Nimisha Mukerji's film Blood Relative followed the lives of Imran and Divya (below) and her uncle Vinay Shetty (bottom).

Moving moviemaking

Local filmmaker Nimisha Mukerji’s latest documentary featured at B.C.’s first South Asia Film Festival in Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver

It was a good story, plain and simple.

And so Nimisha Mukerji didn’t hesitate long before deciding to use her filmmaking skills to tell it.

Her uncle, Vinay Shetty, told her of his ongoing struggle to get medication for the thousands of kids in India born with the rare genetic blood disease thalassemia.

He introduced Mukerji to Imran, a well-spoken, Eminem-loving 24-year-old who works at a call centre, and Divya, a bright-eyed 14-year-old girl who just wants to go to study and “become someone.”

Both have thalassemia major, a disorder that destroys red blood cells and causes severe anemia.

For Imran and Divya, it has meant a life of hospital visits, blood transfusions and stunted growth that makes them appear much younger than their years. Most people born with the disease won’t live past age 25.

The filmmaker’s meetings in Mumbai resulted in the documentary Blood Relative, a film three years in the making that had its world premier earlier this month at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), winning Best Canadian Documentary.

“The response has been incredible,” said Mukerji.

The film, however, is not her first. Her prior documentary, 65 Red Roses, also garnered the 28-year-old plenty of accolades, including Most Popular Canadian Film Award at the 2009 VIFF and Best Documentary Award at the 2009 Arizona Film Festival. It also aired on Oprah Winfrey’s Documentary Club last year.

But because the movie focussed on organ donation, Mukerji wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of tackling another disease for her second project. But any qualms she had about making Blood Relative were quickly overcome.

“When you’re struck by a good story, you find reasons you should do it,” she said.

Mukerji was bitten by the film bug in high school at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta. But it wasn’t until she was into the second year of her English literature degree at UBC that she rediscovered her passion during an elective film class.

“I knew I liked editing and making films, but I didn’t know if I was any good at it.”

Still, she wanted to give it a shot and applied to UBC’s film program. She was turned down.

“When I didn’t get in, I knew I really wanted to do film,” she laughs.

The next year, she applied again and was accepted, graduating a few years later with a double major in English literature and film production.

She started 65 Red Roses, a year after graduation. Finished in 2009, it took two-and-a-half years to make and follows the lives of a young woman and her two online friends who were all battling cystic fibrosis.

Now living in White Rock, Mukerji is excited to screen Blood Relative in Surrey during the upcoming South Asian Film Festival (SAFF).

“There’s a huge community there that we can access. It’s kind of nice to be able to bring the film to them, rather than them having to go to Vancouver.”

The SAFF, the first in B.C., takes place at six venues in Surrey, Vancouver and Abbotsford from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 and is meant to celebrate 100 years of South Asian culture in the province. Forty films by Southeast Asian filmmakers will be screened over the five-day inaugural event.

Blood Relative will be shown Nov. 1, 9 p.m. and Nov. 4, 12 p.m. at Empire Theatres in Guildford, and on Nov. 2, 6 p.m. at Town Cinemas in Abbotsford.

For a full schedule of movies and venues in Vancouver, Abbotsford and Surrey, check www.saffcanada.org/schedule/

Mukerji’s next project is already in the works. Called Beauty Mark, it’s a narrative piece rather than a documentary, and explores the world of child beauty pageants.

She’s welcoming the change of genre.

“It shows I can tell a wide range of stories.”

For more information about the South Asian Film Festival or to purchase tickets, visit www.saffcanada.org

To see a trailer for Blood Relative, check here

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