Filmmaker of the Month: Deepika Daggubati

Remember the NJISACF 2007 Best Feature Film award winner, Waking Dreams – the energetic culture clash comedy set against the rich backdrops of video games and Bollywood fantasies? (For those of you who haven’t watched Waking Dreams, we strongly recommend you do so as soon as you get a chance.)

Our filmmaker of the month is the very talented director of Waking Dreams, Deepika Daggubati. Born in India and raised in Texas, writer-director Deepika Daggubati has been making movies since the age of ten. As an undergraduate at Georgetown, Deepika worked as a freelance camera operator and editor for news crews and student clubs. After graduating with a B.A. in English and Psychology, she attended Cal Arts for an M.F.A. in Film Production. Waking Dreams is her feature debut. Deepika has been hired to write the original Disney Channel movie Muncie Masala, which is in development. She has also written and directed several short films including the upcoming Dowry. Deepika Daggubati answers a few questions for the readers of Bioscope.

How would you say is your experience of being a 21st century South Asian woman filmmaker in USA? What are the challenges that you have faced, if any?

DD: I’m encouraged by Hollywood’s recent interest in ethnic stories and by the increasing support of the South Asian diaspora for films from our communities. Ethnic stories are universal stories, and people appreciate this fact when they have access to our films. The landscape has changed in a positive direction in the ten years since I’ve been in Los Angeles as a student and filmmaker. While I don’t believe I’ve faced any additional challenges in the industry for being Indian, I do feel that female writers and directors are severely underrepresented in what movies get made and which scripts are bought.

Tell us about some of your favorite films, and the kind of films you would want to make.

DD: Ah, there are so many! Among my favorite directors and films are William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Little Foxes), Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady), Satyajit Ray (Mahanagar, Teen Kanya), Hitchcock (Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man). I look forward to making movies in several genres as Wyler did. I’m fascinated by the small, intimate moments that reveal a person’s deep character. The projects that I’m currently working on include a period mystery about a murder in 1920s Manhattan, a contemporary thriller about a reporter investigating her grandmother’s death, and a boarding school story of rebellion and acceptance.

That is so very fascinating. How much do you think does Bollywood affects our lives as expats, in spite of the fact that most Bollywood films are far removed from reality?

DD: Bollywood has little impact on my life. I occasionally watch new Indian films and can really appreciate the craft and storytelling. But the average Bollywood melodrama has just as little relevance to my life as the average Hollywood romantic comedy. I am glad, though, to see the availability of satellite TV channels for Bollywood and other Indian regional programming. I can’t imagine what my parents watched before they subscribed to Telugu channels like Teja! In some ways, I wish that programming like this had been available when I was a child growing up in a small Texas city far removed from any Indian cultural activities. Perhaps it would have helped me navigate my dual identities as an Indian in America. Or perhaps not. Maybe Bollywood’s unrealistic constructs of love, success and beauty would have been just as detrimental as any Hollywood equivalent.

Has Waking Dreams released in India? If not, do u have any plans to release Waking Dreams in India?

DD: It’s been a long and challenging journey to get distribution for Waking Dreams. The typical response from distributors has been “We love the movie, but we don’t know how to market it.” But the goal post is finally in sight! Waking Dreams will be self-released this year in theaters and on DVD. The target date is August. Please watch for it! Independent releases depend on the goodwill of grassroots audiences, and I’d like to ask your readers for their support. There are no plans as of yet for distribution in India, but I do hope to participate in a couple of film festivals there since we now have a film print to screen.

Do u feel a formal education is necessary for being a successful filmmaking? Do you have any advice for new filmmakers?

DD: A formal education is not necessary, especially because the art and craft of filmmaking can only be learned hands-on. I don’t regret taking the time to get my MFA in filmmaking. But in retrospect, I learned more from making my shorts there and from working on my friends’ films than from anything I learned in the classroom. The great benefit of film school is its access to networking. It takes contacts to land any non-entry level job in Hollywood. Since projects are relatively short-lived, usually lasting only a few months, it’s important to keep in touch with contacts made on each one. My advice to new filmmakers would be to stay in touch with mentors, employers and colleagues long after a project has ended. You’ll never know when an opportunity may arise if you’re not in the loop to hear about it. I also urge filmmakers to not be precious about their work. Don’t rework and polish one script or film repeatedly. Just move on. Make as many short pieces as you can. Write as many scripts as you can. Quality will follow as you get more experience.

What do you enjoy the most and the least about your work?

DD: As far as writing goes, I love being in the “zone” – that stage when I hear characters talk. Emotions bubble up inside me when I’m writing a scene, and I find myself crying or laughing out loud with my characters. Unfortunately, the zone is elusive, and takes time and patience to achieve. On most days when I sit down to write, it’s torturous and lonely. I’m plagued with doubt and wonder how I ever did it before. During the recent three-month Writers Guild of America strike, I was a strike captain. On the daily picket lines, I met many renowned writers whose work I deeply admire. It seems most of them experience the same fear and doubt. It’s just part of the process for most writers.

