In my (minimal) experience as a filmmaker who’s traveled the festival circuit a bit, I’ve found that you go through all kinds of screenings for your own film—full ones, indifferent ones and empty ones with a handful of people. I’ve had my share of empty halls and have come to accept the disappointing ones as part of the learning curve.
But, having said that, I’ve also had my share of great screenings. My very first screening to a group of 50 random people where everyone walked out beaming was the first. My world premiere at Cannes where my teeth chattered while people applauded was next. And screening to the local crowd at Jamshedpur (where the film was shot) who braved the rain to watch the film in an outdoor venue was another. The latest one on that list was the screening to the students of Piney Woods School, as part of Film Forward.
Unfortunately, 9:00 a.m. on a bright Saturday morning isn’t the ideal film watching time for sleepy students. My heart was in other places when the film started, and I almost expected to hear the sound of shuffling feet and bums almost immediately. I walked out and waited outside.
But to my surprise, I heard the kids get into it almost immediately. Maybe it was because the film was set in a boarding school. Or maybe it was because they identified with the protagonist. But they got it. They were giggling and laughing throughout the film, mostly when required but sometimes with nervous laughter because they were hit hard by what was happening on screen.
They were vociferous, alive and very into the film. By the end, when my protagonist Rohan punches someone in the face, they were applauding and cheering like I had never heard before. I ran back into the theater and stayed till the end, totally taken in by the atmosphere.
It made me realize that I had made a global film, something that could be watched by people in my own native country in their own native language, and also by African and African American students in the boarding school in the American South. It also made me fully appreciate and perfectly justified the theme of advancing cultural dialogue which constitutes the core ideal of Film Forward.
There were some memorable moments spent in Jackson. Doing the Script to Screen workshop with Alesia Weston of Sundance and Debra Granik, the fabulously talented director of Winter’s Bone. Doing an intimate workshop with the students of the Piney Woods Film Club.
Dinners with all the partners, filmmakers and the Sundance crew at Hal & Mal’s and also the highly recommended Parlor Market. And learning how to do the “Wobble”, a local dance, on the 20th floor University Club, high above the city of Jackson. Hopefully there is no surviving video footage of that.
But the most memorable moment for me was meeting Umesh Kavetty. Umesh is a fan of Udaan who drove all the way from Dallas just to see the film one more time. Meeting him and his infectious energy immediately gave me the answer to the question that I have been asked a million times but somehow never had the answer to: “Why do you make movies?”
It’s for guys like Umesh. To see the smiles on their faces. And to hear them tell you how touched they were by the film.