While Sami Khan ’02 was shooting his film “Khoya” in Jabalpur, India, violent religious riots broke out in the streets because of intersecting Muslim and Hindu festivals. The riots not only shifted his production schedule but also made him realize how unpredictable and exciting independent filmmaking can be.
Khan’s film was accepted in March as one of 11 films in the Tribeca Film Institute’s All Access program. Khan, who attended graduate school for film at Columbia University, is receiving a grant to finish and screen the film.
Staff Writer Emma Rizzo talked to Khan about his film, the honor of having his film accepted into the program and his advice for young filmmakers.
Emma Rizzo: What is “Khoya” about?
Sami Khan: This film is about a man who was adopted from India as a very young boy by a Canadian family. His adoptive mother dies, and he decides to go to India to find his birth family. The whole movie, this character is searching for his roots and trying to connect with anybody, especially his birth family.
ER: What was your inspiration for making this film?
SK: We shot the movie in Jabalpur. That’s where my father’s family is from. Since I was a young boy, I’ve been going to that part of India. It’s the alleys and the streets I grew up running around in. It’s kind of a love letter to my family there, the geography and the culture of that part of India. It’s a part of India that isn’t really well documented.
ER: Your film was chosen to be part of the All Access Program. Can you tell me about this honor?
SK: They want to champion filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. We applied, and they accepted us, so we get a grant that will help us complete the film. The fantastic part is that while the festival is going on, we get to have meetings with industry people, which is tremendously valuable for us at this stage of the film. We’re looking to get distribution and a sales agent. Aside from the nuts and bolts, it’s just really nice to have somebody validate what you’re doing.
ER: What was the application process like?
SK: [We sent in] the log line, the synopsis and the story. We actually applied the previous year and made it quite far along and had not gotten in. It was heartbreaking, but we were encouraged to apply again. The script had been tightened up. The timing was such that we applied before we shot but let them know that the movie was going to be almost done, so I think that showed we were driven. This was something we were fighting to make, and we weren’t going to take “no” for an answer.
ER: How did you feel when you found out your film was accepted?
SK: I was elated. I was really happy. Elation — I think that’s the best way to describe it. It’s just nice, because there was so much struggle, and it’s often a very lonely experience making an independent movie of this kind. Obviously, the work is really important. I needed to explore these issues of home, identity and what India is, but it’s nice to have people validate that.
ER: What’s the plan from here?
SK: The movie is in the final cut stage, and the picture is almost locked. We’re just looking to get feedback from friends, from collaborators and from potential distributors. Then we will lock the picture, and at some point, probably around the end of spring, the movie itself will be done. Then we’re looking to hook up with a sales agent and distributor to find a market for film. We’ll begin the process of applying to film festivals.
ER: What is your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
SK: You can’t just want to make something. You have to need to. It has to be this compulsion that drives you. I think Martin Scorsese put it really well: “The job of the filmmaker is to make the audience care about your obsessions.” You have to be obsessed with something to deal with how crazy things get. The other thing is to keep fighting. If you believe in it, just keep fighting. Just get better. Fight harder.