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First Dalit Film Festival in US Shortlists Kaala and Masaan Among Other Films by Dalit Filmmakers

Dalit artists are set to storm New York City on Feb 24 and 23 in an unprecedented film festival organised by a number of US-based Ambedkarite organisations.

The Dalit Film and Cultural Festival is a first of its kind festival that aims to expose to the world the “nuances of Dalit life” that remain “buried underneath the popular forms of artistic expression”.

Some of the popular films to be shortlisted for the two-day festival incude Masaan and Kaala while other acclaimed films include Fandry, and Pariyerum Perumal.

Lack of representation in Indian and South-Asian film and media is also one of reasons why the organisers are conducting the festival, which will be graced by eminent Dalit personalities such as the National Award winning Marathi film director Nagraj Manjule and Pa Ranjith, who directed Kaala. Actress Niharika Singh has also been invited as one of the guests of honour.
The festival will also be attended by Bommaku Murali, Jayan Cherian, Subodh Nagdeve, and Rampilla Rao among others.

And not just films, documentaries by Dalit filmmakers have also been shortlisted for the festival and some of the notable ones include Kakoos and The Battle for Bhima Koregaon.

The festival is being organised by a coalition of Ambedkar International Mission (USA). Organisations such as the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA), Boston Study Group (BSG), and the Ambedkar Buddhist Association Texas (ABAT) have also lent their support. This festival is co-sponsored and hosted by Barnard College, Columbia University and The New School, New York.

“It is a window to a marginalized landscape and an initiative to reclaim a people’s rights, dignity and freedom,” the organisers said in a statement.

The Dalit diaspora in the US has been thriving in the past few decades with a growing number of Ambdekarite, Ravidassia, Valmiki and Dalit organisations have grown in the US. However, according to a 2016 caste survey in the US, many Dalit Americans face discrimination and violence. Out of the 1,500 persons of South-Asian origin who were living in the US, 25 percent of the Dalits who responded said they had faced caste-based verbal abuse or harassment. One in three Dalit students admitted to being dscriminated against in the field of education and 60 percent said they had been subjected to caste based jokes.

The film festival intends to act as a “window to a marginalized landscape and an initiative to reclaim a people’s rights, dignity and freedom,” the organisation said.

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