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‘Indian and American filmmakers will have lots to share’

Non-profit arts organisation, the US-based Film Independent (FI), is coming to South Asia—India, Sri Lanka and Nepal to identify filmmakers and projects and build creative partnerships. FI, a champion of independent cinema is committed to promoting inclusiveness and diversity in filmmaking. The arts organisation intends to take a select group of emerging filmmaking voices from South Asia to the USA for tailored mentorships, workshops, master classes and film-making labs. The six-week intensive residency in LA is part of FI’s Global Media Makers (GMM) programme, a mentoring initiative and cultural exchange programme designed to build a bridge and foster relationships between American filmmakers and industry professionals with international filmmakers from globally diverse regions.

FI’s president, Josh Welsh and Maria Raquel Bozzi, Senior Director of Film Education and International Initiatives will be travelling next week onwards to Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala, Chennai and Hyderabad in India, Colombo in Sri Lanka and to Nepal to meet filmmakers and representatives of various film organisations. Meanwhile, nominations for the programme are already under way. The fellows selected for the LA Residency will be mid-career filmmakers who have a project in development that focuses on local issues of importance in their country. Edited excerpts from a telephonic interview with Welsh and Bozzi…

What made you pick on India, Sri Lanka and Nepal as the next step in the GMM programme?

Josh Welsh (JW): When we started GMM four years ago the idea was to travel the programme around the world. We started in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey but the intention was always to go to different regions that had strong emerging independent film communities, to engage with filmmaker in all parts of the world. We have been in the Middle East for three years and established deep connections with the independent film community there. All the countries that we are working with have very rich traditions of story-telling and [what is] really important to us is that they are historically under-represented in the US film industry. We are still going to be working in the Middle East and North Africa. We are not going to be leaving that region. We are expanding into South Asia.

Why did India, Sri Lanka and Nepal interest you specifically?

Maria Raquel Bozzi (MRB): In the case of India, I find it very intriguing that independent cinema is faced with very similar conditions as independent cinema in the US. In the way it exists in the shadows of a big film industry. Hollywood and Bollywood have a world wide reach and export very homogenised visions of very diverse and wide countries. I am learning more about India and how much diversity there is there, even more so than in the US. The fact that these two well-oiled cinema machines facilitate production, I think it also makes it very hard for the independent filmmakers—who we intend to engage with in India—to compete and thrive in such environments that are so crowded, with established, globalised fare of entertainment. I am very sure that Indian and American filmmakers will have a lot to share. In the case of India, generating this dialogue is very interesting.

Did you familiarise yourself with any independent cinema coming out of India?

JW: The market in the US for international cinema has really constricted over the past years. We don’t get to see nearly as much international films, from South Asia or other parts of the world. There is a very small number of international films that gets released theatrically across the US. To be candid, we are not so educated and knowledgeable as we want to be. Part of this programme is to help build that bridge, to connect film communities in the US with filmmakers and film organisations in South Asia and help spread awareness of the great work being done over there.

We are a non-profit organisation that has been around for 35 years supporting independent filmmakers. We do that through a wide range of programmes. We have artiste development programmes where we work with filmmakers, writers, directors and producers who are developing new work in film and television.

Over the years we have been fortunate enough to work with filmmakers who we really love. Producer Shrihari Sathe, who attended the producing lab some years ago, won the producing award in the Independent Spirit awards. His latest film, Sweet Requiem, just won an award at Kolkata. Shonali Bose, [director] of Margarita With A Straw is another filmmaker we supported a few years ago in [our] mentorship programme, Project Involve. There are filmmakers who have been living and working in the US, who have exposed us to some degree to the independent scene in their country. That has been very exciting for us.

The point of this trip is quite frankly to educate ourselves. We are coming over to meet with as many filmmakers, film festivals, film organisations that we can to just get to know what’s going on ground, what are the opportunities, where are the strong communities thriving, what are the challenges and obstacles that filmmakers face. We are coming over to listen and to learn a lot more.

How fruitful would this be for Indian filmmakers?

MRB: The digital revolution has allowed for culture and film to become more global. We strongly believe in the globalisation of culture to be more inclusive, of real local stories in the global space. What kinds of stories travel? That is a concern in everybody’s head. This question can be addressed through a dialogue between Indian and American filmmakers. Through the three years that we have run the programme I love seeing filmmakers comparing notes, sharing ideas… I hear filmmakers complaining or commiserating about how hard it is, how financing is impossible. I see mentors and filmmakers here shaking their heads and nodding ‘I hear you. We are going through the same things. In a way we could get our heads together and figure this out. This is something that has worked for us, what has worked for you?’

JW: [The] Independent film community is really global in a positive way and this programme is tapping into that, helping to foster that. We create programmes to serve filmmakers. GMM will be helpful to the South Asian filmmakers selected for it but, at the same time, it has been a discovery how the programme has been useful to the US side.

People we get in as guest speakers or mentors they get as much out of it. Some of it is creative stimulation by travelling and getting to meet filmmakers from other parts of the world. Some of it is frankly business. There are forward thinking film companies and streaming platforms that recognise that the film world is international and they are creating content that is global. They see great value in a programme like this, in fostering great talent all over the world. I see a mutually beneficial aspect to this.

When will you begin soliciting applications for the programme?

MRB: The first stage of the programme is under way. We have asked individuals and organisations to nominate people who feed our criteria. There are over a 100 nominees from India, that might grow. We invite the nominees to apply with a project that they are going to do as writer, director or producer. The deadline is beginning of April. Our screening committee in Los Angeles will screen the applicants. There will be 25 finalists of which 14 filmmakers will travel to LA for residency in the Fall of 2019. The residency will last six weeks. We will continue supporting them all along. We will take their help in identifying the needs that can be served for the filmmakers in the future. There will be a workshop in the Spring of 2020 in India for the broader filmmaking community.

See www.filmindependent.org/programs/global-media-makers for more details

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