With directing, my favorite part is production. I love working with actors on performance. I love setting the look of the film with the designer. I love visualizing the shots and lighting with the DP. I never get tired when directing, because it’s the biggest adrenaline rush. There’s nothing I don’t enjoy about directing except that I can’t do it often enough!

What would be your next project?

DD: I recently directed a short film called Dowry about a Persian woman who goes on the worst first date imaginable only to become engaged by the end of the evening. I’m also getting close to a start date on Odd Girl Out, a feature coming-of-age story that I wrote and will direct. Meanwhile, I continue to write scripts and pitch stories. There are so many stories I want to tell! I hope I’ll be back at the NJISACF soon!

Festival Updates: May

Festival Dates and Venue

The date and venue for the NJISACF 2008 have been announced. The final dates are September 19th to 21st, 2008. On 19th, we will have the gala opening event, while the film screenings will be held on September 20th and 21st at the Rutgers Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey.

NJISACF 2007 Traveling Film Festival Schedule

NJISACF 2007 is now a traveling film festival, and public libraries in various counties in New Jersey are hosting mini fests with selected films from NJISACF 2007. Do not miss this opportunity to watch a few of the most brilliant, rarely-seen and award-winning films from and about South Asia and by South Asian filmmakers.

The Franklin Township Public Library, Edison Public Library and the Bridgewater Public Library have already hosted the mini-fest in the months of March, April and May.
Next scheduled Public library screenings are as follow:
· June 1: South Brunswick Public Library, 2 PM – 4:30 PM
· June 2 and June 9: Middletown Public Library, 6:30 Pm – 8:30 PM
· June 14: Washington Township Public Library (Robbinsville, Mercer County), 1 PM – 4 PM
· June 28: East Brunswick Public Library, 1 PM – 6 PM

Call the libraries for a list of films, directions and more information.

Some of the 15 films to be screened are: The Little Terrorist (Oscar-nominated), Whose Children Are These, Toba Tek Singh, Dancing Kathmandu, and 1001 Auditions.

Call for Submission, NJISACF 2008

May 30 was the last date for film submission for NJISACF 2008. We have received an overwhelming number of film submissions from all around the world. Watch out for the film showcase of NJSACF 2008 at www.njisacf.org or in our next newsletter, and Bioscope (www.njisacf.wordpress.com)..

Invitation for Volunteers

NJISACF is run solely by volunteers. No matter what your experience or background is, you can be a part of our team and contribute to the success of this event. If you are interested in volunteering, please send us an email to volunteers@njisacf.org or call 732-310-0236.

Orbituaries

We pay our deepest condolences to the noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar who passed away on 19 May 2008, after prolonged illness. In his lifetime, he was one of the most radical voices of Indian theatre. His popular work includes the plays Ghashiram Kotwal and Sakharam Binder. The highly celebrated Padma Bhushan awardee also wrote some of the best screenplays in Hindi cinema such as Ardh Satya, Nishant, Akrosh and Shyam Benegal’s Manthan.

We also pay our heartfelt homage to the Hollywood legend, director, producer and actor Sydney Pollack, who passed away on 26 May 2008 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 73. “The Way We Were,” “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa” are some of his most renowned films.

Mehreen Jabbar’s New Film, Ramchand Pakistani

Inspired by a real-life incident, Ramchand Pakistani, a film by Brooklyn based filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar, is one of the most talked about films screened in the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. The film, made in Urdu and Hindi, tells the story of how an accidental crossing of the Pakistan-India border by a poor Pakistani Dalit boy and his father, at a time of war-like tension in 2002, dramatically affects their lives. The two Hindus find themselves imprisoned in India as unwelcome trespassers, while the mother faces consequences back home. The story mirrors the emotional trauma of families living near the Pakistan-India border, especially in times of high tension between the two nations. It also highlights the treatment that many innocent prisoners get in jails after being suspected of espionage, and reveals how little the lives of common citizens of the two countries differ. Javed Jabbar, the writer and producer of the film said that through Ramchand Pakistani, he hopes to bring Pakistan and India closer. An India-Pakistan joint venture, the film stars Nandita Das playing the character of Champa, the mother of seven-year-old Ramchand, along with Pakistani actors Rashid Farooqui playing the father, and Syed Fazal Hussain and Navaid Jabbar playing the child and grownup Ramchand respectively. Praised as a “poignant film” by The New York Times, Ramchand Pakistani will be showcased in film festivals and is scheduled for theatrical release in Pakistan later this year. Watch the trailer of Ramchand Pakistani here:

The very talented Mehreen Jabbar is a 14-year veteran of the industry, with a prolific career as a Director/Producer of gritty, hard-hitting films. She has earned a reputation of professionalism and excellence, and is quoted widely as an expert in her field. Mehreen graduated from UCLA with a degree in Film, Television and Video, and returned to Pakistan to direct and produce made-for-TV movies and drama series/serials under the banner of TasVeer Productions, almost all of which were critically acclaimed by the Pakistani press. In addition to these, she directed a number of short films, and her work has appeared in many film festivals around the world including the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival, and the Leeds Film Festival in U. K. to name a few. Her award-winning films include ‘Daughters of the Late Colonel’, and a four-part television show: ‘ Sanam Gazida, Afsoon Khawab, Deeda-e-Purkhoon, and Lal Baig.Ramchand Pakistani is her first feature length film. Mehreen has been a member of the National Board of Film Censors in Karachi, a founding member of WAR (War Against Rape), the Kara Film Festival in Karachi, and has also served as a juror at the Leeds International Film Festival in 2002.

