Published on: 24 February 2022 in Events

PODCAST + TRANSCRIPT: Writing with Fire — Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh in conversation with Waad Al-Kateab

Reading time: 37 minutes and 45 seconds

In the latest episode of the Directors UK Podcast, we flash back to our recent event covering the outstanding, Oscar-nominated documentary Writing with Fire.

We spoke to the film’s directors, Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh just hours after they found out about their nomination.

The evening’s host, For Sama director Waad Al-Kateab, shared her own experiences of the awards circuit – and together they discussed ideas of collaboration, storytelling and ambition in filmmaking.

This is a must-listen for documentary lovers – and if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

You can listen and subscribe to the Directors UK Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and other podcast platforms.

You can also read a full transcript of the conversation below. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Good evening everyone. My name is Waad Al-Kateab, I’m a Syrian film-maker. I directed the film For Sama two years ago and I’m really so delighted and so honoured to be here today with Rintu and Sushmit. Especially on this special day! I mean, I know exactly how it feels, two years ago I was in your place. So huge congratulations, I was shouting for you today when that announcement happened. So well deserved and I really hope this will help the message to be heard more and more. I will hand it to you to say hi and describe yourself and then maybe come back to the conversation. 

Rintu Thomas: Thanks so much, Waad. We were so excited to find out that we were going to be talking to you. I loved For Sama, I’ve admired your journey and I think just talking to you literally two hours after that crazy announcement… I’m not sure if I’ll be very cogent today, just oozing with too much energy. But, hi everyone, thanks for joining. This is a very special conversation we’ve been really looking forward to. My name is Rintu Thomas. I co-directed and co-produced Writing with Fire with Sushmit. I’m a brown woman with black hair and I have an orange general setup around. If I put together two sentences cogently today, I’ll just be happy. 

Sushmit Ghosh: I echo what Rintu’s saying, we’ve been such admirers of For Sama and everything that it stands for. So when we heard that Waad would love to do this Q&A, we jumped on it. But what Rintu’s not telling you is that she was extremely nervous about this conversation because she was like, ‘If we don’t get nominated, I am going to be in such a bad mood and I don’t want to do that in the conversation with Waad.’ So, you know, I guess it all worked out well. Hi, my name is Sushmit Ghosh, I am a south Asian man, I have some hair on my head which I overcompensate with a beard. I’m wearing a grey and a white sweater and I’m sitting in the room where we edited the film and essentially watched the film go out into the world last year, virtually did all our Q&As and panels, and funnily enough, on Oscar nomination day I’m back in the same room talking to Waad. So, so excited to be doing this with you. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Thank you, me too, as well. And really it’s great to see the film go through this journey, start to know these characters and each woman. I will start from today and the nomination, did you expect where the film was going and when you were working with the contributors? They’re such amazing people, what was the expectation of the film, where did you want the film to go? 

Rintu Thomas: It started really small. It started the day we met their entire team where they were debating the decision to go from fourteen years of being a print newspaper to shifting to digital — and most women in the room had never touched a smartphone. One of the opening, early segments in the film. And that really was a historic moment for them in retrospect, and literally that was the first few shots that we rolled for the film. We felt like a recce shoot but then, you know, being in that room we were very convinced that we walked into a story waiting to be told and found our three protagonists that very day: Meera, Suneeta, Shyamkali, such distinct personalities. And at that time, it felt like we wanted to spend more time with these women to know who they are, where do they come from, where do they want to go? So that was really the vision with which we took off, but we knew that if told well this would be a story that would resonate with people all across the country and beyond, because there was something which was going to talk to everybody. Women and their dreams and aspirations in a highly patriarchal system, in a system where everything is against you, everything is built to invisibilise you. Voices that are completely on the margins and when they speak up, what is the language that they use? 

