With many large-scale events around the state and globe getting postponed or canceled, one event altered the medium in which it was presented to cater to the rising COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

The 2020 Garden State Film Festival still went on, but instead of in Asbury Park, it was featured completely online through virtual streaming.

Robbinsville filmmaker Rajiv Walia (left) with South Asian International Film Festival manager Meghna Hegde.

Luckily for Robbinsville resident Rajiv Walia, his selected project was featured in the ticketed, block schedule featured online, free of health and safety concerns amid the global coronavirus crisis.

Walia, a first-time filmmaker, was one entry of over 1,800 in this year’s festival.

“Wonderful films rise to the top of the process and his was among them and we’re very very pleased to be able to present it,” founder and treasurer of the GSFF Diane Raver said.

The 38-year-old filmmaker who was originally born in Kenya, Africa, and has been a resident of New Jersey for 10 years, had his first self-produced film featured in the GSFF.

His 12-minute featured production, Saho: What’s Your Limit, tells the story of two strangers who share an Uber to the airport. On their ride they learn about each other and in turn are inspired by one another’s lives. The theme Walia chose to address in Saho was domestic violence and the power of feminism.

“The film will put them in the moment with the hidden things that go around us and we don’t notice them, and things we take for granted…It kind of gives you a reality check on what’s going on,” Walia said.

He explained that with the well-known messages of today, such as the #MeToo movement, addressing some sort of social change was a goal of his. He sought to engage audiences with something they will care about, something that has an impact.

Walia began writing Saho in June of last year, shot its principal photography in New York City in August and released it around November of 2019.

Since its release, it has been selected and shown in about eight film festivals, winning awards like best short story and best short film at festivals held in India, New York City and Canada.

Working at a consulting company, Accenture, for his career so far, Walia decided about two years ago that it was time to try his hand in film.

“Directing was always one of my passions I was just waiting to get started with,” he said.

He began by writing film content for other production companies and eventually got into directing, screenwriting and producing his own film in 2019.

With no background in film or production, Walia funded Saho himself and credits his wife with allowing him to realize his dream by taking care of their two children and the house so that he may focus on work and filming.

The transition into film was not an easy one. Walia shared that learning to be on set and manage people were aspects he had to adapt to.

He hopes to make film a full-time career in the future and is working on his next film which will stay with the theme of social change and genre of drama thriller.

It isn’t just the quality of entries that is celebrated by the GSFF but the participation of New Jersey filmmakers that makes it special.

Every year from June to December, the GSFF puts out its call for entries. This year’s festival screened 240 films from 20 countries over five days.

Filmmakers are given the opportunity to be viewed by an international audience. Founder of the GSFF Raver expressed how she is so proud of the New Jersey artists selected for screening. Giving filmmakers a platform to share their work and introducing young people to 21st century vocations has been Raver’s life’s purpose and mission.

“What the filmmakers are getting with us, true independent film making, is a film that’s made from someone’s heart and soul for some reason or to get out some message…So there’s a different reason for the film and there’s a different experience when watching them.,” Raver said. “It’s very enriching. The way that good, organic food is to our bodies, so are the independent films for our souls.”