‘Into a filmmaker’s mind’

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There is now a new generation of storytellers amid us and they are willing to go to great lengths to showcase the story in the right way. They don’t want to focus on routine subjects, but on unusual subjects which most of the times are neglected by the old hand filmmakers.

One may wonder as to what retains debutant filmmakers in an industry where there are hordes of veteran directors. But “it is passion,” says Ana Tiwary, a young and energetic filmmaker, who has many documentaries, films and short films to her credit.

At the age of 16 she realised that she wanted to be a filmmaker and enrolled herself in a Bachelors degree in Film & Video Production.

She is very passionate about filmmaking and loves every aspect of film making from script to screen

Born in India, Ana has lived in many different cities in India and countries around the world – Germany, North America and Australia.

Because of travelling vastly she has studied in many schools and Universities. She holds two masters degrees – one in English Literature and a Masters in Film from the US.

In an in-depth interview with Shveata Chandel Singh, Ana Tiwary speaks about her journey as a filmmaker, her experiences and also divulges her future plans

When and what made you get into filmmaking?  At what age you started your film making career?

I was very active in extra-curricular activities in school and uni: dance, drama and organising concerts as School Captain. I enjoyed collaborating on creative projects and activities. My initial plan was to become a doctor, but I found dissecting mice really traumatizing in Biology class and gave up on that dream in high-school.

At 16 I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker and enrolled in a Bachelors degree in Film & Video Production and I had my first job in the film and TV industry in Mumbai at the age of 19.

Tell us something about your film ‘breath of life ‘?

I made ‘Breath of Life’ when I was 18 years old. It was a half an hour documentary that aired on Indian television and won an award as well. It was made on a micro-budget but made big profits for my producer. I learned a lot while working on this film as director, writer, cinematographer and editor. I was encouraged by the success of this film and felt more confident to follow what has become my lifelong passion.

How did your parents take to your desire to becoming a filmmaker?

My parents were very surprised at the start and to them the filmmaking world was a complete unknown.

My Dad is a scientist/diplomat and my mother is a writer/teacher. They probably felt I was choosing a very challenging path but within a few years they realised that filmmaking is my true calling and that I am very happy staying on this difficult yet adventurous and creatively fulfilling path.

What are the challenges of this field?

Filmmaking is one of the most complex art forms as it is a combination of various artistic and technical expressions. It is a demanding field of work and a filmmaker is expected to master multiple skills such as creativity, story-telling, technical expertise, artistic vision, leadership, collaboration, financing and funding, business and legal know-how, as well as socio-cultural and political awareness.

So the challenges are multi-faceted for all filmmakers around the world but add to the mix being an immigrant woman filmmaker and you have a few more added layers of complexity to deal with on a daily basis. Fortunately, I thrive in challenging situations. I try to focus on solutions rather than problems and surround myself with goodwill and support from friends, family and the community around me.

You have been in Mumbai for some time where you worked as an Assistant Director in TV, advertising and film. So how was your experience with Mumbai and Bollywood, one of the largest film industries in the world?

Yes, I worked in Mumbai for five years and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow in a fast paced industry. I worked on a variety of films and TV shows with several experienced directors. I was on location or set almost every day, learning hands-on from talented and hardworking crews.

I loved working on Bollywood films – everything is larger than life, travelled to beautiful international locations and the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds – from superstars to spot-boys, all dedicated to their work and passionate about making films.

Mumbai holds a special place in my heart and I love going back every year for work and meeting friends. It is a city that never sleeps and keeps you going with its energy, a great work-culture and yet a relaxed ‘bindaas’ attitude to life makes Mumbai a great place for filmmakers.

Sunshine and shade, which was the highlight of Paramasala in 2012 was also one of yours very fine works. So how you got the idea about this documentary? Share some of your experiences related to this documentary?

In 2009 there was a lot of sensational news reporting of attacks on Indian students but nobody was taking a deeper look at why these attacks were taking place and I felt the voice of Indian students was missing completely in the media frenzy.

I wanted to make a well-researched observational documentary that followed the lives of two Indian students as they go through daily trials and triumphs in Australia. I went in without any pre-conceived notions and let the students share their stories without imposing any judgement. I consulted a lot of experts from various sectors and tried to include multiple points-of-view.

It was very difficult getting this film made as I did not seek any funding from government or private sources. To keep this film on such a sensitive subject unbiased, I had to make sure that it was self-funded. Fortunately, I had support from a community organisation in Parramatta called ICE (Information & Cultural Exchange) and with a crew of 25 professionals, consultants and mentors, I was able to complete the 52min documentary in time for the Premiere at Parramasala.

Describe your state of mind just before your very first screening?

I was too exhausted from staying up for months to finish the film, to feel anything at the screening. I was happy to see a full house and the reaction from the audience after the screening really amazed me. I feel very grateful to everyone who worked with me on the film and believed that it is an important story that needs to be told.

Since the first screening in Parramatta, Sunshine & Shade has screened in  Melbourne, Perth, Newcastle, Sydney and Mumbai, with lots of positive feedback and discussion.

This year, NDTV will be airing a television version of ‘Sunshine & Shade’ in India and internationally as part of their documentary 24/7 program.

As you have travelled a lot and have been to so many countries, so what difficulties did you face while starting your career in Sydney?

When I moved to Australia in 2007, I did not know anyone here and had no connections in the film industry. Starting a career from scratch in a new country is always difficult. It took me a few years to just understand how the industry in Australia operates. I started with some small projects and have moved to bigger films.What do you like the most about filmmaking?

