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Meet Akshaya Sawant of Talking To The Wind in Southern California

Today we’d like to introduce you to Akshaya Sawant.

Akshaya, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am originally from Mumbai, India. Growing up, I was always interested in the arts; and even though I was good at academics, I decided not to become an engineer early on after seeing my brother’s hefty books! While pursuing my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, my brother Pushkar gifted me my first DSLR camera; digital filmmaking was just emerging then. For my final project, I created a stop motion animation film Out Of Boredom that won ‘Moments In Motion’, an online competition by renowned international filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor. That motivated me to study filmmaking formally and in May 2019, I received my Master’s in Film and Media Arts from Emerson College in Boston. Living in the United States has been an enriching experience because I love the newfound independence.

Early in 2016, one evening while on our way to grab food after a class shoot, a friend of mine threw a gallon of fresh drinking water that was left from the shoot in trash. I was really upset and voiced my concern to him. He said he didn’t want to carry it because it was inconvenient. This instantly took me back to the farmers back home who have to walk miles to bring a pot of water home. My home-state in India, Maharashtra, has been in a man-made drought since 2013. The conditions are so bad that the farmers are committing mass suicides; number reaching 1400 per year. However, none of my friends in the states were aware about this grave issue. That’s when I decided to create a documentary about climate change and how it can impact our communities.

While researching for the film, I learned that one other reason behind these farmer suicides is the societal pressure to marry their daughters with huge amounts of dowry. Rural areas follow a rigid patriarchal structure. Women are supposed to be married off as soon as they turn 18 but since the farmers don’t have an income due to the drought, they take money from private moneylenders. They can’t return the money due to continued drought and get into a vicious debt cycle. In rural areas, a man’s honor is everything. Not being able to provide for your family destroys that honor. The farmers commit suicide because for them, that’s the only option. My thesis Talking To The Wind explores the social and psychological effects of climate change as it impacts identity, the idea of masculinity, and how the patriarchal social structure crumbles under extreme environmental crisis.

The film has received The Virgin Unite Social Impact Film Fund (2017 & 2018) and won the Platinum Remi Award in the Social/Economic films category at the 53rd WorldFest Houston International Film Festival. It had its Dutch premiere at the DOCfeed International Film Festival in Netherlands earlier this year.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Talking To The Wind is my first feature film and every step of it was a learning experience. I had never gone to shoot in a remote location leading a crew of 7 people, so there was a lot of uncertainty. One of my cinematographers Cheng Jin is Chinese and it was his first time in India. He struggled with the harsh weather, water and food situation in the village. He also had to deal with a lot of attention from the villagers who had never seen a foreigner before. But to his merit, he never complained and accepted these experiences with an open mind. We were also filming in extreme weather conditions that the crew was not used to. I remember one such day when we were shooting in the field, which was not accessible by a vehicle and the temperature was soaring above 104F. My line producer Kalpesh Madhukar More and camera assistant Rajkumar Patil had to constantly bring us water because as soon as we drank the water, we would instantly sweat it out! That was the day I got sunburnt and most of us fell sick. But I am very grateful for a competent and resilient crew who were extremely supportive through every step of the way.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Through my work I want to explore our experiences knitted in the web of gender, culture and traditions. I want my films to be beneficial for the communities they are based on and I am currently exploring ways to empower farmers because they are our true heroes. Talking To The Wind recently associated with ‘A Voices UnHEARD Films’ banner and Hope B-Lit under Bayfield Foundation Inc. to help further the social cause of the film; together we will be raising money to help farmers in India and create awareness about this issue.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I would not have been able to follow filmmaking as a career without the support of my family. My brother assured my father to trust me to follow my instincts, and I am extremely grateful for that. Both my parents are executive producers of the film and everyone has been involved in this 4 year journey of making a feature length documentary.

I am lucky to have a mentor like my professor Abhineet Gogne who helped me with my graduate school applications and gave me a push to dream bigger. I also want to thank my thesis committee and advisors Jan Roberts-Breslin, Marc Fields and John Gianvito who guided me through the editing process and helped shape the film. And a big shout out to my friends Tara Duffy, Sabine Bou-Jaoude, Tim Wojcik, Margarita Martinez, Keely Kernan and Jasraj Padhye who watched numerous cuts of the film and gave me their honest feedback. I was extremely fortunate to have a very talented crew in all stages of production. A lot of artists came on board and shared their talents because they believed in the film and its message. I hope to build such strong relationships in my future projects and continue to work in a collaborative environment.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Poster designed by Vizual Junkies; Title lettering done by Rishika Verma of The Dancing Pen Co.

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