So we knew that we just had to do it right, but we shared our ambitions with the women. We said, ‘We would love for this to have the biggest festival opening because that’s the only way more people can watch the film .’ So, we made a small WhatsApp group with them and called it ‘Shyamkali at Sundance’ because we said, you know, ‘Our dream is to be at Sundance.’ And so, when we got to know that the film is going to open at Sundance, it just felt like all of us had waited for this moment. And ever since, they’ve been on panels with us, done masterclasses, presented the film with us. So we were at the epicentre and the circle kept widening, and I would say it was a circle of love, because of the fact that the film that is so entirely independent, not backed by a streamer, a big producer or a studio. Sitting alongside the other nominees, it feels like the documentary branch has truly been diversified and really made space for different kinds of stories — and it’s not the size of the name, or the weight of the name behind the film but actually what the story is. So it’s a huge moment, we couldn’t have imagined it, even in the most beautiful dream I don’t think I could have conjured up a journey like this. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Amazing. Sushmit, did you have any conversation today with the ladies? Did they know? How was the reaction? 

Sushmit Ghosh: There was a lot of shouting on the phone. Shrieking. I was telling a friend, we called them up a month ago when the film was on the shortlist and Meera and Suneeta were so excited. They were like, ‘Oh, we’ve got our passports done, so can you tell us what colour saris we should be wearing?’ We were like, ‘No, no, no. You made the shortlist, now we need to make the nomination.’ And so they were a bit bummed out about it, but today, they were just like, ‘So we’re going now?’ I was like, ‘Yes, now it’s happening, we are going now.’ 

Waad Al-Kateab: Yes. Now it’s real, yes. 

Sushmit Ghosh: So, yes, they’re ecstatic. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Amazing. Rintu, what is the most challenging thing you had to do through this film? I know like sometimes even the release itself, looking for funds, so many elements off of the film, but what was the most challenging thing you’ve experienced until now? 

Rintu Thomas: I think the edit was really tough on this one. We had a huge amount of footage, all shot over four years. So the footage kept piling on, and this is such an intersectional film, it’s got so many things that intersect with each other, so we didn’t want to make it so heavy that people find it difficult to engage with the material — especially when you’re looking at both a home audience and an international audience. We didn’t want it to be so over-explained for an Indian audience that it felt fake, and we didn’t want it to be so dense for a non-Indian audience who wouldn’t be able to approach. And, you know, the stringing together of the narrative had to be done very delicately because in telling the story of the Dalit women journalists as non-Dalit film-makers ourselves, we wanted to be very sure about the fact that this is their story. 

We’re not becoming their voice, but this is a story that is being told by them and yet the lens is ours, the editorial voice is ours. So how do you not let the film-making come in the way of telling a story where characters are unravelling their personal and professional lives? So I think just stitching it together, I think Sushmit lost most of his hair in that process. It was a five-hour first assembly that became four, three and then two. At the two hour mark we felt that we shot the film, we’ve directed it and now edited it. We just didn’t know what to do with that two and half hour assembly — and that’s when we got a consultant editor. 

We got Anne Fabini who edited Of Fathers and Sons, who was used to working with subtitled material. We wanted it to be a woman editor who was outside of India so she didn’t have any context to cast any of these very complex nuances of India, and that really helped because she helped us sharpen the narrative. So it took a whole year and in the pandemic that’s what drove us and also kept us sane. That kept us awake through the whole year, just to put this film together. Do you agree, do you think there’s another? 

Sushmit Ghosh: Just fresh off the experience of doing an academy campaign, I think for me, that’s re-traumatising. If you were to tell me, ‘Go back to September and do this again,’ I’d just be like, ‘Don’t.’ We actually weren’t going to do this, it’s only when friends in the industry, especially in the US started nudging us. And for us it was very new, living in India, we didn’t know what mounting an Oscar campaign meant and then, you know, they were just like, ‘Talk to people who’ve done it.’ So we spoke to a lot of film-makers and they were very gracious with their time and their ideas, and everyone kept egging us on and then, you know, our EPs are two amazing women who said, ‘We’ve always believed in this film right from the very beginning, let’s do this.’ 