I love every aspect of filmmaking from scripts to screen. I think I enjoy being on set/location and directing the most. In the editing phase I am fascinated when a film comes to life. It is a mad and magical process!

In general, what kind of stories draws your attention? What subjects you generally like to work on?

Whether features or documentaries, I think I am drawn to untold and original stories. I enjoy working on multicultural and cross-cultural stories. We live in a global world but our screens have remained mono-cultural in their representation. I am fascinated by stories that include the coming together of different cultures producing new conflicts as well as comedy.

I am developing some projects in the Australia-India space and lobbying for the creation of the official co-production treaty between Australia and India.

Who is your inspiration?

I have had the privilege to work with many inspiring super-talented yet down to earth filmmakers. I am inspired by anyone who follows their passion and are dedicated to their craft. There are a lot of people in the screen industry who are in it for the wrong reasons: fame, glory, power and money. I respect artists who want to tell stories that have humanity and heart, and are not in the industry only for commercial success.

I am inspired by World Cinema such as Iranian, Italian, Japanese, French, German, Korean and also the emerging talent from India.

Filmmakers that I admire include: Jane Campion (The Piano), Shyam Benegal (Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda), Rituparno Ghosh (Chokher Bali), David Lynch (Mulholland Drive), Kalpana Lajmi (Rudaali), Satyajit Ray (Devi, Charulata) and many others. I am inspired by the lives and works of Toronto based Deepa Mehta (Water), New York based Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay) and London based Gurinder Chadhha (Bend it like Beckham).

How many films you have made so far?

My production company inDiVisual films has made over 60 films, videos and documentaries. My business partner Michael Reichmann is based in Germany and produces films in Europe.

At ABC, I am working on numerous TV documentaries, in the past year I have been involved in six ABC documentaries. One of them is about to air on the 23rd of March at 6.30pm and is called ‘The Holy Dip’.

What do you have to say about your filmmaking journey so far?

If I can describe my journey so far in one word: WOW!

It is impossible for me to put in words the incredible experiences I have had along the way, the places I have filmed in, the people I have met and the stories they have shared. It has been an enriching and enlightening experience.

I feel blessed.

What is your success mantra?

There is no formula as such. Everyone should create their own path and define what success means to them. To me success means having the freedom to create and follow my dreams. I am passionate about filmmaking, I try to cultivate compassion in whatever I do, I value people and never forget anyone who helps me on this tough journey.

You have won so many awards and accolades in a short journey of your film career. Whom you want to give credit of your success Do you think the uniqueness of the storyline contribute to the success of movies?

What helps me is my love for my work, I am open to new ways of looking at things, I try to listen with empathy and I have a ‘never say die’ attitude that gets me through obstacles. Collaborating with creative people from different cultures, gives my work a unique style.

I think credit for any of my achievements would go to my mentors and to the people that work with me on the projects. Filmmaking is such a collaborative art form that each person plays a vital role in the success of projects.

I like original ideas and unique stories from different cultures. I am fascinated by untold stories from marginalised communities.

What do you have to say about the Bollywood industry? What do you think is Bollywood’s biggest contribution to our generation? Do you have any plan to move to the Bollywood film industry and work there?

The Indian film industry is very powerful and there is a method to the madness of Bollywood. I have great respect for the cast and crews that work very hard in Mumbai to bring to life up-lifting and colourful stories.

Yes, Bollywood films are entertaining but it does not mean that they do not present powerful social messages and transform society.  Unfortunately, often these messages reinforce patriarchal values and further increase the gender divide in India.

The Bollywood industry is male-dominated and majority writers and directors are men, who have not taken the time to educate themselves on gender representation and its impact on the masses. We need more women writing scripts and directing in India.

Bollywood’s biggest contribution to our generation has been that it connects people across national borders. Bollywood films are watched and enjoyed around the globe and have given India the soft-power to emerge as a global player. The beauty of Bollywood is that it bridges cultural gaps and spreads the message of love and family bonds.

Yes, I would love to work on a few Bollywood films and work in Mumbai for a few months each year.

Tell us something about your recent and upcoming projects?

The Holy Dip will air on ABC on the 23rd of March at 6.30pm. Please watch it and encourage your friends to watch it.

I am very excited about a Durga Puja documentary that is in post-production at the moment.

I am looking forward to a documentary that will be filmed in Mumbai later this year. At the moment I am editing a TV version of Sunshine & Shade for NDTV and I am also making a documentary about Australians working in the Bollywood industry.

I am developing a few TV series on multi-cultural themes and also reading a few screenplays for Indian/Australian co-productions. Lots of projects are in various stages of development.

This year I am chairing the newly created AIBC Media Chapter and hope to forge stronger ties between the Indian and Australian screen industry.

Can you tell us a bit about your work with Women in Film & Television NSW? (After coming to Sydney you joined WIFT NSW and started working as the Technical Director for the WOW (World of Women) Film Festival. Even launched the Media Mentorship for Women program here in 2008, so how has been the journey so far?)

I have served as Vice President of WIFT NSW for two years. I helped revive the WOW Film Festival in 2007. In 2008 I founded and directed the MMW Program which went on to mentor over 70 women by prominent Australian filmmakers over 4 years. At the moment I am running a special mentorship round for female music composers.

The reason why I am passionate about supporting women in the screen industry is that the statistics show that the number of women working in the industry have dropped instead of increasing. The numbers remain extremely low with just 6% women cinematographers and 16% women directors.

Volunteering for WIFT NSW for 6 years has been challenging but a rewarding experience, as it gave me the opportunity to connect people and empower emerging female filmmakers in Australia.

 

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