Get your Shorts Fix

A preview of the Austin Film Society SXSW Community Screening and Director's Notes from one of the shorts.

If you want to get a little film in during SXSW, but you don’t have a film badge or dread getting stuck in a two-hour art house feature with one line of dialogue, short film showcases are your answer. Think about it – even if you absolutely hate what you are watching, you can take solace in knowing that your suffering will last 20 minutes at max before the next flick is on the screen. So give it a go – The Austin Film Society has put together a stellar lineup of shorts as part of the SXSW Community Screening that is free and open to the public – with 9 films showing in 90 minutes. The event will be held Sunday March 10 at 4pm in Boyd Vance Theater at the Carver Museum (arrive early!)

You can view a full synopsis of the films showing this year via Slackerwood. GSD&M Presents talked to the director of one of the shorts premiering this year, Brave Girl, on her notes from the Film. If you miss this screening, check out the highly recommended documentary shorts program on Tuesday 3/12 at 11am and 1:15pm. See schedule here.

About Brave Girl – Thirteen-year-old Nepalese Bhumika leaves her Himalayan village for the first time to travel to her first job in the city so she can work to supplement her brother’s education. She’s convinced to travel with family friend Krishna to help his pregnant sister at home. Only when Krishna asks her to cross the border with him to India, does she begin to wonder what fate really awaits her. This story is inspired by the director’s first-hand experience traveling the roads of Nepal and India where she met and spoke with survivors of sex trafficking.

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On shooting in the Red Light District of India – We wanted to capture the realism of the red light district, but the permit to shoot there was $20,000. Shooting without one is taken very seriously – the day before our shoot a well-known Bollywood director was arrested for shooting without a permit and thrown in jail. All his footage and gear was confiscated and his name smeared all over the papers. After receiving that foreboding news we looked for other places that mimicked the area, but nothing was quite the same.

So we hired an local camera operator, Navit, that drove around the red light district to get footage from the window of a crappy van. He would go out for shots and drive the footage back to me and the crew waiting nearby in another van for a quick review. After three rounds the police figured out what was going on and came screaming up to our cars, at which point the foreign team escaped in different cars, leaving the Indian team to handle the police.

At that point we didn’t have the footage we needed, so I went back the next night with only Navit. This time I sat in a nearby restaurant at the Liberty Hotel (which ended up being in the film, and is in the center of the red light district in Mumbai), and waited while he went back out.  He would the come back and review the footage with me at a booth in the back of the restaurant. Again, after the third attempt and after being hit with flying objects thrown by observers he said “this location is too dangerous for you now, we need to move.”  The waiters had finally figured out what was going on, and someone had called the police.  As we were leaving, the police were talking to the waiters who were pointing at the booth where I had been sitting. According to my friend Anuj, a filmmaker from Mumbai, if I had been busted that night “it would have been really really bad.”  In the end we got the footage we needed and avoided arrest.

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On Casting in Nepal – Faced with casting in a foreign country for Nepali and Indian actors, I began the search early in pre-production for our lead role –  an authentic “Bhumika” – by visiting local village schools. When I realized the enormity of the undertaking, we sought out a skilled local casting agent. A friend introduced us to Tess Joseph, who cast The Darjeeling Limited and other foreign crossover films. When we met she had just returned from Kathmandu where she cast a young role similar to ours for a film called Sold.  She passed along the audition tapes from her trip, and it was among these girls that we found our Bhumika in Albina.  

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On the Film’s Title – Just like the script, we began with an English title – Brave Girl – to represent our story of a Nepalese girl at the beginning of an unsuspecting journey that unfolds into a tragic but common fate in that region.

Also like the script, we went thru several Nepalese translations until we landed on the one that best represented the story in the local language. After working on the film, our translator Upendra suggested that a more accurate title would be “Sahasi Chori,” which means “Brave Daughter,” as in, everyone’s daughter of Nepal. In Nepali culture they call each other sister and brother, even if they are not related. So it was more appropriate for the people of Nepal to call her “daughter” (chori) instead of “girl” (baalaa). It became self-referential – Bhumika is your daughter, take care of her like your own.

On premiering at SXSW in Austin – It’s funny that Sahasi Chori‘s first festival screening is in Austin because it’s in Austin that I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. In fact, it was during production of A&E’s Rollergirls that my future as a filmmaker was pretty much sealed in stone for me. The show’s producers approached me several times to be a member of the cast, but I was like yeah cool, so what are those directors doing? I’ve always been a writer, but once I saw that production on its feet I was much more interested in how I could be involved in what was going on behind the scenes and become a cinematic storyteller. After that, I couldn’t let it go and subsequently got most of my experience in production in Austin before going on to NYU’s master’s program in Singapore. The whole thing has kind of come full circle for me, and even though I don’t live there any more, premiering in Austin is very much like coming home.