Campus: San Francisco State University -- January 09, 2002

SFSU Cinema Student's Film to Premiere at Sundance Film Festival

Heeraz Marfatia's short film 'Birju' explores a child's search in an Indian village

"Birju," a short film directed by San Francisco State University student Heeraz Marfatia, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week.

"It is very exciting when things come together and your film is a success," said Marfatia, who is studying for a master of fine arts degree from SFSU's acclaimed Cinema Department. "I feel fortunate to get into a big festival - it raises your learning curve."

"Birju" was filmed in Bombay, India, near the village where Marfatia was raised, and follows a 4-year-old boy meandering through a crowd of lively street performers and vendors as he searches for something unknown.

"He eventually finds what he's looking for," Marfatia said about the boy who warmly meets up with his mother at the end of the 14-minute film. "Sometimes we get overwhelmed by what's around us."
Since Marfatia began filming a year ago during his winter break between semesters at SFSU, the 25-year-old Bernal Heights resident has had little time to rest between attending classes and submitting "Birju" to film festivals.

The Sundance Film Festival is the most prestigious showcase for independent films in the United States. Held in Park City, Utah, every January since 1981, the festival founded by Robert Redford drew an audience of more than 20,000 people last year to its select array of films developed outside of mainstream Hollywood.

Of the 2,100 total entries in the short film category this year, 79 were chosen by the Sundance Foundation based on their individuality, artistry and charm.

The festival will be held Jan. 10-20, with "Birju" screening Jan. 11-13, 17 and 19.

"Heeraz is very talented and has worked hard on this film," said Larry Clark, a cinema professor who teaches the production course for first-year MFA cinema students. "In the rough cut, I knew right away that it would do very well."

In addition, the film is attracting attention from a number of other venues. The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the International Children's Film Festival, held in India, will screen "Birju" later this year.

Marfatia began work on "Birju" with 10 cans of 35 mm film donated by Kodak. He included early production work in his portfolio when applying to film schools and impressed the admissions offices at Columbia University's film school and SFSU. He chose SFSU's Cinema Department for its solid reputation and affordable tuition.

Founded amid the political activism and artistic experimentation of the 1960s, the SFSU Cinema Department has educated generations of filmmakers including Academy Award winners Steven Zaillian (Best Screenplay, "Schindler's List," 1994), Christopher Boyes (Best Sound Effects, "Titanic," 1998) and Steve Okazaki (Best Short Documentary, "Days of Waiting," 1991). Entertainment Weekly named the department one of the nation's top film schools last year.

Marfatia plans to embark on future film work while at SFSU. He is now collaborating with his girlfriend, Shubhra Swarup, executive producer of "Birju," on a feature film again set in India, "a very different, unbelievable environment," he explains. To help move the project forward, he hopes to make some valuable contacts at Sundance.

"It is the biggest art-house festival in the world," said Marfatia, who has been in the United States for a little over six months, "but people usually come to purchase the feature films. The shorts are more for 'artistic burst.'"

He is cautiously optimistic that his talent will be recognized and he will receive financial backing to continue pursuing his passion.


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