“What interests me is how people face everydayness”: Meet Zofia Pregowska, 2017 Accelerator Lab Grantee
Part Three of a series of blog posts from Chicken & Egg Pictures’ 2017 Accelerator Lab grantees. This post is an interview with Zofia Pregowska, Chicken & Egg 2017 Accelerator Lab Participant and director of People I Know.
Your documentary debut and short film, “Invisible,” is a portrait of Krystyna, an elderly, almost blind poet, as she prepares for a performance. It was an official selection at more than twenty five film festivals. Why do you think such a specific story has resonated with so many people?
Krystyna is an incredibly inspiring person. Though she is closed in her little apartment, she is able to wander through worlds in her imagination. At the same time, she is extremely disciplined and hardworking. She has taught me that we ourselves give value to what we do. The film is about the power of mind and imagination–but not daydreaming. Krystyna is not waiting to be saved and does not dream about the impossible. She takes her own life in her own hands, accepting it the way it is. This doesn’t mean that she accepts that she has lost her sight and hearing–but she never allows herself to be held back by her age or her disability. And she has a great sense of humor. She faces the challenges facing each of us, the gray everydayness, and she conquers them with her humor, love for life, and poetry.
A beautiful thing about “Invisible” is how quiet the audience feels, like we’re seeing something secret, something special. Your work-in-progress, “People I Know,” tells the story of Nathalie and Michael, a young married couple living in a trailer, he, a street musician, she, an oncology nurse. What compels you, as a filmmaker, to tell such intimate stories?
What compels me is the everyday quest of my characters to live a meaningful life. 90-year-old Krystyna has found her path; Michael and Nathalie, in their thirties, are at a crossroads looking for their way. What interests me is how people face everydayness. And filming people in their home is like being backstage in the theater of everyday life. What happens outside the home is a theater of social roles we play, for better or for worse. And hopefully it is compelling to the audience because there is nothing more universal than everyday life struggles. They may take different shapes in different places, but marriage, career choices, illness, aging, everyday fears and hopes are things we all can easily relate to and [at the] same time we easily miss them in everyday life. So what I try to do is take a close look at that common reality which is often invisible, to remind myself how extraordinary, ridiculously funny, and deeply tragic it is.
How have you grown as a filmmaker since “Invisible” (it being your graduate film)? How have you been adjusting to and preparing for your first feature-length documentary?
The popularity of “Invisible” gave me a lot as I had the opportunity to travel to many international film festivals which was both an amazing inspiration and [at the] same time a reality check. Therefore, I had the opportunity to meet a great number of wonderful filmmakers, short films debutants like me as well as established ones who could share their experience. Also, my industry knowledge was practically nonexistent before that, so in that sense it was a big step for me. I also had a chance to take part in the IDFA Academy and Uniondocs Summer Intensive in New York which was a great, enriching experience. Then, I also discovered Chicken and Egg. It would never have been possible without the Polish Film Institute’s support which made me able to travel. In the meantime I produced the children’s historical documentary short “A Brave Bunch,” which was also a great lesson for me as it was made in a completely different style of work and included child actors and around 25 crew members.
So in that [sense] I evolved a lot, but [at the] same time it doesn’t mean making your next film is any easier than the last one. I doubt you can prepare for this kind of documentary, as you have to be open to the unexpected. It’s more like an experience of falling through the ice. Before “People I Know” I was preparing for a completely different film, the kind where you have lots more control. And then I received the call from Michael to visit him and his wife in a trailer. Once we went there with my cinematographer Tom Stankiewicz, we forgot about all other plans and we kept shooting for the last two years.
“Invisible” captures Krystyna and her poetry using a fly-on-the-wall fashion. Will “People I Know” operate similarly stylistically?
Yes, “People I Know” will be stylistically similar in terms of creating the “feeling of being there.” I like to leave the audience alone with my characters.
Zofia Pregowska is a documentary filmmaker from Warsaw, Poland. She graduated from Warsaw Film School for film directing and her documentary debut, Invisible, premiered at IDFA and went on to win 19 awards including the Short Documentary Jury Award at the New Orleans International Film Festival in 2014. In 2015, she made her production debut with A Brave Bunch: Uprising Through Children’s Eyes. She operates her own production company, Prego Media – Handmade Films, where she works as a director and producer.
Part Two of a series of blog posts from Chicken & Egg Pictures’ 2017 Accelerator Lab grantees. This post is an interview with Hana Mire, Chicken & Egg 2017 Accelerator Lab Participant, 2016 Diversity Initiative Fellow, and director of Rajada Dalka/Nation’s Hope.
