Los Altos resident Saila Kariat took a hard look around her, sensing that something was wrong under the layer of innovation and affluence that has defined Silicon Valley.
“In the past, both career and a happy family and social atmosphere were measures of the quality of a person’s life,” she said. “We live in an age where the barometers of success are money, achievement, power or fame – family and relationships take a back seat.”
Based on that premise, Kariat wrote and directed “The Valley,” a spotlight film at this year’s Cinequest Film & VR Festival, scheduled Tuesday through March 12 in San Jose and Redwood City. Screenings are slated 7 p.m. March 5 at the California Theatre in San Jose, and 4:15 p.m. March 6, 9:15 p.m. March 9 and 4:15 p.m. March 11 at Century 20 in Redwood City.
“The Valley,” featuring a cast of veteran Indian and American actors, explores the fictional lives of driven, ambitious Indian-American entrepreneur Neal Kumar, wife Roopa and daughters Monica and Maya. The family leads a seemingly idyllic life in Silicon Valley that is upended when daughter Maya commits suicide. The tragedy exposes the fractured nature of Kumar’s family life.
“Anxiety, depression and suicide are on the rise among adolescents, regardless of the demographic to which they belong,” said Kariat, a six-year Los Altos resident and the mother of two daughters. “Girls are more vulnerable than boys, and the problem is more acute amongst immigrants. … The internet and social networks, which are supposed to increase our connectivity, often make teenagers feel more disconnected and inadequate. Affluent children, who supposedly have everything, are under enormous pressure to succeed, and are even more prone to be damaged by what ails our society. This is the culture that I depict in ‘The Valley.’”
The just-completed film, eight years in the making, has met with a good critical reception thus far.
“We were able to get stars that are well known from India and Pakistan – Alyy Khan, Samina Peerzada and Suchitra Pillai,” Kariat said. “As far as U.S. stars, we have Barry Corbin (“No Country for Old Men”), Jake T. Austin (“Wizards of Waverly Place”), and Christa B. Allen (“Revenge”). Everyone who has seen the movie says it is powerful and moving.”
Kariat said her story evolved from many observations and life experiences.
“I have witnessed the pressure that young people undergo to meet their parents’ expectations and its deleterious effects, particularly in the immigrant community,” she said. “I have also seen mental health issues ignored because of the stigma and shame associated with them. My brother, a vibrant, dynamic person, was struck down with schizophrenia in his late teens. His constant struggles are something I will never forget.”
Kariat said the spate of real-life student suicides in Palo Alto also inspired the story.
“I hope that ‘The Valley’ will resonate not only among immigrants, but with all people struggling to keep up with the pace, demands and lack of real human connection of modern life,” she said.
Kariat found her true calling as a filmmaker after working for many years as an engineer.
“I followed the traditionally prescribed path for second-generation Indian-Americans and studied electrical engineering, making it all the way to a Ph.D.,” she said.
Then she had a family.
“I wanted to prioritize my time so that I could spend more time with my daughters, so I started a successful building business, designing and building custom residential homes,” Kariat said. “In parallel, I pursued my lifelong passion and completed a degree in film at San Jose State. It was not until later in life that I finally got the opportunity to do what I wanted to do all along.”