So we started really late, we started at the end of September/early October which no one we’d spoken to had done. People would usually start either right out of Sundance or over the summer months, and so it was almost as if you were running doubly hard to make up for lost ground and the challenges of COVID, not being able to present the film in person in many places. But we got lucky, there was a little window. And on the eighth of November when the air travel restrictions were lifted from India, we bolted out of the country with two suitcases, and he film was programmed at IDFA, DOC NYC and Films from the South. It was also having a limited theatrical release in the US. So we piggybacked on that. It was excruciatingly painful doing this. Sometimes you think that it would be good and you feel a bit jealous of the other titles that have all these big streamers and these big names and you’re like, ‘I wish sometimes.’ 

But looking back now, I don’t think we would have done it any other way because I think for the film to be nominated, to have an absolute dark horse in the race, the tiniest of productions, the truly independent film, the film from the global south, you know? To actually make it this far, tells you that if you have a good story, it will be championed because at the heart of every good run is fundamentally a good story, and everything else is incidental. And I think that revalidated also our feeturing in the doc branch, so yes, it was beautiful. We’re just enjoying this moment over here, and it’s beautiful. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Yes, exactly, do this and enjoy it, please. I just want to really re-say what you said, which is, when the story touches hearts it’s going to break through everything and, yes, I’m just remembering, all of this reminds me of what we had for For Sama. Coming again from a very dark place where I have no idea about the whole industry situation, it was quite a tough experience. I really wanted other film-makers and directors to know, it’s as beautiful as it is but also it’s very challenging and very hard — I really would love if we can all share this experience more and more and talk with new people who are coming in now. 

Now maybe we know better for the next time, that we should be able to enjoy this moment — because for me I was not enjoying this at all. I’m looking forward to the next time, to have a more joyful experience — but it’s really like great to hear all of this from you both. 

You mentioned that the first time you stepped into the story was when the newspaper decided to change to digital. Tell us, how did you know about them, how you came across them, how you met them? 

Sushmit Ghosh: Accidentally. We saw this photo story pop-up on our Facebook timelines and it was this beautiful set of images about a woman distributing newspapers in a very arid landscape, and then we found out about the work of Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper that had existed for fourteen years, so they weren’t like a flash in the pan or just an experiment. They’d been around as journalists for a while. So we reached out to them, and when we spoke to their team in Delhi, they were very curious about what it meant to be making a feature-length documentary — because they had already had short films made on them. So I said, ‘Listen, we have no idea how long this is going to take or what this means, or who the characters are — but it feels like this is an interesting moment because you are going to shift from print to digital, and you tell us that you don’t have any idea of how the team is going to absorb it because most women don’t use technology in your team. So we’re interesting in seeing how you’re going to achieve this. But through the lives of journalists, who they are, we don’t know.’ So they were like, ‘Okay, sure. Why don’t you come and meet the team in Uttar Pradesh’, which is a state about 600km from where we live. 

So we landed up there and, you know, in the world of documentary film-making, sometimes I think you count your lucky stars when the first day you hit the ground and you actually discover your protagonists. We instantly knew Meera, Suneeta and Shyamkali are going to be women we would be filming with, and actually all 28 of them were so compelling. But there was something about these three that shined like diamonds in a mine. We instinctively felt very connected with them, and I think that’s how it began — and we had no idea about what the narrative trajectory would be, but we knew that we wanted to tell the story of a newspaper in transition and actually tell it through the internal worlds of these three women and not as outsiders. I think that was also a challenge. 

Like how do you present a story authentically? In For Sama, I think one of the most profound things I feel is that the narrative is yours, and we hear you and we see you and it’s so intimate and so personal, and it’s such a special way of telling that story — and in our case, we were absolute outsiders to this context. We don’t live in that region, we don’t belong to that caste, we have so much privilege going into that space. How do you maintain the dignity of your lens, how do you imbue that space with grace? Those are things that we were always talking about, but I think, you know, we were working with women who are extremely intelligent and sharp and witty and funny, and so we got on like a house on fire. I think after the first week of filming it was like, ‘Yes, we’re doing this. We don’t know what’s going to happen but let’s do this.’ 

