The 2017 San Diego Asian Film Festival is well underway, featuring films from first time filmmakers to internationally acclaimed directors. AsAm News had the opportunity to talk to Saila Kariat, an Indian American filmmaker who screened her first, but already award-winning feature length film, The Valley at the UltraStar Mission Valley.
The Valley centers around two Indian immigrants and their U.S. born daughters living among the Silicon Valley elite. Neal, played by Pakistani-British actor Alyy Khan, is a tech CEO under intense pressure by the board of his company to innovate in an industry dominated by younger generations. His wife, Roopa (Suchitra Pillai-Malik), runs the family household while struggling with a sense of inferiority among the career women in the family’s social circles. Their daughters, both college students search for their own identities despite being under the intense scrutiny of their parents. Maya, the youngest, attempts to find herself while placating her demanding mother.
The film opens on Neal, Roopa, eldest daughter Monica, and the family’s housekeeper returning to their home.
Viewers are made aware of youngest daughter’s death in the opening minutes and Neal’s first inquiries as to what caused Maya to commit suicide.
As the film progresses, the father’s desperate search for answers uncovers a deepening depression in his daughter and events that might have hastened her demise. Such a tragic loss unearths the fractures in Neal and Roopa’s marriage which are carefully revealed as the movie progresses.
Kariat’s screenplay allows the plot to gradually unfold minimizing extraneous plot points. Every scene was calculated and played an important role in the plot’s progression. She ensured that each character’s personalities developed over the course of the film, exposing flaws in each of them while making characters like the mother Roopa more relatable. Shot on a tight budget, The Valley was filmed in three weeks and multiple locations around the San Francisco Bay Area. Kariat told AsAmNews that the film was largely self-funded and reliant on friends for the remainder of the budget. While low budget films often lack flash, The Valley was an inspired passion project meant to address the stigma of mental health in Asian communities.
“I had a brother who had mental health issues. It’s one of the reasons I can sympathize with the Maya character, she suffers from depression”, Kariat told AsAmNews prior to her film’s showing. “In the Bay Area, there were a lot cluster suicides. I think there were fourteen in one high school”, she said when talking about what inspired her to write The Valley. We discussed the high stress nature of the Bay Area’s tech industry and its effects on children’s mental health. Kariat made clear that the root cause was depression and often, families would rather their children suffer than admit something is wrong because it is perceived as weakness.
“Thematically, I think a lot of it is about competitiveness versus human connection, relationships, and empathy, and the choices we make. We choose one over the other,” Kariat told us. Those themes are beautifully developed throughout the film as the plot evolves from a family intent on keeping up appearances, to one that uncovers the deeply rooted pain and secrecy that plagues each member of the family. Unlikable characters become more sympathetic by the end of The Valley.
The Valley is scheduled to screen at film festivals this coming weekend in Vancouver, Canada and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Valley is written, produced, and directed by Saila Kariat, and is also produced by Yumee Jang.
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