Indian Independent Films at the Cannes Film Festival

The 61st Annual Cannes Film festival 2008 was held May 14 through May 25, 2008. Like every year, the most prestigious and influential film festival showcased some of the biggest and most talked about films from all over the world. Since being a part of this grand affair provides filmmakers with the much sought after worldwide media attention, Cannes has become one of the most popular venues for filmmakers, film producers and distributors participating from all over the globe.

This year, along with a couple of the high-budget, glossy Bollywood films from India, a number of offbeat low-budget independent film production houses like iDreams Independent Pictures and Handmade Films participated, to market their classy and “non-mainstream” films extensively.

Among the films shopped by iDreams were Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s The Voyeurs, Rajnesh Domalpalli’s Vanaja, Shivaji Chandrabhushan’s Frozen and US-based Sarab Singh Neelam’s Ocean of Pearls. These films, the filmmakers believe, have immense potential for traveling all across the globe and impressing a global audience. Some of them have already received recognition from all over the world. For example, Vanaja, a film about feudalism and the class struggle in rural Andhra Pradesh seen through the prism of a classical dance form, is set for commercial release in South Africa and has recently been sold in the Netherlands.

Handmade Films, which produced popular offbeat films like Mixed Doubles and Bheja Fry, brought a new bunch of unconventional films to Cannes, including Beware Dogs, a 45-minute documentary on the contemporary music group Indian Ocean. Their list of feature-length fiction films include Jaideep Varma’s comedy drama Hulla, Maneej Premnath’s thriller, The Waiting Room, Rupali Guha’s Aamras, and Bela Negi’s Driving Lessons. All these films have been directed by debut directors.

Apart from these, another Indian film which created some buzz is Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya, based on the life of the legendary 19th-century Indian painter Raja Ravi Verma.

Meanwhile, India’s Reliance Big Entertainment, owned by Anil Dhirubhai Ambani and the media arm of the $100 billion conglomerate Reliance ADA Group, was launched at Cannes this year. The media group is all set to develop and co-produce films in Hollywood and has signed separate deals with George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, Nicholas Cage’s Saturn Productions, Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions, Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment, as well as filmmakers Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures and Jay Roach’s Everyman Pictures to co-produce movies.

Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud at Cannes Film Festival 2008

Bangladeshi independent filmmakers Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud had been invited to the 61st Cannes Film Festival 2008 to take part in the 40th anniversary celebrations of the “Directors’ Fortnight” section of the festival. The Directors’ Fortnight was born out of the new French director’s union in 1968, by independent filmmakers like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Roman Polanski and Louis Malle, in protest of the Cannes Film Festival’s ‘narrow star-studded focus’ which, they felt, ignored creative independent filmmakers.

Tareque Masud’s first full-length feature film Matir Moina premiered at Cannes in 2002 as the opening film of the Fortnight, and was awarded with the International Critics’ Prize as ‘Best Film’ in the section. The film is also the first Bangladeshi feature film to have a general release in the USA. Matir Moina toured the international circuit and was received with critical praise for its realistic depiction of life without the melodrama that is prevalent in many South Asian films

Indian Film Part of US University Curriculum

A debut Indian film, Mahek, by filmmaker K Kanade has been selected by Otterbein College in Ohio, US to be a part of its curriculum in Integrative Studies Program and Teaching of Modern India. According to the university, Mahek is an introspective Hindi film that sensitively portrays the world of children and their rights. The film, produced by the Children’s Film Society, India, had its world premiere at the prestigious 51st London Film Festival 2007 and has won several awards overseas, including the Best Feature Film (Family) Platinum Remi Award at the prestigious 41st Houston International Film Festival 2008 and the best feature film award at the 10th Arpa International Film Festival in Hollywood. The film had been nominated in Houston for as many as six categories including the best feature film, best director, screenplay, first feature, best foreign film and best family film. It has been screened at several international film festivals including the 32nd Cleveland Film Festival, the Golden Elephant Children Film Festival in Hyderabad, and at festivals in St Louis, Chicago, Frankfurt and Sydney.

Mahek is a young girl’s journey towards self-realization. The film deals with the understanding of children’s talents, their imaginative skills and also their rights in context of present-day India. Eleven-year old Mahek wants to be the best in everything, as she struggles to figure out what she is best at. To complicate things, she encounters a charmless old fairy, who brings her face to face with reality.

Here’s a trailer of the film: