Stories — film-maker Mira Nair has often said — must be told. Three decades after the world premiere in Cannes of her runaway global success Salaam Bombay! , Nair was at the French Riviera this year with a new story to relate.
She mentored 10 young directors on the sidelines of the film festival as part of a programme called La Fabrique Cinéma. The programme ran alongside the festival from May 14 to 25.
Organised by Institut français, a body that promotes French culture abroad, the programme identifies talented film-makers from around the world and brings them to Cannes to be mentored and assisted in finding financial support for their work. The overall aim is to “defend the values of cultural diversity on screens around the world”.
Applicants had to send in a one-minute teaser made by them on a specified subject, and a selection committee evaluated them based on the quality of the script, visuals and presentation.
Aged between 20 and 30, the directors chosen this year were from Egypt, Indonesia, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Laos, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Argentina and India. Dominic Sangma, the Indian director in the group, had recently wrapped up work on his first feature, MA•AMA (Moan) .
Spread over 10 days, the sessions led by Nair featured classes, work sessions and personal coaching. The young directors also had the opportunity to attend workshops and meet several international producers and distributors attending the festival and seek funding for their projects.
Nair recalled that at the premiere of Salaam Bombay! in 1988, there were few people of colour at the feted film festival. “So my mother in her sari stood out. When curious visitors asked her if she had any connections with Salaam Bombay! , she raised her head and told them she was the producer of the film,” she said in an interaction with the media. “Now I can say I’m the producer — Bonne Maman (grandmother) — of these 10 creators,” she added.
And her “grandchildren” readily agreed. Being tutored by Nair was “tremendously rewarding”, said the Meghalaya-born Sangma, who had met the La Fabrique team at the Goa film festival last year and was invited to apply to the programme.
In Cannes, Nair guided Sangma on his new film Rapture , a dark tale blending religion and socio-cultural developments. He hopes to start shooting for the Garo language feature next year.
Indonesian director Tumpal Tampubolon, whose film Crocodile Tears is an urban supernatural story set in a crocodile farm, said that growing up he had been greatly inspired by Nair’s Salaam Bombay! and Monsoon Wedding . “She is someone I look up to, and her body of work is a source of motivation,” he said. “Her career is hugely inspiring for film-makers like me who hail from a developing country.”
For Bangladeshi film-maker Mahde Hasan, over and above Nair’s mentorship, the programme helped him find producers. His film Sand City is set in Dhaka and orbits three characters and their lives, with the connecting thread being the sand from the city. “Apart from my local producer, I now have a French producer. I’m still in talks with potential producers from Norway and Germany. After the grants come through, we hope to shoot the film next year,” he said.
“We would like to screen in countries across Asia.” He said he was humbled when Nair described his work as unique and original. “Though I had never met her before, she is very energetic, powerful and, as a mentor, she gave me very good feedback. She also encouraged me to pursue personal stories because she thinks we need to tell our stories,” Hasan added.
Nair, who was the first Indian film-maker to win a Caméra d’Or at Cannes (in 1988), encouraged the group to narrate their cinemas on celluloid. “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will” has been Nair’s refrain for a long time. She echoed the sentiment at her press conference in Cannes, too.
“It’s important for people from diverse backgrounds to tell their stories. If you don’t tell your story, someone from Hollywood will tell your story instead,” she commented.
For Nair, who has set up a film school called Maisha Film Lab in Kampala (Uganda) for upcoming East African film-makers, the programme at Cannes was an extension of her work.
“I am thrilled to be able to share with them what I know of this life, to mentor them, and help and support them in their journey of film making,” she said.
Prathap Nair is a freelance writer currently based in Stuttgart, Germany