SxSW 2022 Interview – LOCAL MIDDLE SCHOOLER director Sanjna Bharadwaj

“Anagha Narayan is your average eighth grader. She’s a people pleaser, she’s insecure, and she wants nothing more than to have clear skin. Her life changes drastically when she wishes on a fallen eyelash and her wish is granted: she has the clearest skin she’s ever had. When word gets out that Anagha has magic eyelashes, the people in her life guilt trip her into giving them up. More and more people wish for superficial and terrible things, and Anagha is unaware of the effects this has on herself and the world. After she’s forced to give up her final eyelash to the United States Army General, Anagha has a realization in the form of a pimple-covered singing cow. This is where the aliens enter.” Director Sanjna Bharadwaj on LOCAL MIDDLE SCHOOLER which is screening at SxSW 2022.

Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience?

Yes this is my first SXSW! Honestly this is my first larger film festival ever and it’s at once amazing and barf-inducing. The nerves! THE NERVES!

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?

I’d known about SXSW all of school, it was kind of just a festival I heard from other students. I knew it was one of the bigger ones but I don’t think it hit me how big it was until about a month ago. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the scale.

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

It started with me looking at my senior year of school and knowing I had to make a film to graduate. I wanted to make the most kickass thesis film I could. I wanted to be indulgent. I wanted to see acne, high jump, aliens, a middle school crush, a main character without a neck, and I kind of just wrote that all down and figured out a way to string them together. I storyboarded and re-boarded again and again until it was fun and it made sense and then started animating. I animated the first half of the film, and then realized there was no way I’d finish the film by my school’s deadline. So I took a break to help my friends finish their films, because they did have a chance of making the deadline. And once their films were finished, they turned around and helped me finish mine. This film really wouldn’t exist without them.

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

There are three movies I really looked at, and still look up to because, god-damn it, they’re great films! GREENER GRASS for the demented and suburbanness of it all. I loved the sense of humor and the feeling of something nefarious going on beneath the surface of a perfect little suburb. SHAUN OF THE DEAD for the montages and I pretty much just stole from Edgar Wright for those. DR STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB; again, I totally just stole the army general and the war room. It felt like the perfect way to escalate Anagha’s story. Bonus point; I wanted Alfred Hitchcock walking through a shot so he’s in the film too.

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?

I think the biggest challenge was just the scope of the film. It’s the longest film I’ve ever made and the most complicated in terms of the number of shots, voice actors etcetera. I had to be the producer of this film as well and I think I finally understand why that’s a separate job because it nearly killed me to produce and direct at the same time.

What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

This is a hard one to answer for me because this is the first larger film festival I’m attending and the other festivals I’ve attended have been entirely for shorts. I’m sure I’ll have better developed opinions after SXSW, but for now I think I’ll say I wish short films had more of a spotlight on them. Also, lots of short films are really small and independently made, and like me, I’m sure lots of filmmakers can’t afford publicists to get their films out there and seen. It’d be great if film festivals could help provide that type of support to short films.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

I wish there was something tangible I could say. I can’t say “just go out there and make your film” without acknowledging the immense privilege going to a school for animation afforded me. It gave me the time and space to work uninterrupted for hours every day, it allowed me to meet the people who would help me finish my film. Every filmmaker deserves that privilege without having to take out buttloads of loans. Other than school, I can say the thing that helped me the most has been and continues to be watching movies with my friends and then talking about them.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

GIT GOB by Philip Eddolls!

Follow Sanjna Bharadwaj on Instagram, Twitter and/or visit the official site!

This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 11-20. For more information point your browser to!

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