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April 02, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Shrihari Sathe first met Bassam Jarbawi when they were both attending Columbia University. Although they graduated a year apart, they began working on their film, “Screwdriver,” almost immediately.
“From the initial treatment stage to premiere was eight years on this film,” Sathe told Dear Producer. “It’s the longest I have worked on any film.”
“Screwdriver” is a gritty drama about a young Palestinian man who, after being caught up in one of the waves of violence and reprisals and sent to prison, returns home to find that he’s now a stranger in his own land.
An accomplished producer who recently took home an Independent Spirit Award for his production work, Sathe is especially interested in drawing attention to “stories typically not being told in mainstream cinema or, in some cases, even in art house cinema.”
Although his productions have now spanned the globe, he’s most often drawn to a voice. “I’m primarily drawn to the screenplay, the content, and the filmmaker’s vision,” he says. “I don’t go out to seek a film from a particular country or a particular language. It’s mainly a director’s voice and what they want to tell about the current state of the human society.”
Jarbawi’s voice drew him immediately, although it took them some time to find the right angles to take. “We went through a few drafts and then we realized that he had to write from an insider’s perspective,” Sathe recalls. “He did the Rawi Screenwriters’ Lab in Jordan, and then moved back to Palestine, to Ramallah, to work on the screenplay. The script started changing because he was able to do a lot of research and do a lot of interviews within his community.”
While that insider’s voice gave the story new authenticity, it came with its own problems. “We couldn't take equipment into occupied Palestine and were not allowed to see other actors,” Jarbawi described in a recent interview. “David McFarlandour's entrance and exit from the country were problems even though he is our director of photography.”
For Sathe, the production headaches extended to funding. “In the U.S., it’s very hard to finance a non-English language film,” he explains. “‘Non-popular’ film languages are extremely difficult to get financing out of India because there’s no such traditional marketplace for them. Financiers don’t really have metrics to work in terms of recoupment or sales estimates. It is definitely challenging.”
Further, a film about the occupation of Palestine is, itself, a delicate prospect. As recent headlines have shown, critics of the Israeli policies, including the occupation, often run the risk of being labeled anti-Semitic. Putting together adequate financing was “challenging,” Sathe admits, “because the subject matter of the film itself is very challenging.”
Another roadblock is distribution, which can be tricky to line up. “Netflix is greatly reducing the amount of independent films they are buying in favor of original content,” he says. But he has a plan.
“I think we have to take a page from documentary filmmakers in terms of outreach,” he says. “I think the kind of films that I’m doing can benefit from that approach because they discuss social issues as the underlying themes of the film.”
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