Meet the founder of North America's largest South Asian Film Fest

Sunny Gill is the founder of the International Film Festival of South Asia Toronto, the largest South Asian film festival in North America. CBC Toronto Community checked in to learn how the pandemic has impacted the festival this year.

Sunny Gill is the founder of IFFSA Toronto, the largest South Asian film festival in North America

Sunny Gill, founder of IFFSA Toronto (Sunny Gill)

Over the past few years, CBC Toronto has been a proud sponsor of the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) Toronto. Last year, CBC Toronto co-presented the opening night screening of Blinded by the Light as well as a panel discussion mental health in the South Asian community, hosted by former CBC Here and Now guest host Reshmi Nair.

This year, amidst a global pandemic, the festival has been rescheduled from its annual event in May, which also coincides with Asian Heritage Month. So how does the experience adapt? Founder Sunny Gill explains what inspired IFFSA, and how its pivoting in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty.

IFFSA Toronto founder Sunny Gill speaking to CBC Toronto's Farrah Merali (IFFSA Toronto)

Sunny Gill, Founder IFFSA Toronto
Brampton/Toronto, ON

What inspired you to start IFFSA Toronto?

Ultimately, the premise of weaving South Asian stories into the fabric of the broader Canadian narrative served as the major inspiration for the festival's inception. South Asians have been a part of the Canadian story for over 100 years, but are vastly underrepresented in media. With over a million South Asians living in the GTA alone, there was a clear need for a platform to share their compelling stories and experiences. IFFSA Toronto is the largest South Asian film festival in North America, and the goal is to make it an institution for South Asian cinematic arts in Canada.

 How has quarantine affected your work, and the festival itself?

Quarantine has presented a challenge for the festival, as hosting a large-scale public event is out of the question right now due to the pandemic. My work is currently dedicated to brainstorming and developing innovative solutions for delivering the festival experience IFFSA is known for, in an alternate format.

The festival has already been rescheduled, but in the event the quarantine is further extended, we are exploring a hybrid festival experience for the Fall. In the meantime, we are organizing a special tribute event for recently-passed film legend Irrfan Khan on June 13, 2020. Irrfan had a very special connection with the festival, which is why we'd like to honour his legacy.

We're working with our global partners to ensure the IFFSA excitement isn't stifled by the quarantine, and we're also focused on planning a grand celebration next year for our tenth anniversary.

Irrfan Khan might be best known for starring in Oscar winning films like Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi. But before that, he dazzled Bollywood audiences for decades.The Indian actor was one of a few to make the successful crossover to Hollywood. Khan died today at the age of 53. One of Canada’s leading Bollywood reporters Mohit Rajhans spoke to host Gill Deacon about Khan's legacy, 9:19

What is your advice to emerging creatives and filmmakers during this time?

In this time of crisis and isolation, the role of art becomes even more central to our lives. From films, to books, to music, it's art that keeps us connected with our inner selves, while also filling the void in our human experience caused by being apart.

I implore emerging creatives and filmmakers to continue creating during these times. We need art now more than ever. For filmmakers, this time can be spent developing new ideas, upgrading skills, applying for funding, or connecting with other creatives virtually. Since many large industry projects will be delayed due to COVID-19, it's the perfect opportunity for independent artists to release material to audiences hungry for content.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by challenge. The prospect of breaking ground with new initiatives motivates me to continue striving for excellence. Before starting IFFSA, I had no experience with the world of cinema. Through perseverance and tenacity, I was able to help grow it into the largest South Asian Film Festival in North America. Opportunities to lead and develop innovative visions exhilarate me. My next challenge is to make IFFSA a premiere institution for South Asian cinematic arts in Canada, and to help build the South Asian Canadian story.

All responses for been edited for length and clarity.

You can find more information on IFFSA Toronto here.

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