NEW ORLEANS (press release) – Fatima Shaik, an African-American author (Economy Hall) from New Orleans, and whose family has lived in Louisiana for four generations, embarks upon an unlikely quest from The Big Easy to a part of India where no African-American (or American) has ever gone. Her search for the past is fraught with uncertainty as she looks for her late grandfather Shaik Mohamed Musa’s descendants, land he claimed to own and the truth behind the stories she grew up with. Her incredible journey is told in award-winning filmmaker Kavery Kaul’s (Cuban Canvas, Long Way From Home) new feature documentary THE BENGALI. Winner of the Special Jury Award at Roxbury Film Festival and the International Humanitarian Award at Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, The Bengali will make its Louisiana Premiere at New Orleans Film Festival. The film will screen in person on Nov. 9 at 5:45pm at the Broadside and Nov. 13 at 12pm at Broad Theater, and will also screen virtually from Nov. 5-21 (virtual screenings are geoblocked for viewing online in Southern U.S. states only). For tickets, both in-person and virtual, visit https://bit.ly/3iQojj9.
The Bengali reaches across seemingly insurmountable cultural divides to shed light on timely issues, telling a boldly different story of immigration to reclaim timeless themes of family. Kaul, who is originally from Kolkata herself, travels with Shaik to the big city of Kolkata, the countryside of Bengal and through the streets of New Orleans, with unique access to people and places in both countries. Their trek is tempered with hope, fear and surprising encounters with strangers.
Nuance and intimacy mark the filmmaking style. With lively animation, seamless editing and evocative music, The Bengali blends form and content to forge a dynamic work of creative nonfiction about a woman’s journey in search of her past. Through Shaik’s moving and inspiring pursuit, The Bengali tells the untold story of ties between South Asians and African-Americans in the U.S. In the late nineteenth century, the newly arrived men from India married African-American women. The men were Muslim; their wives were Christian. Together, they built families in an America that held them all at arm’s length. Shaik is a granddaughter of this vibrant cultural tangle. Kaul reveals how an essential chapter of history has been ignored—until now. The Bengali adds significant richness to the legacy of migration.
“Filming in the American South and a South Asian village on the opposite side of the world, I want to give viewers a chance to walk in the shoes of someone they may never meet. And to discover family they never expected. That’s the only way to break down the barriers between ‘them’ and ‘us’,” said Kaul. “I’m so excited to screen the film in New Orleans where this story began.”
Kaul adds, “Black and brown immigrant populations are continually pitted against each other, but in reality, African American and South Asian populations in the U.S. have a long history of meaningful associations. The Bengali makes these connections stronger and even more relevant. And I wanted to make a documentary that challenges the nature of inclusion in our collective past and assumptions about who tells the story. I wanted to shine light on the truth in personal history, memory and myth.”
The acclaimed creative team of The Bengali includes editor/producer Lucas Groth (Cuban Canvas), Executive Producer Deborah Shaffer (Director of the Academy Award Best Documentary Short Winner, Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements), director of photography John Russell Foster (U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award Winner at Sundance Film Festival, Dick Johnson is Dead), composer Nainita Desai (Academy Award Best Documentary Feature nominee, For Sama), animator Maya Edelman (Emmy winner for Broad City) and associate producers Veronique N. Doumbe (Emmy-nominated Black Enuf) and Margot Edman (Credits with BBC, UNICEF and WGBH’s NOVA).
About the Director:
Kavery Kaul is an award-winning filmmaker whose character-driven documentaries challenge who “we” are and who tells that story. Through an intimate lens, she crafts stories which boundlessly straddle different worlds. The founder of riverfilms, her works have been featured at DOC NYC, Telluride, London, Rotterdam and Sydney Festivals, among other major festivals; in countries including India, Japan, Burkina Faso, Spain and Italy; at the Kennedy Center (DC), National Museum of Women in the Arts (DC), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), Jameel Arts Centre (Dubai), and High Museum (Atlanta). Cuban Canvas, an inter-generational look at painters in Havana, was an Imagen Award Nominee, a Margaret Mead Film Festival Selection. About three girls, outsiders at their schools, Long Way from Home was a Film Threat, Time Out and Booklist Critic’s Pick. Kaul’s documentaries have reached broad audiences on television, in theatres and in all media. They have also been shown before thought leaders worldwide from the International Brain Injury Association to Asian-American Educators’ Alliance. She is a 2014 Fulbright Fellow and 2017 Logan Fellow. Born in Kolkata, India, she received a Proclamation of Excellence from New York City where she lives. Her new documentary The Bengali is currently on its festival run and has picked up numerous awards. In her highly-acclaimed TEDx Talk (goo.gl/dPoCvZ), she speaks to the power of storytelling as a way to connect people across the divides. As an arts speaker on the occasion of Fulbright’s 75th Anniversary, she reminded us that “Stories Matter.”
About the Subject:
Fatima Shaik was born in New Orleans. Her family has lived there for at least four generations. Her father Mohamed was the son of Shaik Mohamed Musa and Tennie Ford. Fatima is Shaik’s granddaughter. As an author, she has drawn upon her Louisiana roots in six short story collections and young adult novels. A Trustee of PEN America and recipient of the Louisiana Writer of the Year Award, her most recent work is the nonfiction Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free, Black Brotherhood.
Kavery Kaul – Director, Writer, Producer
Lucas Groth – Editor, Producer
Deborah Shaffer – Executive Producer
John Russell Foster – Director of Photography
Nainita Desai – Composer
Maya Edelman – Animator
Veronique N. Doumbe – Associate Producer
Margot Edman – Associate Producer
USA – 2021 – 72 mins – Color – DCP
Film Website: https://www.thebengalifilm.com/
Kavery Kaul/River Films Website: https://www.kaverykaul.com/