Waad Al-Kateab: Amazing, Rintu do you want to add anything on that? 

Rintu Thomas: No, I think Sushmit said it all! 

Waad Al-Kateab: It’s amazing, yes. So, each one of them is really a very different character, from Meera to Suneeta. And also there are so many other elements from the backstory or from the region and what’s happening, and what I really loved was that this film was presenting so many issues this region is facing — and what’s happening behind the scenes. But for them, did they really understand where this film was going, and did that help them with their message — or was it more challenging for their work? 

Rintu Thomas: They were used to having film-makers come and make short documentaries on them. So they were used to people spending a couple of days, at maximum a week, of shooting with them, doing those sit-down interviews and leaving — and then, you know, a short film would be ready. But we kept going through the year, and by the end of the first year we didn’t even have a story in place. Meera was just like, ‘Are you guys sure you know what you’re doing, because this is not ending?’ And we said that, ‘We’d like to give it another year, another year,’ and it became four years — and by that time I think all of them just got bored. But we were always vocal about the life of the film, the life of the film beyond Uttar Pradesh, beyond India, we just didn’t how or what. Or if it would actually see the light of the day, because we were self-funding it for most of the first two years and it was a really tiny crew of me, Sushmit and Karan, our co-cinematographer. 

We had to go with really compact equipment that would fit in a backpack, because we would have stood out with our bulky cameras or boom rods — so I doubled up to do the location sound recording, Sushmit was also shooting the film. So I think because the paraphernalia of film-making was so humble, in their minds I think it was always like, ‘You know, this must be something that will eventually see the light of the day.’ And none of us expected this to be honest, Waad. And especially when the pandemic hit while we were editing. There was so much insecurity on which festival would ever take it, what if we don’t get an A-list festival, what happens to distribution? You know, those were questions that we were dabbling with, but none of us could have imagined the grand journey that the film had post its premiere. And for them, every day the global spotlight just keeps growing which is really amazing to watch from this end. For organisations like Reuters, the New York Times, Time Magazine, their peers in the industry to be celebrating them, putting the spotlight on the issues that need to be spoken about. So in terms of Khabar Lahariya’s own reach, popularity, it got larger and there were just people getting to know about their work, and the film is giving back to them in terms of collaborations and partnerships that are now taking place. It’s really amazing. 

Waad Al-Kateab: I was going to ask, what is the impact you want to have with this film? But, I think, it’s amazing that they already are seeing their message going across to different places, where maybe they’ve never thought to reach  — and they really deserve that. They are amazing women, and their work is brilliant so this is, I think, the best prize the film could get. And you also helped a lot with this, so it’s amazing. 

On another level, I think, one of the questions maybe for you, Sushmit, is the graphic design that was in the film. Like the spreading of the message and having the YouTube channel was something in the story, and I think this decision was as obvious as it could be. It’s also challenging to have some of the comments from the audience who watch their YouTube channel — helping more to understand the message that these amazing women are trying to spread out, but also the challenge that they are facing. Do you want to maybe give us a little background about this decision, like where to put this, how to make it, how simple this should be? 

Sushmit Ghosh: Yes, I think the big danger that we talked about was the oral style of the film in a sense was observational, so you see scenes play out and all of a sudden having a YouTube graphics template over there, there was a danger of it feeling very plastic or looking very tacky — because it didn’t fit in with the form or the style of the film. And so we chose three very critical moments to introduce the YouTube videos, because visually and narratively there was a justification for it, so the first time you actually see it is when there is a dip in Meera’s spirits, and then all of a sudden it fades to black and, boom, you see the impact that Khabar Lahariya has had through its news footage. And so you see woman in the field reporting, and you actually see the roads getting built. You see water coming into the farms. You see villages being connected with electricity, and I think that was really important to have, because one of the things that people would keep asking us when we were pitching the film, or while we were developing the film, was what does the material look like? So we knew that there was a lot of curiosity around the finished Khabar Lahariya product. Like, what does their news look like? How different is it from the mainstream material that people are used to? How different would it be from a CNN or a BBC? And when they looked at it, they realised this is not very different except for the fact that they don’t have breaking news stickers. They have the channel logo. They have a journalist. The shots are clean. 

