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Film director Deepa Mehta: 'It's all about the integrity'

University lecture, The Anatomy of Violence, draws a packed house

Acclaimed director/screenwriter Deepa Mehta, centre, seated with film studies professors Lee Carruthers and Charles Tepperman. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

By Heath McCoy
February 9, 2016

After she received her Academy Award nomination for her 2005 film Water, director and screenwriter Deepa Mehta says she received several offers from Hollywood studios eager to produce and finance her next films. Of course, she was greatly tempted. But ultimately, she says, “I just couldn’t go that route.”

To work in Hollywood felt too limiting. There were too many factors at play that could potentially compromise her artistic vision. And, for the acclaimed Indo-Canadian director, those were compromises that simply could not be made.

“There are so many stories I want to tell,” said Mehta giving a lecture to a packed hall of about 200 students and faculty members on Feb. 3 in the Earth Sciences building. “To me, it’s all about the integrity of those stories. I need the freedom to tell them.”

That artistic integrity was front and center during Mehta’s well-received lecture, entitled ‘The Anatomy of Violence,’ which focused on the nature of violence in her films.

The director brought insightful commentary and wit to the lecture (which was followed by a Q&A), while playing select and poignant clips from such films as her latest, Beeba Boys, about Sikh gangsters in Vancouver and Heaven on Earth (2008), which portrayed domestic violence in an arranged Indo-Canadian marriage. Of course, the Oscar nominated Water (2005) was also spotlighted, with its powerful portrayal of patriarchy in 1930s India, through the eyes of a widowed child.

Mehta addressed how, at times, the Indo-Canadian community has reacted angrily to her films when they have addressed difficult and controversial issues.

“Within my community there has been such a desire for approval that we feel we cannot be seen in a negative light,” she said. “But to sweep problems under the carpet does not make them go away. It is important to talk about issues like domestic violence in immigrant communities, and to not be afraid to do so.” She added that the violence seen in her films was not specific to Indo-Canadian culture, but, in fact, universal.

By shining a light on violence in her films, Mehta says she seeks to deal with the problems directly. “I long for peace, and I know that until we eradicate violence, we won’t have it.”

The previous evening Mehta appeared at a screening of Beeba Boys at the Globe Cinema.

That event and Mehta’s 2016 Canwest Global Lecture, were organized by the Department of Communication, Media and Film.