Guyanese filmmaker Shundell Prasad’s first feature film Festival of Lights premiered this month in the US, with screenings in Atlanta on November 2, New York and Los Angeles on November 9 and with an upcoming screening in Detroit on November 29.
According to a synopsis, Festival of Lights tells the story of Reshma (Melinda Shankar) who leaves Guyana when still a child with her mother (Ritu Singh Pande) for New York. Her father Vishnu (Jimi Mistry) is forced to stay behind.
Thirteen years later, Reshma, now a wayward teenager who is resentful of her rich stepfather, returns to Guyana to find her father and locates him in jail.
The film, which contains subplots such as date rape, drug smuggling, runaways and stepfamily pressures among others has been soundly criticised by American critics as choppy and unconvincing. It received just one ‘fair’ rating from Neil Genzlinger, writing for the New York Times; ‘weak’ ratings from Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times, Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post and Nick Schager, Village Voice/LA Weekly, Ronnie Scheib, Daily Variety, John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter and a ‘poor’ rating from Chuck Bowen, writing for Slant.
According to Genzlinger, Festival of Lights “seeks to illuminate an immigrant world we don’t hear much about: people who have fled the South American country of Guyana seeking a better life in New York. But the film, by Shundell Prasad, seems reluctant to spend much time in or on Guyana, and so it ends up being largely just another story about a rebellious American teenager…
“The core of the movie ends up being Reshma’s growing-up years in New York, which, as teenage years go, are fairly generic melodrama.”
Nehme said Prasad crammed too much into the film. She writes: “Prasad has a hard time keeping her bulging narrative straight; the twitchy editing, jarring close-ups and bobbing camera only muddle the audience.” However, Nehme praises the performances of Melinda Shankar (a Guyanese-Canadian who has starred in the Canadian TV teen drama series “Degrassi” and Ritu Singh Pande.
Festival of Lights is written and directed by Prasad and is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for violence, including a sexual assault.