On A Global Scale: A Conversation with Shrihari Sathe
BY Felix van Kann, October 17, 2019
On A Global Scale is a bi-weekly series about international co-productions by Columbia filmmakers.
Welcome back to the second edition of On A Global Scale. This bi-weekly series celebrates the international spirit of the Columbia University film program and the incredible global collaborations coming out of it. One of Columbia’s most active members in this arena is alumnus and faculty member Shrihari Sathe ’09. Sathe is an Independent Spirit Award-winning producer who has worked on six international co-productions in the last decade. Among his credits are titles ranging from an Indian–French film to a Tibetan–US–India co-production with UK equity investments. His latest international co-production was the Palestine–US–Qatar–Kuwait project Mafak (2018), which ran in the main competition at Venice Film Festival and in the official selection at Toronto International Film Festival.
Sathe loves the international spirit of filmmaking, but he chooses his projects cautiously. “It starts with the story and the collaborator,” Sathe told me. “The location comes after. I ask myself why does a story need to get out in the world? Or I feel like the creator is someone I absolutely need to make a movie with. Then it doesn’t matter where it takes place. But If I’m not invested or personally drawn to the underlying material, it’s not worth it.”
Following this approach, Sathe is constantly on the lookout for collaborators and seeks moving stories from all over the world. He finds them both among his extensive personal network and when attending film festivals, specifically the co-production markets at larger festivals like the Berlinale Co-Production Market or Cannes (L’Atelier), even if he can’t be present. “It always helps to look at the lineup online and contact the filmmakers directly,” he advises.
Another important source for Sathe’s ongoing search for collaborators is his Columbia network. As an alumnus of the creative producing concentration, two of his most memorable co-productions have come out of relationships he built here. It was at Columbia that he first met Afia Nathaniel ’06, the director of the Pakistan–US–Norway–India co-production Dukhtar, which was Pakistan’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film selection at the Academy Awards in 2015. And Mafak, a film shot in the Westbank, is the product of an eight-year-long collaboration between Sathe and his classmate Bassam Jarbawi ’10.
In general, Sathe sees the international aspect of the university as one of its strengths. “By default, the nature of the program seems to be geared towards these productions because there are so many international students now, a melting pot of writers, directors and producers from all over the world. So, it naturally fosters international relations and a lot of these students end up going back to shoot their films in their home countries. It sets up the idea that you can make films outside of the US following your time in the program.”
This also reflects the current market situation. According to Sathe, it’s a good time to get involved with international co-productions because filmmakers are not limited to one place anymore. Through the advance of technology and globalization, it’s easier than ever for filmmakers to collaborate.
Collaborative productions offer an incredible chance to learn about foreign cultures through film. Sathe explains, “As a filmmaker making a project in a different culture, you’ll have to be able to adapt. You don’t have to completely switch over to a different style of working but adapt your style to work within the larger structure. This can be challenging but so far I’ve only been involved with crews who wanted the best outcome for the film and then it really doesn’t matter which approach was taken.”
When shooting in a foreign location, Sathe sees it as absolutely essential to be as involved as possible in the daily business. “I am on set most of the time if I can. It’s usually a shared responsibility with my producing partner, but I make an effort to be there every time. If I don’t speak the language at all, it might be more beneficial for my producing partner to be the dominant person on set. Then I’d just visit a few times. You always learn a lot from it.” Being a veteran of the international co-production game, Sathe surely knows a lot of dos and don’ts within the context of shooting in foreign locations. And he shows no sign of slowing down. He already has three feature projects with three different filmmakers lined up–in six different countries.