Tell us about your film. What stage is it currently in?
The film is about the Somalia women’s national basketball team. We’re following two young girls who were raised in Mogadishu and play for the team as, every day, they receive death threats from the terrorist organization, Al Shabaab, telling them to stop playing. At the same time, we’re following two older generation women who played basketball in Somalia before the civil war, twenty-seven years ago, who are training the girls for the Pan Arab Games.
We’re in production. The ending of the film will be the Pan Arab Games in February. Then we’ll move to the post-production.
How did you discover the female basketball players of Mogadishu and then decide they would be the subjects of your first feature film?
I used to work in a bank as a customer service agent. One day, one of my colleagues, who knew I was Somali, was reading an article. She came to me and said, Hana, you have to check out this story. And I read this story about these older generation players training these young girls in Somalia, and I was so inspired.
I did my research and reached out to the team in Somalia. I emailed them, explained who I was, and told them I was very interested in coming to Somalia to make a film. They were very supportive.
One month later, I came to Somalia with a skeleton-crew to see the girls, meet the coaches, and start the film.
Being a Somali woman who was born and raised in the U.A.E., what has been your experience being in Somalia to film Rajada Dalka?
I wanted to find Somalia through my eyes. I had never been because my parents left Somalia forty years ago and came to the United Arab Emirates.
The stories my mom told me were so different from what the media told me. Growing up in the U.A.E., every time I turned on the TV and people were talking about Somalia, they were showing the poverty and filming the war. I was never turning on the TV and seeing something positive about my country. I wanted to come closer to this culture.
When I went to Somalia to meet the team and film them, it was eye-opening for me. It was my first time in Somalia, and it was such an inspirational trip. Everything I was seeing, I was seeing for the first time. All the colors—all the beautiful colors that the women would wear! I was so in love with the people, the dances, the clothes, the poetry, the city, the story, and everything! And I felt so welcome. People really opened their doors to me. One day, I was waiting for my driver and people kept coming up to me saying, do you need anything? Do you need a ride? Are you lost?
I thought, this is something you don’t see. This is not something being shown to anyone. You see in the media that we are aggressive, that we are fighting, that we are dying. That’s all I had ever heard from people—Somali people are dying because they have no water, no access to food. But it’s not the whole country that’s in that position. I’m not denying that there is poverty. Everywhere, there’s poverty. But my film is going to show how these girls live. They’re struggling, how any other person is struggling. Like anyone living in New York City and working and living. Paying their rent, providing, and paying the bills. It’s the same life, I would say. These girls are happy in their home. That’s what I want to show. They don’t have to be in the US! They don’t have to be in Europe to be happy!
The only thing they need is to have security, to have a secure country that can support them.
How can we, as an audience, relate to these women who risk everything to play the sport they love?
I think the film will inspire people who are going through similar conditions, or any conditions with an obstacle in front of them. You would not expect someone who receives death threats on a daily basis to continue playing basketball!
If someone told me, I’m going to kill you unless you stop making films, I would stop and think about me. We all get to live just one time in this world. We have to achieve what we really want and what we believe in.
And that’s why I relate to these girls. Initially, I had to hide the fact that I was studying filmmaking from my family. Like the girls in Mogadishu had to hide from their families that they were risking their lives playing basketball.
Are they supportive now?
They changed their minds; my whole family changed their minds. Because they saw that I’m very persistent when I find a story that is really important to me and a story that really matters. And this story matters.
They also got pretty encouraged when they found out I had been funded by organizations all the way in the US. They were like, okay, so she’s being supported internationally; this filmmaking thing is real, not just to her. So, they left me with that.
Glad we could help!
United Arab Emirates-based independent Somali filmmaker Hana Mire is the director and producer of the forthcoming documentary and her feature directorial debut, Rajada Dalka. She has taken film production courses at New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi, has directed and produced short documentaries, and in 2013, she won an award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival for her mini-doc, Silent Art. Last year, she was a Documentary Intensive Fellow at UnionDocs and a Diversity Fellows Initiative filmmaker.
Post by Morgan Hulquist, Summer 2017 Chicken & Egg Pictures Communications Intern.
What a week for wonderful news at Chicken & Egg Pictures!
Nominees for the 38th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards® were announced yesterday and we were overloaded with joy to see so many Nest-supported films and filmmakers included. Congratulations to all and good luck!
Among the Believers, directed by Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Naqvi (World ‘Doc World’) Nominated for Outstanding Politics and Government Documentary
The Hand That Feeds, directed by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick (World ‘America ReFramed’) Nominated for Outstanding Business and Economic Documentary
Meet the Patels, directed by Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel (PBS ‘Independent Lens’) Nominated for Outstanding Arts & Culture Documentary
No Más Bebés, directed by Renee Tajima-Peña (PBS ‘Independent Lens’) Nominated for Outstanding Historical Documentary
The Return, directed by Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway (PBS ‘POV’) Nominated for Outstanding Current Affairs Documentary
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi (Investigation Discovery) Nominated for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary
Thank You For Playing, directed by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and David Osit (PBS ‘POV’) Nominated for Best Documentary, Outstanding Arts & Culture Documentary, and Outstanding Editing: Documentary
(T)ERROR, directed by Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe (PBS ‘Independent Lens’) Nominated for Outstanding Investigative Documentary
What Tomorrow Brings, directed by Beth Murphy (PBS ‘POV’) Nominated for Outstanding Current Affairs Documentary
And a special congratulations to 2017 Accelerator Lab grantee Nanfu Wang for Hooligan Sparrow, (PBS ‘POV’), which was nominated for Outstanding Politics and Government Documentary and Outstanding Editing: Documentary; and our Nest-friend and supporter Abigail Disney for The Armor of Light, (PBS ‘Independent Lens’), nominated for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary.
Join us for our first ever LIVE CHICK-PITCH at the 2017 Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Our focus: to showcase, celebrate, and introduce you to the work, vision, and promise of 10 compelling projects helmed by emerging women directors from around the globe—each one a member of our 2017 CHICKEN & EGG PICTURES Accelerator Lab, hailing from Bangladesh, China, Somalia, Mexico, Poland, and across the US.
The Live Pitch will take place on Sunday, June 11, 12:00 – 14:00 pm at the Sheffield ITV Town Hall Reception Room B.
Moderated by award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Co-Founder and Senior Creative Consultant.
- Born in China by Nanfu Wang & Lynn Zhang (China)
- The Guardian of Memory by Marcela Arteaga (Mexico)
- Kids Can Spit by Chelsi Bullard (US)
- Lights, Camera, Uganda by Cathryne Czubek & Hugo Perez (US)
- People I Know by Zofia Pregowska (Poland)
- Rajada Dalka/Nation’s Hope by Hana Mire (Somalia)
- The Rashomon Effect by Lyric R. Cabral (US)
- Surf Girls of Cox’s Bazar by Elizabeth D. Costa (Bangladesh)
- The Surrender of Waymond Hall by Jane Greenberg, (US)
- Unaccompanied Children by Alexandra Codina (US)
Find out more about the 2017 Accelerator Lab.
If you would like to attend let us know by emailing Sabine Fayoux, Program Coordinator, at email@example.com.
If you can’t join us at the Live Pitch please consider meeting with the filmmakers individually or in small group meetings during the festival. To coordinate a meeting, please contact our European representative and Sheffield Doc/Fest liaison Tereza Šimíková at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chicken & Egg Pictures Accelerator Lab is a year-long program that brings together 10 nonfiction projects directed by women from around the world who are making their first or second film. The program provides them with a major grant of $35,000 USD and intensive mentorship that strives to balance creative storytelling and core producing skills with practical models for building sustainability, community, and relationships in the nonfiction marketplace. The 2017 Sheffield Doc/Fest marks the program’s second of three retreats, this one built around utilizing and leveraging all that the Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Meet Market and Industry Convenings have to offer.
Congratulations to all Nest-supported filmmakers at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year! Our programs team will be there with the 2017 Accelerator Lab cohort for first- and second-time filmmakers so if you’re around, come say hello.
Chicken & Egg Pictures-supported films and filmmakers at 2017 Sheffield:
- World Premiere: Armed With Faith, directed by Asad Faruqi and Geeta Gandbhir*
- UK Premiere: Do Donkeys Act?, directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin*
- World Premiere: Even When I Fall, directed by Kate McLarnon and Sky Neal
- World Premiere: Insha’Allah Democracy, directed by Mohammed Naqvi*
- UK Premiere: Motherland, directed by Ramona S. Diaz
- UK Premiere: Strong Island, directed by Yance Ford
- European Premiere: The Departure, directed by Lana Wilson
- UK Premiere: Unrest, directed by Jennifer Brea
- European Premiere: Whose Streets?, directed by Sabaah Folayan and co-directed by Damon Davis
*Chicken & Egg pictures did not support Armed With Faith, Do Donkeys Act?, and Insha’Allah Democracy, but did support Geeta Gandhbir for A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers, Love the Sinner, and A Conversation with Police on Race (NY Times Op-Doc); Ashley Sabin for Girl Model; and Mohammed Maqvi’s film Among the Believers. And, as a 2017 Breakthrough Filmmaker Award recipient, Geeta has received support from Chicken & Egg Pictures in the forms of a $50,000 unrestricted grant, individualized mentorship, and creative and professional workshops.
Go to the Sheffield Doc/Fest website for more information and the full lineup.
In New York instead? Check out Nest-supported films and filmmakers at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 9-18).
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is rolling into New York City again this June, and we can’t wait to see our filmmakers in action there! Each screening is followed by a discussion.
Go to the HRW Film Festival website for more information and the full lineup:
MUHI – Generally Temporary
Directed by Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman
For the past seven years, Muhi, a young boy from Gaza, has been trapped in an Israeli hospital. Rushed there in his infancy with a life-threatening immune disorder, he and his doting grandfather, Abu Naim, wound up caught in an immigration limbo that made it impossible for them to leave. With Muhi’s citizenship unclear, and Abu Naim denied a work permit or visa, the pair reside solely within the constraints of the hospital walls. Caught between two states in perpetual war, Muhi is being cared for by the very same people whose government forbids his family to visit, and for him or his grandfather to travel back. Made by two filmmakers from Jerusalem, this documentary lays out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in human terms, documenting the impact these paradoxical circumstances have on individual lives.
Directed by Tiffany Hsiung
Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines were amongst thousands of girls and young women who were sexually exploited by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, many through kidnapping, coercion and sexual slavery. Some 70 years after their imprisonment, and after decades living in silence and shame about their past, the wounds are still fresh for these three former ‘comfort women’. Despite multiple formal apologies from the Japanese government issued since the early 1990’s, there has been little justice; the courageous resolve of these women moves them to fight and seize their last chance to share first-hand accounts of the truth with their families and the world, and to ensure that this horrific chapter of history is neither repeated nor forgotten.
June 11, 2017, 8:30 PM / Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater
Screening followed by discussion with filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung and Sarah Taylor, Advocate, Women’s Rights division, Human Rights Watch
Directed by Heather White and Lynn Zhang*
Shot below the radar, Complicit follows the journey of Chinese factory migrant worker-turned-activist Yi Yeting, who takes his fight against the global electronic industry from his hospital bed to the international stage. While battling his own work-induced leukemia, Yi Yeting teaches himself labour law in order to prepare a legal challenge against his former employers. But the struggle to defend the lives of millions of Chinese people from becoming terminally ill due to working conditions necessitates confrontation with some of the world’s largest brands including Apple and Samsung. Unfortunately, neither powerful businesses nor the government are willing to have such scandals exposed.
By Chelsi Bullard
Part One of a series of blog posts from Chicken & Egg Pictures’ 2017 Accelerator Lab grantees. This post is brought to us by Chelsi Bullard, director of Kids Can Spit, about New York City teens competing against one another in the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. (Bringing Attention to Transforming, Teaching, and Learning Science). Here Chelsi interviews one of the subjects of her film right before the big competition.
Chloe, a student at Brooklyn Preparatory High School in Brooklyn, is a part of the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. program in her school. The program engages youth in science through hip hop music and culture, and builds up to a citywide competition where students across New York City’s boroughs participate in a rap battle to be crowned the ‘Science Genius.’ Science Genius aims to blur the lines of what is perceived as academic, and what is not. In this interview, Chloe talks about the rhymes she created for the competition as well as her anticipation and excitement for the big event!
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Chloe Hernandez, I’m 17 and I go to Brooklyn Prep.
What is SG [Science Genius]?
For me personally, it’s more than just an opportunity to incorporate science with rap. I can use my knowledge, it’s fun, and it appeals to people. [It’s exciting that it’s] not only for the boys but, as a young female, I could do something like this.
Tell me about the competition.
You get together with a group and you put together what you know and the message you want to send, which has to do with real life, not just scientific concepts. Then, you have a school battle against your peers in school who have their own science raps. If you go on to the final battle, you present your raps against students from all over the place. It’s really how can you connect science to something you’re really passionate about.
I’m rather scared because last year’s winner is from my school, and I’m proud of them and want to be proud of myself too.
What’s your group’s piece about?
It started with another girl [on my group], Kiersten, and inspired by the concept that there is no such thing as darkness, just an absence of light. The piece talks about the African American community and how teens have something to say about all of our problems. Adults don’t listen [so] we use sound waves to talk about our everyday lives that adults don’t see.
What’s your relationship to science like?