Waad Al-Kateab: They have the best stories on earth, you know. I feel they have the best topics and subjects and issues to fight for. 

Sushmit Ghosh: Yes, and I think that’s something that takes us back to the reasons why we actually joined journalism. To be able to see change, and this film does that. And I think the graphic segments were a smart way to do it for us, because you can do it in a shorter period of time and it serves two functions, which is basically to show you that the news is working — because you see the viewership going up, the likes going up — but it also shows you their news from their perspective and how they’re presenting it. 

The second time we brought it into the film was at a very critical point, where Suneeta has a decision to make between either doing the mining story or not, and it’s a huge risk because if you are doing stories in the mining belt there is a threat to life. And that montage, which is essentially Suneeta’s montage, is like a huge montage of her doing multiple stories, not just one. And it gives you a sense of the fact that Khabar Lahariya is actually a group of exceptionally brave journalists who took themselves into the front lines of news, and will take a risk. 

And the third time of course is the piece where Meera talks about the rise of nationalism, and it was important to have in the film a way to see how they report on India — and then to see the comments, and then yet to see that despite all of that the viewership is constantly increasing. So we feel that, you know, in these three critical points in the film, it was important to use the YouTube segments to give the audience an understanding that this is what their content looks like, but also the fact that they’re succeeding day in and day out. So, that was the fundamental reason. 

Rintu Thomas: I remember we had temp tracks underneath all of this and our musician was working on the original tracks, so one of the first tracks that came from him was the first segment where you’re showing the impact. Sushmit had just placed it and then he said, you know, ‘We should look at it independently because if both of us listen to it together, we might inform each others’ first response.’ So he went out of the room and I watched it and I had tears in my eyes, and this is footage that I had seen a million times, right. But when it’s set in and the music was there, I was just like ‘Wow. Just look at the impact of this work,’ even though I constructed the edit, but to just see it played back with the right soundtrack, I was just so moved. 

Waad Al-Kateab: That’s amazing. My next question was literally about the music. What decisions have you have made related to the music? I think because the audience tonight is directors it would be good to know more about these elements behind the scenes. 

Sushmit Ghosh: Our choice in music is very different. 

Rintu Thomas: And we edit also very differently. So Sushmit always likes to have a bed of music. However, he thinks musically. For me, it’s more like there is a rhythm within the edit within each scene that I want to first arrive and then see how music, sort of, like, adds a new layer of meaning. So there’s a lot of push and pull while editing together about who decides to give up on their style on that very day. Gustavo Santaolalla is a musician that we both really loved for many many years, and we thought that when we make our first feature, that’s the soundscape that would work really well. So all the temp tracks were Gustavo Santaolalla’s. And there is another thing: when you have stories about India there is usually a, kind of, a soundscape that plays that you shut your eyes and you listen to that music and you know, ‘Oh, it’s going to be story about India.’ The, kind of, instruments they use. It’s so typical. A lot of films about the middle east as well. You just know it from the first melody that is going to be, like, some geography in the middle east. So, we wanted to definitely break away from that as well. 

So, we reached out to Tajdar Junaid who’s a musician we really admire a lot, I think about when we had the first very rough assembly. We took the film to him and said, ‘We’d love for you to work on it. See if you like it.’ He loved it, and so we booked him two years in advance. In the pandemic we couldn’t spend any time together but we used to give him references and really talk about the mood, because we knew that it would be minimal but when it comes it would lift a scene up. It would play a very specific role and in the end, for instance, the last credit track. 

Sushmit Ghosh: India is already such a busy soundscape. You might be sitting in a very quiet room but there’ll be a goat bleating there, and then the sound of the fan in itself can be very overpowering, and three bikes go by. So we don’t want to punch in too much music. I think the scenes in themselves speak for the emotions and what they represent, but we just want the music to in a sense extenuate certain moods or certain points in the film. So you’ll see that there’s not too much music. Breaking that is the last montage in the film, where Meera talks about the importance of the work of journalism in democracies right now, and that’s her last piece and then the sound completely goes. And that’s the first time in the film you actually hear a music track play out. We were editing this and we were stuck in the mountains at a friend’s place in the pandemic, when this edit was happening. You know, as film makers either the beginning or the ending of a film is always a challenge. How do you open your film? It was a huge challenge. Similarly, how do you end a film like Writing with Fire — because there is no clean cut. It’s not a story that ends. It’s a story that carries on and yet you have to find a way to close it. 

And then we had these visuals which we were very drawn to. This idea of the celebration of India, which is very masculine, and you have this tiny journalist walking through this hyper-masculine space with her camera witnessing a moment in this country’s history… for us that said a lot. And there’s this one moment where the Indian flag is being proudly demonstrated… It was late at night. Rintu was talking on the phone with her friend because she was brain-fried, and couldn’t sit on the edit. I just picked out a random Gustavo Santaolalla track and put it on the edit, and then stitched the images together and added the ending text. It just made sense, and I was just like ‘Rintu! I found the ending.’ So I was like, ‘I’ll walk out of the room. Watch it.’ And then she rushed out of the room saying, ‘This is it. We got our ending. We don’t need it to be a certain way. This is it.’ 

Waad Al-Kateab: I know you’re just trying to prove your point of view about the music. But I think I agree with Rintu more. This is my style too.

Rintu Thomas: It was just that one lucky day. We’ll just give him that. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Amazing. I always enjoy backstories of how people made their films and how so many things came together in one second, or like something which is really inspiring and encouraging all of us to keep trying to do creative work more and more. 

The next months are going to be something really big and beautiful, and you’re going to meet so many people. You’re going to enjoy a lot of things but on personal level, what’s next for you both as directors? What do you hope to do? Is there anything that you are working on developing? 

Sushmit Ghosh: I would like to vegetate in the mountains for a month. Disconnected from the internet and civilisation. No, actually, we are developing a couple of projects. 

Waad Al-Kateab: I was going to say. Like this is what you might do for one day — and then you’re going to wake up the next day with director-like spirit. You know, like, I need to do something. 

Sushmit Ghosh: Yes. Absolutely. There was a documentary that we were researching on but during the pandemic we couldn’t travel to that part of India, and then we started researching more and more - and then we realised that this is almost like a fable, and we started writing. Like, we could actually do a fiction script over here as well, and so it’s gone into this very interesting hybrid space. That’s something that we are developing right now. 

There’s been a lot of interest in our work. A lot of folks have reached out to collaborate, etc. We’re just, you know, being mindful about the moment that we are in because I think right now people would be interested in working, especially if you have stories coming out of countries like India. I think we just wanted to hold back and enjoy this moment, and then just choose a project that feels like a natural fit to our style of storytelling. And I think Rintu and I will always believe that, you know, more often than not — it’s like in a book shop. You have so many books but there is that one book that just calls you to it, and that’s essentially how it works with stories as well, and you just need to give it some time. So, yes, that’s what we’re doing. Maybe our answer would’ve been different if the nomination hadn’t happened. We’d be like, ‘Oh yes, we’re working on our next five films.’ But right now all of that is just on the back burner. 

And I think essentially — you would get this Waad — this whole idea of how an awards run and a campaign, they’re so important, but there’s also something else that you’re trying to do with the film. With the protagonist, and for your country. There are new conversations that you want to start, and I think that this nomination actually really helps do that. There is an impact campaign in the pipeline with the film. There’s an education run and we’re really hoping that we’ll be able to have the journalists travel with us and present this film in person to an audience, because I think there is a certain power in that, and people across the world also need to see new paradigms of Indian women and Dalit woman — and to have folks who have historically been marginalised represented. 

