Reel Asian Film Festival 2021: Q&A With Tigress Director Maya Bastian

Kat Harlton

Tigress, directed by award-winning filmmaker Maya Bastian, is the captivating and thought-provoking story of a young woman who encounters another version of herself as a paramilitary fighter for the Tamil Tigers and begins questioning the ways in which we rebel.

The film follows Trina, a stubborn and rebellious 20-something, who has gone to the motherland as an aid-worker during the war. Once there, she finds herself overwhelmed by the traumas she witnesses and turns to partying hard with her fellow volunteers as a way to cope. One night during a drunken foray, she encounters another version of herself as a paramilitary fighter for the notorious Tamil Tigers — and her sense of western privilege collides with the reality of her ancestors.

Tigress is set to screen at the 2021 Reel Asian Film Festival from November 10th – November 19th, 2021.

We had the opportunity to chat with Filmmaker & Director Maya Bastian about what she hopes the audience takes from the film, why sharing Trina’s story is important and what’s next.

Kat: What does it mean to you, to have Tigress chosen as an official selection for the 2021 Reel Asian Film Festival? 

Maya: I’m thrilled to have Tigress selected for the Reel Asian Film Festival.  Being supported by the Asian/South Asian community has been integral to my career thus far.  More and more stories by Asians are being highlighted and produced by mainstream media. It feels wonderful to be amongst the first wave of this, and I wouldn’t be achieving any success if it wasn’t for longstanding film festivals such as Reel Asian who champion BIPOC filmmakers. 

Kat: What do you hope the audience takes from the film? 

Maya: My hope is that an audience will question the narrative of war and conflict that they have been given by the media. We are often so quick to judge the choices people make in the middle of a war.  But who would you be if you were born in a conflict zone? What choices would you make differently? This is something I have often thought about, being a child of Tamil immigrants. There are so many nuances to the choices one makes when living in a warzone.  How can we judge someone for choosing survival?  We hold a lot of privilege here in Canada, it affords us a life many around the world can only dream of. 

Kat: Why was it important to you to share Trina’s story, and give Tamils a voice and representation? 

Maya: Until recently, I hadn’t seen many stories that represent the Tamil diaspora experience. There are  hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils living around the world. A lot of the emotions that Trina experiences come directly from my own experiences, having grown up with the narrative of war being singularly intertwined with my identity.  Sri Lankan Tamils suffered through 30 years of war and oppression — both from the Sri Lankan government and the rebel faction called the LTTE (better known as the Tamil Tigers). Many of us grew up hearing stories of trauma, torture, rape and much more. These are stories that aren’t explored often but they should be. Trauma needs to be unpacked before we can heal as a community.  Beyond that, representation is undeniably important.  WE must be the people telling our own stories, and the stories of our ancestors.  There is no longer a need for outsiders to try and represent us on screen. Once a people can claim their own identity through storytelling, they take back their power and their truth.  These stories may come from a tiny island, but they have the power to resonate worldwide. 

Kat: What has been your biggest challenge thus far in the film industry? 

Maya: Being a woman of colour trying to assume a position of power on a film set has been the biggest challenge I have ever faced. For years I struggled with not being heard or respected, and struggling to have creative control over my own projects. Times have certainly changed in the ways that women and BIPOC people are treated in the industry, however the struggle for equity still remains. I will always champion underrepresented talent in whatever way I can, because I know how hard I had to work to become a director in a cultural climate that wanted to pigeon-hole me as difficult, untalented, angry — and all of the other stereotypes placed upon women of colour. It’s an exciting time now as more and more women like me are being given opportunities, but this doesn’t mean that the challenges have disappeared. There’s just more of us, and more allies around to stand up for us. 

Kat: Do you have any role models or mentors that you look to for inspiration? 

Maya: So many!  I’m surrounded by an incredible community of filmmakers and artists. Toronto-based Tamil filmmakers such as V.T. Nayani and Kalaisan Kalaichelvan who are brilliant and talented in their own right.  Writer/director Frances-Anne Solomon, who has taught me how to honour my community and to fight for what is right. As far as role models, poets like Rupi Kaur and Nayirah Waheed blow my mind wide open. And filmmakers like Shirin Neshat, Alma Harel, Mati Diop, Chloe Zhao constantly inspire me. 

Kat: What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2021? 

Maya: Tigress is shaping up to have a really fun festival run with screenings in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Japan. The whole team is excited to show this film around the world.  I’m developing a comedy series with CineFAM called ‘How To Be Brown’. Our writers room is entirely South Asian, which is really fun. I’m also currently directing a paranormal mystery series for Reflector Entertainment, it’s my first time really delving into episodic and I’m excited to explore it more. 2021 has been truly amazing to me, and I feel like I’m just getting started.

To learn more about Maya Bastian, visit

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