Sundance, Gates Foundation team up for short film projects

A small garden in an impoverished corner of Haiti is bringing a community together, as neighbors learn to garden, feed their families, and slowly change a dangerous neighborhood into a place where people are proud to live. Brooklyn-based filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman traveled to the area, called Cite Soleil, to create a short film called Kombit about the garden movement in Haiti through a new grant program from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sundance Institute, challenging filmmakers to make short projects focusing on hunger and extreme poverty.

“It’s answering this question – about hunger and poverty – in a simple way, but it’s also about something else, in our case a sense of community and pride,” Zaman said at a Q&A at Sundance Tuesday following a showing of their film and four other shorts recognized in the first round of the challenge.

The project is a contest, asking filmmakers to submit their concepts via collaborative project site Tongal.com. The prize is $10,000 to create a three-to-eight minute film that addresses poverty and hunger in some way.

The five winning films shown this week were largely documentaries, but there was one narrative from director Ritesh Batra, The Masterchef, which tells the story of a shoeshine boy in Mumbai who is enamored with the TV chef who gets his shoes shined everyday at their station, that stood out. Batra is an up-and-coming Indian director whose feature film, The Lunchbox has broken art house box office records in India and is also screening this week at Sundance.

Batra said he had a DP he was hoping to work with on the film, but when he explained the idea, his collaborator admitted he was too uncomfortable as a new father to come that close to the poverty in Mumbai to participate in the shoot. “That bothered me — am I a bad person that it doesn’t affect me the way it does him?” Batra said.  “I wanted to make a film about hunger that’s not about hunger.”

Other projects featured in this first year of winning stories include a piece on a micro-farming project for women in West Bengal, India, an art film about new and old coming together in Nairobi, Kenya, and an animated short about a fishing village in Madagascar. The deadline to submit film concepts for this year’s contest, the winners of which will be shown at Sundance 2015, is July 1.


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