Film Independent's Global Media Makers Program Expands to Include South Asian Talent (Exclusive)

Josh Welsh Film Independent Headshot - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Film Independent

The four-year-old program, which initially focused on mentoring talent from the Middle East and North Africa, will bring 18 participants to L.A. for a residency in October.

Spirit Award organizer Film Independent has, for the first time, included filmmakers from South Asia for its annual Global Media Makers program. With its initial focus on mentoring talent from countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), GMM was launched in 2016 as a partnership between Film Independent and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program has connected film talent such as writers, directors and producers, with leading U.S. entertainment professionals through workshops and master classes.

In addition to candidates from some MENA countries, this year marks GMM's expansion into South Asia with a total of 18 candidates — nine men and nine women — selected from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Lebanon. (See detailed list below.)

The participants will receive a yearlong fellowship starting with a six-week residency in L.A. beginning Oct. 1. This year's mentors include Andrew Ahn (Spa Night), Jay Duplass (Room 104), Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), Justin Simien (Dear White People), Mary Sweeney (Mulholland Drive), Lulu Wang (The Farewell) and Bradford Young (Selma).

Since launch, 49 fellows have participated in GMM residencies, leading to eight produced projects. These include Egyptian producer Hossam Elouan's You Will Die at Twenty, which bowed at Venice and Toronto; Tunisian filmmaker Nejib Belkhadi’s Look at Me and Turkish filmmaker Ali Vatansever’s Saf, which also premiered in Toronto; while Egyptian filmmaker Amr Salama’s Sheikh Jackson was Egypt’s official 2017 submission to the Academy Awards in what was then the foreign language film category.

"There is a lot of interest in the U.S. in this program because people in the industry are eager to meet filmmakers from these regions and work with them," Film Independent president Josh Welsh tells The Hollywood Reporter. He added: "The industry is global now, so entertainment companies are looking for storytellers from all around the world. It's a perfect time to get filmmakers from such diverse countries and connect them with their American counterparts and see what comes out of it."

In addition to master classes and sessions focused on screenwriting, creative producing and documentary filmmaking, where participants will develop their current projects with U.S. mentors, the program includes industry sessions and field trips to select entertainment companies. These include Netflix, Stage13/Warner Bros., ARRAY and HBO, including an interaction with HBO Films, miniseries and Cinemax programming president Len Amato.

“As we enter our fourth year of the program, we’re inspired by the ripple effects Film Independent and the Global Media Makers programs are having on multiple generations of filmmakers across the globe,” added Film Independent senior director of education and international initiatives Maria Raquel Bozzi.

In addition, this year, $30,000 in micro-grants have also been awarded to past GMM fellows to fund projects such as Jordanian fellow Darin J. Sallam’s filmmaking workshop for youth in a Syrian refugee camp. Similarly, Lebanese fellows Zeina Badran and Mira Shaib held a workshop for high school students and organized outdoor film screenings in Ain Ebel, in the south of Lebanon.

The 2019 GMM fellows and their projects are:

India: Triparna Banerjee, writer
Riding on the Moon Boat (narrative feature). An adolescent girl from an underprivileged community struggles to flourish against the odds as her father is shunned by the majority of the village for engaging in a blasphemous act.

India: Shazia Iqbal, writer-director
Blood Circle (narrative feature). An anthology of stories set in Mumbai that explores the vicious circle of oppression that transforms a human from prey to predator.

India: Nishtha Jain, director
The Golden Thread (documentary feature). In India’s aging jute mills, harsh working conditions coexist with hopes for its ecological revival. Interrogating filmmaking alongside industrial labor, the film muses on the nature and future of work.

India: Miriam Chandy Menacherry, director
Project details not yet disclosed.

India: Bikas Mishra, writer-director
Testimony (Bayaan) (narrative feature). When a powerful religious guru is accused of rape, a rookie female detective must identify the guru’s anonymous accuser and convince her to testify in court.

India: Christo Tomy, writer-director
Undercurrent (Ullozhukku) (narrative feature). During floods, a pregnant widow, who waits for her unloving husband’s funeral, lies that she is carrying his child to escape her family’s wrath and reunite with her secret lover.

Pakistan: Anam Abbas, producer-cinematographer
Showgirls of Pakistan (documentary feature). Burlesque dancers in Pakistan dodge state censors, jealousies and violent fans as they vie for stardom and survival in this never-before-accessed look into the world of "mujra."

Pakistan: Maheen Zia, director
Then They Would Be Gone (documentary feature). Amidst wheat fields, a carnival world appears — an ephemeral city. We enter this space, traversing through the heart of Pakistan with three nomadic artist families as sacred meets profane.

Nepal: Min Bahadur Bham, writer-director
A Year of Cold (Chiso Barsa) (narrative feature). A pregnant woman must journey deep into the remote, harsh Himalayas with her monk brother-in-law to search for her missing husband and give her child an identity.

Nepal: Nawa Nidhi Dahal, producer
The Land of Ancestors (narrative feature). An elderly shepherd living in the Himalayas is confronted with nightmarish visions of his own death and must find his successor before he draws his last breath.

Nepal: Subina Shrestha, director
War by Other Means (documentary feature). A remote Himalayan community’s fault lines are exposed during a local election where one man decides to win, no matter the moral compromise.

Sri Lanka: Sanjeewa Pushpakumara, writer-director
Amma (Mothers) (narrative feature). Two mothers from opposite sides of the Sri Lankan civil war must unite as they embark upon a campaign to find out the truth about their missing sons.

Bangladesh: Arifur Rahman, producer
Paradise (narrative feature). On an isolated island off the coast of Bangladesh, a Muslim teenager’s duty and faith are tested when he befriends another island boy.

Bangladesh: Rezwan Shahriar Sumit, writer-director.
A New Prophet (narrative feature). A young tech genius finds his life stuck in limbo between heaven and hell when he tries to bring his broken family together using virtual reality.

Turkey: O?uz Kaynak, producer.
The Disappeared (narrative feature). When men begin to mysteriously disappear in a traditional Turkish neighborhood, panic ensues, gender roles are reversed and an abused housewife finds empowerment.

Turkey: Zeynep Koray, producer
Empire of the Rabbits (narrative feature). In rural Turkey, a 12-year-old boy struggles with morality and authority after his father forces him to pretend to be disabled in order to receive a stipend from the state.

Saudi Arabia: Abdulrahman Khawj, producer
40 Years and One Night (narrative feature). On the eve of the Eid holiday, seven Saudi Arabian siblings discover their father has secretly been married to another woman and struggle to keep the secret from their mother.

Lebanon: Lara Abou Saifan, producer
Tide (narrative feature). A Palestinian-Lebanese couple lose their child and learn his body will only be released if they can find a spot in a Palestinian cemetery in Lebanon to bury him.