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A film about losing a loved one centers South Asian voices at SIFF

A young South Asian girl is on the right of the frame dressed in traditional clothes. She looks onwards while the letters A-N-U fill the space in the center.
Minerva Films
The director Sudeshna Sen began developing "Anu" in 2018. It was filmed all over Seattle.

Over the next 10 days, the Seattle International Film Festival will screen over 260 films. That includes the debut feature from Seattle filmmaker Sudeshna Sen.

Anuis based on the 2006 book Looking for Bapu by Seattle author Anjali Banerjee. It follows a 12-year-old South Asian American girl processing her grandfather’s death. The story resonated with Sen, who herself is Bengali and moved to Seattle as an adult.

In making her first feature film, she knew she wanted a story that centered on South Asian, immigrant voices.

"I hadn't seen too many films that talk about the South Asian experience, the immigrant experience from the eyes of a child, and what it is like to be a young person who is straddling so many cultural heritages," Sen said. "And who lives in a community that is diverse and at the same time, very specifically Pacific Northwest."

It was important to Sen that the film reflected both of these identities authentically. Meaning the characters wore clothes and ate food that made sense culturally and also spoke the actual language.

Sen was adamant about filming in Seattle which is where the story is based, to lend authenticity and a sense of familiarity. She hopes that with the increased tax incentives for filmmaking in the state, more films set in Seattle will be made here.

"The settings should feel familiar to our audiences," Sen said. "It should be like an immediate connection that people form right away, like, 'Oh, that's my neighborhood,' or 'Hey, I know that person.' That needs to happen."

At the same time, Sen thinks anyone and everyone can connect to this story — even if they don't have a tie to the South Asian community or Pacific Northwest. Grief and how we handle it is a universal struggle.

"It is very accurately and specifically moored in a cultural setting, and yet it can happen to anyone," Sen said. "I wanted people to be able to find a way to both see it, identify with it, and then talk about it."

Sen believes that this film is the first locally made South Asian feature to premiere at SIFF. But hopes it’s not the last.

Grace Madigan is KNKX's former Arts & Culture reporter. Her stories focused on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.