Annie Frisbie on: Sun Rises in Queens
The Reeler caught up Thursday with Tanuj Chopra, the Queens-based writer/director whose 2006 film Punching at the Sun follows the coming-of-age trials of an Indian teen in Elmhurst. Sun was a surprise selection (by Chopra's own admission) to Sundance in 2006, followed by jury-prizewinning stint at the San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival and a quasi-hometown premiere at Tribeca (not to mention festival dates in Los Angeles, Seattle and the Smithsonian). But the real hometown bow comes tonight in Astoria, where Chopra will drop by the Museum of the Moving Image for a screening and discussion of his debut feature.
"(MoMI curator) David Schwartz recognized the local angle in it, and was nice enough to recognize the good filmmaking," Chopra told me yesterday, a smile audible over the phone line. "And he said, 'Let's have a screening for the hometown crowd.' A lot of the teenagers in our film come from an organization called SAYA (South Asian Youth Action), which is based in Elmhurst, Queens. So it's a chance to involve the community on a certain level."
Sun looks at a week in the life of Mameet Nayek (Misu Khan), who seethes and struts his way around Elmhurst, riven with mourning more than a month after his older brother Sanjay was murdered in a robbery at his family's convenience store. His guilt calcifies into a blunt frustration with the contradictions of his culture: goofy, inert friends blindly obsessed with hip-hop; a younger sister grappling with the American expectations of womanhood; and a political crisis matching Mameet's own downward spiral turn for turn. Chopra and Khan craft a genuine world-weariness from all-too-real tragedy, snagging a few ironic laughs and even a latent love story from Mameet's Queens odyssey.
It's a gripping blend that ranks as possibly the first of its kind, and audiences have reacted favorably both in and out of New York. "Some of these kids have been to a lot of screenings of the film already," Chopra said. "A good outreach has been made to the South Asian community in Queens. Teenagers just love this film; they just identify with the kids in it. ... And we've done at least 20 or 30 screenings of the film. I think what I've found is that people are very emotional; people are in tears. People follow the human story."
Punching at the Sun premieres internationally in April at Toronto's ReelWorld Film Festival, but as it's still in the distribution hunt, tonight may be your last chance for a while to check it out in New York. Check out Moving Image's Web site for more details.
Posted at February 2, 2007 11:54 AM
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