Waad Al-Kateab: We need all this conversation to be happening not about them, but with them. We kind of feel we know them, and I’m surethey’re going to hear this from so many people when they’re going to meet them later. I think it’s very important to have this conversation with these people, and as much as we can bring films from places people are not familiar with. I think this is the power of cinemas. 

Sushmit Ghosh: Yes, absolutely. 

Rintu Thomas: We saw that when we were in Amsterdam. That’s the first time Meera and us presented the film to a live audience together, and it was electrifying. You know, it was one full house after the other. People were mobbing her on the streets of Amsterdam and to see your work through the eyes of a stranger from a completely different context was such a new experience for her. I think the film is also able to do that and that’s special. That’s exactly what you’re saying. They need to be a part of the conversation too, because it’s them telling their story actually. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Yes. I know there’s so many things you have learned, but especially with distribution and the sales of the film and all of this — for me it was a totally new world. Is there anything that stood out about what you should think of before you do the film, related to the distribution and the sales.?

Sushmit Ghosh: I think, like, South Asians, we’re shy in a sense. So we don’t ask too many questions. We’re just like maybe we shouldn’t ask that. I think if I were to go back now I would ask a lot of questions, because there’s nothing wrong with that — and I think the one thing that actually, sort of, really helped was to speak to film-makers. Nothing beats speaking to directors and producers who’ve actually done these runs or the kind of insights that they give you. I don’t know what Rintu’s answer would be, but I would definitely not shy away from asking questions about how you’re going to take this film and what are your plans. Like if someone says I’m going to support your awards run, I would like to define what support means. You know, what does that really mean tangibly, and how far are you going to go, etc. So, there’s just so much. The learnings have been massive, and just also understanding how the landscape works — the North Americans, especially the US ecosystem is very different from the European ecosystem, and they work so differently and yet in some weird ways also similar. 

Then there’s the rest of the world. So, for instance, in India there’s no ecosystem for non-fiction. There’s also a certain privilege being a film-maker from the global south, because you have all of these varied experiences and then you bring all of this into these different spaces. And I think now newer conversations are happening within the branch and globally about who’s telling whose stories, and there are more allies who are standing up and championing the work of folks like us. 

Rintu Thomas: I just wanted to add very quickly that distribution of this film started off with a, kind of, disappointment. Coming out of Sundance with two awards, we expected that there would be a big distributor who would come up and take the film everywhere in the world. It didn’t happen, it was very confusing. We were getting great reviews and everything, awards etc., but the distribution wasn’t there. It was just not with a big studio and so we realised that we will have to do everything. So every virtual festival we went in, in the absence of a publicist, how do you put your film out there in these festivals that you can’t yourself go in? The social media handles that we created for the film before it premiered became such a huge blessing, because any audience member who watches and likes will go tag the handle, will go tag the organisation, and that’s where it actually started, you know — the buzz or the love for the film. We could actually see it in one place, and now until the very end we’ve been creating graphics, we’ve been putting it out there, so really being the people who are putting down the brick and the mortar and the cement. Huge, huge learnings. So, do I want to do this for my next one? I’m not sure, because it takes a lot from you. It’s emotionally exhausting. But if we have to do it again then at least we know what it took. There is a roadmap. 

Sushmit Ghosh: It’s what you said, Waad. We, sort of have these conversations with others in the pipeline who don’t belong to those systems, who have no clue, and to tell them that you can actually do this. There are smarter and simpler and yet more sophisticated ways, and there are these silent champions out there. You know, there’s so many people who just very quietly emerged as we were running with the film and they were just like ‘We love it’. We’ll find a way to talk about this with others, to keep that dream alive and to not let that spirit die. 

Waad Al-Kateab: Good luck with the next step and we will be rooting for you. Please, I really would love you to hear this advice — because I’ve been told this a lot and I was not listening. Enjoy every day from now until that big day. Good luck, and thank you so much for this opportunity and I’m so happy and looking forward to seeing you in person, not only on this screen. Thank you to Directors UK for bringing us together. 

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