At first I was afraid of getting into science. [My teammate] Ivy and I both thought “How are we going to incorporate science?” But it’s not like it’s something I didn’t want to learn. Now, physics is probably the most amazing subject I’ve ever had. Like light waves—a lot of things when I see it, it’s not what I see. Our eyes create these colors. This is really cool.
What are the top three things you try to remember to relax and do your best before a performance?
- Calm down, it’s not the end of the world!
- There are no losers because everyone has the same nerves as me.
- Be proud of myself. If I get to the school-wide battle, then I am worthy of my spot, even if it’s not #1.
Come cheer Chloe and the other competitors on at the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. Finals on Friday, May 26! You can register here. And come back every month to see more from our Accelerator Lab grantees!
Chelsi Bullard is an independent video editor turned director based in Harlem. She likes to attach herself to stories that take the viewer to little known worlds and introduce them to courageous and outspoken characters. Most recently, she edited the short I Was Here First (2015) that premiered at DOC NYC and was produced as a part of the UnionDocs Collaborative Studio in Brooklyn, NY where Chelsi was a media arts fellow. Visit her website: http://www.chelsibullard.com/.
Chelsi is a grantee of our 2017 Accelerator Lab for first- and second-time filmmakers. Kids Can Spit is her feature directorial debut.
Three Chicken & Egg Pictures-supported filmmakers accepted Peabody Awards this year. A big congratulations to:
Deborah S. Esquenazi for Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Nanfu Wang (2017 Accelerator Lab grantee) for Hooligan Sparrow*
Read more about these films and the other recipients in their company on the Peabody website.
*Chicken & Egg Pictures did not fund the film Hooligan Sparrow, but supports director Nanfu Wang as a 2017 Accelerator Lab grantee. Nanfu has also received the LUNA Chicken & Egg Pictures Award at 2017 SXSW Film Festival (read more here).
Chicken & Egg Pictures proudly announces receipt of the prestigious FilmCraft grant from the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in support of the Accelerator Lab for first- and second-time filmmakers.
Grants from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are designed to “provide unique opportunities for enrichment and engagement with the cinematic community and its artists,” according to Buffy Shutt, chair of the Academy’s grants committee. Chicken & Egg Pictures’ FilmCraft grant will go towards fulfilling the organization’s mission to support women nonfiction filmmakers whose artful and innovative storytelling catalyzes social change.
To learn more, read our press release.
Chicken & Egg Pictures is proud to support three films being featured at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival: MUHI – Generally Temporary, directed by Rina Castelnuvo-Hillerma and Tamir Elterman (in competition for the Golden Gate Award for Documentary Feature); Motherland, directed by Ramona Diaz; and Whose Streets?, directed by Sabaah Folyan and co-directed by Damon Davis. Congratulations Rina, Tamir, Ramona, Sabaah, and Damon and good luck to MUHI – Generally Temporary!
For more information about the SF International Film Festival, or the full festival lineup, visit the SFFS website.
MUHI – Generally Temporary
Directed by Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander
and Tamir Elterman
MUHI – Generally Temporary tells the story of Muhammad (Muhi), a Palestinian child from Gaza and the son of a Hamas activist wanted by Israel. As a newborn, Muhi is transferred to Israel for treatment of a life-threatening condition. Months turn into years and Muhi, now six, has lived his whole life in the Israeli hospital, confined for security reasons to its premises with his grandfather. The film explores Muhi’s contradictory world in which he is treated, raised, and saved by his people’s enemy, while his parents remain in Gaza.
April 9, 12:30 p.m. (SFMOMA) / April 12, 6:30 p.m. (BAMPFA) / April 13, 1:00 p.m. (YBCA Screening Room)
To buy tickets, visit the SFFS MUHI – Generally Temporary webpage.
Directed by Ramona Diaz
One of the world’s poorest and most populous countries, the Philippines, struggles with reproductive health policy—both in the legislature where laws are in debate, and in a hospital with the busiest maternity ward on the planet.
April 6, 6:00 p.m. (YBCA Screening Room) / April 8, 7:30 p.m. (Roxie Theater)
To buy tickets, visit the SFFS Motherland webpage.
Directed by Sabaah Folayan
and co-directed by Damon Davis
A firsthand look at how the murder of one teenage boy became the last straw for a community under siege, Whose Streets? is a story of love, loss, conflict, and ambition. Set in Ferguson, MO, the film follows the journey of everyday people whose lives are intertwined with a burgeoning national movement for black liberation.
April 14, 8:00 p.m. (PROXY)
To register for the free screening, visit the SFFS Whose Streets? webpage.