Connecting Global Media
U.S. State Department’s and Film Independent’s Global Media Makers exchange program connects Indian film professionals with U.S. experts.
It’s often said that when it comes to one’s career, it’s not just what you know but also who you know. This may be more true in the film industry than anywhere else.
The Global Media Makers cultural exchange program was launched in 2016 to connect professionals in the American and international film communities. Supported through a partnership between the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the nonprofit organization Film Independent, it links international filmmakers with leading U.S. professionals who provide education on filmmaking, business, networking opportunities and mentorship.
“To have the chance to be back in a classroom mid-career is sheer joy,” says Miriam Chandy Menacherry, an Indian filmmaker and journalist, who has directed several series and films for National Geographic Channel and BBC World. “The Global Media Makers residency in Los Angeles gave us the unique opportunity to attend master classes in all aspects of filmmaking. We learned from experts whose work we admire as well as from the other 17 fellows selected from Asia and the Middle East.”
The fellowship came at a time when Menacherry had to find creative solutions for the documentary feature she had been shooting on child sex trafficking for over four years. “I was able to step back from all the issues and give it a fresh creative vision with mentors who were handpicked for my film.”
The Los Angeles-based Film Independent has paired more than 200 mentors with 46 fellows to date, resulting in seven produced projects. This includes Amr Salama’s “Sheikh Jackson,” which was Egypt’s official submission to the Academy Awards’ best foreign language film category in 2018.
María Raquel Bozzi, Film Independent’s senior director of education and international initiatives, says that U.S. State Department officials saw a need to create a space for American filmmakers to engage in professional dialogues with mid-career filmmakers from diverse regions of the world. “Even though American films reach audiences all over the world,” says Bozzi, “our film industry, meaning the way films are made in the United States, is in a way very isolated from the rest of the world. There are not many opportunities for filmmakers to engage and collaborate creatively with other filmmakers outside of the United States.” So, a program like this seemed like a step in the right direction to begin fostering such collaborations.
After working with the Arab world and Turkey from 2016 to 2018, the Global Media Makers program expanded in 2019 to include India and other South Asian countries. “I am personally very excited about all the projects we have supported from India—at the moment, six of them, by two men and four women—that cover a wide array of genres, formats, stories and regional issues, made by very diverse filmmakers from Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Kerala,” says Bozzi. These include a documentary about human trafficking; a Rabindranath Tagore-inspired tale set in modern-day rural India; a lyrical, more experimental documentary about issues in the jute industry; and a family drama and love story set in South India. “I am excited about these projects,” says Bozzi “because even though they all deal with current social issues of modern-day India, they are all rooted in very personal experiences, which provide a very fresh and authentic perspective.”
Each year, up to 18 fellows are chosen for a mentoring program, which begins with a six-week residency in Los Angeles in which they get hands-on experience in the latest technology. “This is a very immersive communal experience for our fellows,” says Bozzi. Coming from 14 different countries, they get to share a lot about their professional backgrounds and personal stories amongst themselves and with a wide array of American mentors. “We host them in the same complex, where they get an opportunity to share their day-to-day experiences, learn about each other’s countries and filmmaking industries, and compare notes on their practice,” she adds.
Bozzi says the intensive program includes an overview of the American film industry and best practices, project development, workshops and hands-on training in emerging technologies like virtual reality. “In addition, they have tailored individual mentorships with leading film professionals and filmmakers working in Los Angeles,” says Bozzi. “Although it sounds all very busy, we also make sure they get enough time and opportunities to take advantage of and enjoy all the amazing cultural opportunities LA has to offer.”
Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.
Disclaimer: The events described in the article took place in 2019 or earlier.