The 2022 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) announced the award winners for its 20th annual edition which featured a celebratory return to in-theater screenings and presentations. Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon a Time in Calcutta won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film, and Anmol Sidhu’s Jaggi was the recipient of the inaugural Uma da Cunha Award for Best Feature Film Debut, as well as the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature.
IFFLA Executive Director Christina Marouda, said, “This year’s edition of the film festival was wonderful in so many ways. The excitement felt by the reunion of so many of our filmmakers, patrons, and film fans back in the theaters was something we all shared.
The months and weeks leading to the festival, we weren't sure whether people would show up after a three-year break from an in-person festival. We were overwhelmed to see everyone coming back, eager to reconnect with the community and the IFFLA family, watch films and celebrate our 20th anniversary. We walk away from this year's festival feeling energized and filled with gratitude.”
In the feature film category, Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon a Time in Calcutta was cited for “its sprawling, operatic depiction of broken people desperate to connect, and its poetic mastery of cinematic craft” by the IFFLA jury. An Honorable Mention went to Shankar’s Fairies, Irfana Majumdar's restrained and lyrical portrait of the unconditional bond between a young girl and the gentleman who cares for her family.
It was fitting, during this 20th anniversary edition of the film festival, a year which introduced new programs and initiatives, for a new award to be presented in honor of IFFLA’s beloved advisor in India, the legendary Uma da Cunha. Uma has been a founding member of IFFLA, always championing Indian independent cinema and emerging voices.
Regarding her selection of Sidhu’s Jaggi which follows a schoolboy in rural Punjab who faces toxic masculinity and sexual abuse when he’s assumed to be gay, da Cunha, said, “Few independent films in India are made in the Punjabi language and fewer still find their way into festivals to reach a wider audience. This film needs to be seen in a milieu where sexual matters tend not to be addressed openly.”
Co-Director of Programming Ritesh Mehta, added, "We're absolutely thrilled with these winners, especially the Audience Choice winner Jaggi, a story about themes no one talks about which desperately need attention, told with audacity and vulnerability from a first-time filmmaking team. What more can we programmers ask for? Stories come to us, enthrall us, move our audiences, and now empower their creators to continue their narrative activism from their distinctive corners of the world."
In the short film category, the Grand Jury Prize went to Amrita Bagchi’s Succulent. The jury stated that the film “beautifully taps into our deep longing for genuine connection in a world that is increasingly artificial.” The Grand Jury Prize for Best Short in the inaugural Spotlight on South Asia section went to Salar Pashtoonyar’s Bad Omen (Afghanistan/Canada). The jury remarked that it was “a raw and visceral film that showed us that above all else, honest filmmaking always wins.”
Honorable mentions in the short film category went to Megha Ramaswamy’s Lalanna’s Song, with the jury stating that the film impressed them “with its daring, boundary pushing filmmaking and two extraordinary lead performances”; and Akanksha Cruczynski’s Close Ties to Home Country. The jury said the film “starts out absurd and hilarious, but sucker punched us with the truth when we least expected it.”
Co-Director of Programming Thouly Dosios, said, "16 true gems of films comprised our shorts selection this year, featuring some of the most thematically daring and formally groundbreaking works in the lineup. The Audience Choice Award for Best Short went to the irresistible, wildly ambitious and stimulating debut, 7 Star Dinosor Entertainment by Vaishali Naik, a film that takes head on the uncertain times we live in, with a story that is brimming with poetry, humor and a lot of soul."
The Feature Films Jury included Lakshmi Iyengar (Executive Vice President, Minor Realm); Smriti Mundhra (Academy Award nominee, Director, St. Louis Superman); and Jonathan Wysocki (Director, Dramarama). The Short Films Jury was comprised of Geetika Lizardi (Writer, Bridgerton, Mira, Royal Detective); Sid Mehra (Manager of Development and Production, Endeavor Content); and Carey Williams (Director, Emergency, R#J).
Highlights of this year’s landmark 20th Anniversary edition of IFFLA included the Opening Night Gala presentation of Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show, the inauguration of the new Spotlight on South Asia section, a virtual 20th Anniversary Shorts special program celebrating the festival’s history, a Masterclass with Anurag Kashyap, and the film festival’s annual One-on-One program where filmmakers were paired with a series of industry executives.
In another new feather for IFFLA’s cap, the festival’s Closing Night First Look event featured Kahlil Maskati's feature screenplay in development, Alim Uncle, presented as a live table read brought to life by a dozen of top Los Angeles-based actors, including Rizwan Manji and Nabeel Muscatwalla, and a preview of Nimisha Mukerji and Mark Ratzlaff’s Warner Bros. Discovery 150 supported project, New Country that included a reading and a live musical performance.