SxSW 2023 Interview – Meet the EK JAGAH APNI (A PLACE OF OUR OWN) Creators

“The film is a a story of two women looking for a house to rent, the search becomes even more difficult because they are transwomen. It is special because it’s a queer/ trans told by queer trans people. It has great music and acting with cast of people who play roles very close to their lives. And while it talks of hardships it also is a story of friendships and creating of new families other beyond blood ties.” Filmmakers Rinchin and Maheen Mirza, co-directors and writers on EK JAGAH APNI which screens in the Global section at South By Southwest TV & Film.

Welcome to SxSW 2023! Are you attending your screenings in person? 

Yes its the first time a film of ours has come to SXSW , unfortunately none of us form Ektara Collective will be there in person. But one of the producers from Lotus Vision, Neeraj Churi, will be representing the film. We are very happy to be a part of the Global section of the festival.

How did this whole project come together? 

This project came together with conversations we were having among us, including the cast of the film, about queer and trans representation in mainstream Indian films and then emerged the idea of making our own film. With three shorts and one feature film behind us we felt that now was a time to tell a story that spoke strongly about something so close to our hearts in our voice. The main protagonist of the film (Manisha Soni who plays Laila and Muskan who plays Roshni) collaborated with us on the script writing process, while the whole team of Ektara Collective backed us to make the film in very tough times. India was going through its second lock down, but everyone was very keen to get the process going. We got a small grant to start and then we just went ahead collecting funds as we proceeded. it was really a labor of love. and just when the lock down opened in June 2021, we scheduled production and started our shoot in July 2021. The process as always was collaborative. Several people contributed their time and labor to the film working without any remuneration, because they believed in the film and the way it was made. A producer came on board after seeing the rough cut of the film to help with the studio costs which allowed us to complete the film.

While working on a project, what is your creative process? Do you have any particular ritual or tradition when working on something?

Our process is collaborative one and that lends authenticity to the film and working towards a common goal and there is a feeling of shared ownership. we also have a lot of discussion and preparations and have a common vision that everyone feels committed to

If you had one favourite moment out of this entire project, the “Yes, this is IT” moment, what would that be?

The film was shot on location and having a crowd watching the shoot was inevitable. This made it especially difficult for the actors as they were acting for the first time and given the prejudice that people harbor against trans people they were doubly nervous. This was when the ‘kohinoor’ moment, as we like to call it, happened. We were shooting a very important and intense scene and at some point the actors, the crew and the onlookers became so absorbed and affected by it that when the cut was called there was a standing ovation by everyone present. After this the support that was given to the actors and the film was touching to say the very least. It was as if the film belonged to everyone there.

I love to get technical, so I would love to know about the visual design of the movie from the cameras you used and the formats and your relation to the cinematographer.

in our discussions we decided that the film should have a realistic integrated quality to it. We also wanted to treat the inside and outside spaces differently since the narrative holds a stark distinction between them physically and conceptually. For the inner, personal spaces we wanted to keep these warm and colourful to give a feeling of safeness and welcoming of identity expressions. The outer spaces had a flatter often indifferent feel to them to underline the kind of response our protagonists and others like them face. Shooting on location meant that our equipment would have to able to squeeze into some very small spaces and respond well to a variety of light situations. We shot the film on a Sony A7III with Rokinon Cine Lenses. We also had a very small budget for the film (around $150000) and as you can imagine the cinematography budget was frugal to say the very least.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your project at SxSW 2023? 

What we are looking forward to most is how the audience will respond to the film. While the experience of finding a home is universally relatable, the particular experience of doing so that this film articulates will resonate differently with different people. From previous screenings at other festivals, we realize that there is a diverse response to the film. People have a variety of take backs and this we have found very interesting. To us it means that the film has different things to offer for an audience to respond and connect with.

Where is this going next? More festivals or a theatrical or streaming release?

The film will be screened at the 2023 Edition of BFI Flare, London and Roze Filmdagen, Amsterdam soon after this and we will be happy for the film to travel to many festivals and find audiences. But We are also hoping for and working towards a theatrical release in India. Having the film on an online platform is also something we hope to pursue. For us it is very important that film reach as many audience as possible. Other that better know screening platforms we have been looking at film clubs, student groups, universities and also on the ground screenings in the community to screen the film. we want the film to reach as many people as it possibly can and for that we are happy for any medium .

How do you feel about the current moviegoing climate? Are you wishing more people to see movies in theatres, or is it okay to opt for a streaming release where more people could potentially see a movie?

Whether its theaters or online platforms or festival and community screenings, Films have to reach audiences. Cinema is for everyone and thus watching movies is about access. While platforms for screening films have increased, the access to films has moved away from a certain class, making movie watching a question of who can afford what. The proliferation of platforms broadens choice and possibility only for the select few. With the transformation of single screen cinema halls into expensive multiplexes makes this true of theatres as well. Accessibility thus is not determined as much by medium as it is by affordability. In order to increase access to cinema, festivals should reach out to the population around them, particularly those wouldn’t otherwise come to a festival space. Apart from an increase in affordable OTT platforms, community screenings should be brought back and popularised. The current movie-going climate could then be transformed into a vibrant movie-going culture with wide and diverse reach. Cinema itself would be the real beneficiary of such a change.

What is the one thing that you would say to someone who is looking to get into movies, even now in such a changing world?

Have belief in your idea, know your finances and then build your film around it. do not overstretch, but find innovative ways of doing things. work collectively and trust and respect each other.

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