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Local suicide cluster drives filmmaker's 'The Valley,' set to premiere in theaters


Courtesy of Saila Kariat
“The Valley,” Los Altos resident Saila Kariat’s film exposing the dark side of success in Silicon Valley, is set for a June release.

Since her film debuted at last year’s Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, engineer-turned-director Saila Kariat has traveled the country screening “The Valley” at similar festivals. Now, the Los Altos resident is bringing the movie home, with several showings scheduled throughout the Bay Area in June.

The R-rated film tells the fictional tale of Indian-American entrepreneur Neal Kumar – a Silicon Valley resident, husband and father of two – as he copes with the fallout of his college-age daughter Maya’s suicide.

“I realized that this topic really resonates with a lot of people,” Kariat said. “Approximately 30 to 35 percent of college students suffer from either anxiety or depression, because that’s what the statistics show. And suicide has surpassed homicide as the second-leading cause of death for 18- to 25-year-olds.”

Kariat added that the cluster of suicides by students in Palo Alto during the 2014-2015 school year – and the death of her brother, who suffered from mental health issues – inspired her to make the film.

“Between those two things, they kind of gave the impetus to write the script,” said the former IBM electrical engineer, who began writing the movie in 2010. “(These events) did change the script in the sense that I researched what happened with these kids and their stories, and I knew third-hand one of the kids.”

The influence can be seen clearly in the plot, according to Kariat, with Kumar a wealthy Silicon Valley tech executive and Maya excelling in her studies.

“That whole point of how things appear and what they really are, are different,” she said. “And I wanted to bring that into the story.”

In her journey to present the film, Kariat traveled across the nation – and beyond.

“We went abroad to the Mumbai Film Festival and I was really wondering how this would play out in other cultures,” she said. “I think they really understood it.”

She returned from the festival circuit with 16 awards, four of them for Best Feature Film. “The Valley” also won Best Original Screenplay at the Madrid International Film Festival, and Suchitra Pillai – who plays Kumar’s wife – received Best Actress honors at the Long Island International Film Expo.

“(Kariat) is a great person to work with,” said Paul Nordin, the film’s director of photography, in a phone interview. He added that Kariat “had a very solid view of what she wanted to do. Which is kind of unusual … but she had a really clear idea of what she wanted to create, and that was really fun.”

Nordin also won an award for Best Cinematography for “The Valley” at the Berlin International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema.

Before Kariat starts work on her next feature film, “War Child,” she plans to spend more time with her eldest daughter, who is heading off to college. Kariat is in the process of self-distributing “The Valley,” which will be screened in the Bay Area and several major cities throughout the country June 8-15.

Locally, screenings of the film are scheduled 7 p.m. June 11 and 12 at the Landmark Aquarius Theater in downtown Palo Alto.

Beginning June 16, “The Valley” will be available for streaming on Fandango NOW, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and via the Microsoft website.

DVD and Blu-ray versions may be ordered on the film’s website, thevalleyfilm.com.

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