Krushan Naik fell in love with festival’s hospitality, “small-town vibes”

Krushan Naik with several organizers of the 2023 Poppy Jasper International Film Festival. Photo courtesy Krushan Naik

By Calvin Nuttall

Up-and-coming Indian filmmaker Krushan Naik’s “Resurgence” won an award for best documentary at the 2023 Poppy Jasper International Film Festival. He enjoyed the South Valley experience so much, the 33-year-old is assisting next year’s festival as a film screener.

His 19-minute documentary tells the true story of a canyoneer who suffered a terrible accident in the badlands of Utah, and follows his difficult road to recovery. It has received 12 nominations or awards from other film festivals across America.

“It highlights the disparity between the physical, mental, and emotional recovery of a person who goes through trauma,” Naik said. “Through the lens of canyoneering, it has a universal element of what someone who goes through any sort of trauma experiences. It usually takes time for the body and the mind to come back into sync.”

Naik made his first foray into filmmaking studying animation in Mumbai, India. He found the slow pace of animation production tested his patience. After moving back to his home city of Surat, he pivoted to working in advertising, where he stayed for about eight years.

“I started asking myself, ‘If I am going to be working so hard for the rest of my life, am I going to be happy doing this?’” he said. “And the answer was no. I knew this is what I wanted to do, and immediately decided it was time to make the switch.”

Naik then began to apply to film schools in Southern California. He was accepted to Loyola Marymount University, which numbers among the top 10 film schools in America, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Krushan Naik working on his film “Resurgance.” Photo courtesy Krushan Naik

“People keep asking me, ‘Hey there is a really big film industry in India as well, so why move to L.A.?’” he said. “I was inspired by the films coming from Hollywood. I really wanted to do more than what my culture offered to me. I wanted to see myself learn, in terms of the technical aspects of filmmaking. I had always seen Hollywood as the best of the best.”

In Los Angeles, he’s working on his dream career. He spends much of his work hours with other professional filmmakers producing and editing films, as well as screening festival submissions. Projects he’s now working on include:

As a producer and editor: “ Anuja” with writer/director Adam Graves; “Unrest in Peace” with writer/director Thomas Jiang; and “Death & Taxes” with writer/director Matthew Morris. As a producer: “Civil Service” with writer/director Tiffany Kimmel; and “Las Golondrinas” with writer/director Rachel Corrales

Naik also enjoys his job as a film festival specialist at Loyola Marymount University. He also serves as head programmer and a juror for various film festivals in the past few years.

“I help students not be intimidated by the work ‘festival,’ show them how to maneuver through them and do the necessary prep work,” he said. “I’ve also been an educator, I taught film and post production. At the same time I’ve been producing a lot of other films which are in the pipeline. I am hoping to send all of them to Poppy Jasper.”

Coming to South Valley and attending this year’s festival left a lasting impression on him, Naik said. He returns to participate as a film screener and evaluator, in addition to submitting films of his own. The 2024 festival expects to receive more than 1,000 submissions, double last year’s number. With that large number of films to watch, PJIFF organizers rely on screeners to narrow them down.

“One of the most beautiful things about Poppy Jasper was that the filmmakers were given the opportunity for free accommodation (at local residents’ homes),” he said. “What that does for me, as an independent filmmaker, is provide an incentive to drive to Gilroy so I can be as involved as I want to be at a festival.”

Among the other reasons he enjoyed Poppy Jasper, he said, were the networking opportunities available. This included a brunch event he remembers as a highlight.

“It was just for filmmakers,” he said. “We talked about our experiences, which festivals they had been to, and which ones they were planning to go to, stuff like that. There is no filter there, it is just clear conversation. I learned a lot from other filmmakers who were at Poppy Jasper.”

The quality of films shown at Poppy Jasper was inspiring, and a testament to the festival’s success and growing status among filmmakers, Naik said.

“When you give opportunity to independent filmmakers beyond the film festival, it can change their lives and give them opportunities they would have never had,” he said. “Poppy Jasper gives opportunities that make me want to come back again and again.”

Mattie Scariot, the festival’s director, has done great work to make the festival welcoming for filmmakers of all stripes, Naik said. As a first-timer and now as a returning alum, he found her enthusiasm and hospitality to be “amazing.”

“Mattie is very kind, down-to-earth, considerate, and accessible,” he said. “She is energetic and enthusiastic, and she doesn’t differentiate between a first-time filmmaker and an established name. She knows how to provide a platform and make everyone feel welcome.”

The PJIFF is using quite a few screeners and alumni from past years, Scariot said.  Besides Naik, they include filmmakers Bobby Kwong, Guillermo Gomez, Shawna Khorasani, and Andrea Ureno.

“They all had films at our festival and now are screeners for us,” Scariot said. “Being a screener for a film festival can be an excellent way to learn about filmmaking and gain insight into what other filmmakers are doing. As a filmmaker myself, I have learned a lot from watching these films.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill based freelance reporter and columnist.