Ava DuVernay: "I Would Love to Release an Indian Film in the U.S."

Ava Duvernay - H 2014
AP Images

Ava Duvernay - H 2014

The 'Selma' director, who is heading the Mumbai film festival's international jury, discusses her U.S. distribution company Array and the Hollywood foray of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra.

On her first visit to India, Selma director Ava DuVernay told THR that she has "always been fascinated by Indian culture, especially cinema."

The director, who is heading this year's international jury at the Mumbai Film Festival, which runs Oct. 29-Nov. 5, added that she has long been an admirer of female filmmakers of Indian origin, such as Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), Deepa Mehta (Midnight's Children) and Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham).

"They were some of the first women filmmakers of color I had heard of, even before African American women filmmakers," she said. "I hope more people around the world embrace Indian cinema beyond just Bollywood, because there's such a rich legacy."

DuVernay recently relaunched her five-year-old distribution company AFFRM (African American Film Festival Releasing Movement) as Array, which focuses on releasing independent films by people of color and women filmmakers. Array's releases include South African director Sara Blecher’s coming-of-age drama Ayanda in addition to DuVernay's earlier films Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow.

"I would love to release an Indian film in the U.S.," said DuVernay, explaining that Array runs its own art-house distribution network. "We have released films which would otherwise not get released in the U.S." Array also has an output deal with Netflix, "so if we pick up an Indian film, it will also get released on Netflix in the U.S."

The 17th edition of the Mumbai festival opened with Indian drama Aligarh by Hansal Mehta, which is set in the town of the same name in central India and revolves around a professor who is suspended from his university after he is accused of being gay. Co-produced by leading Indian major Eros International, which will also distribute the film, Aligarh first premiered at the Busan film festival, followed by a screening at the London festival.

DuVernay drew parallels with her own film Selma, which "straddled indie and studio...Aligarh had an independent spirit and seemed to be made with a larger budget than a usual indie film, as it looked quite polished. So that was a hybrid like Selma."

She also praised another festival film, Thithi, "which felt very indie...I am learning about the different categories outside [Hindi language] Bollywood." Directed by Raam Reddy, the south Indian Kannada-language film is about how three generations of a family react to the death of their oldest member. Thithi picked up multiple honors at Locarno and is in the international competition section at Mumbai.

When asked about Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra's foray into Hollywood via ABC's Quantico, DuVernay said: “I think people like her show. I hope she opens the doors for others and for various other cultures that are poorly repped [in U.S cinema and television], such as Native American, Asian and Latino."