he visits her every day, but doesn't have the 50,000 rupees to pay for the operation she needs. Meanwhile, there's a grumpy old eccentric man (Naseeruddin Shah, in grubby clothes and a superman t-shirt, if you're paying attention). He's rude to everyone he meets, but somehow can't break Amal's spirit. Turns out, he's a millionaire looking for one honest man, and as his dying wish instructs his executor to find the autorickshaw driver named Amal and give him a letter explaining that he's leaving him his entire fortune. Well, this pisses off his family, especially his son Vivek who's deeply in debt to the mob. So events transpire (and people conspire) to keep Amal from his rightful fortune, while others try to find him and get him his money. Meanwhile Amal is completely unaware, wrapped up with his own problems with the injured girl, trying to raise money for her operation. And...well, I've said too much already. I'll just say it's a beautiful and moving tribute to the good and simple man, living his life with modest goals.
Here's director Richie Mehta with Vik Sahay (the evil Vivek) at the Q&A: