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London Project Aims To Increase Diversity Of Filmmakers

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Almost as soon as the Oscar nominations were announced this week, many people were pointing out an uncomfortable fact. Every director nominated is a white male. All the nominees for lead and supporting actor are white.

DEBORAH SATHE: This felt like a real shame.

RATH: That's Deborah Sathe, head of talent development and production at the British nonprofit Film London.

SATHE: Dare I say it, I was really gutted for the industry. And I was really gutted personally because I feel there have been some extraordinary films that could have been in there.

RATH: She heads Film London's Microwave project, a program that provides mentorship and training to help filmmakers make their first feature on tiny budgets. Twelve film projects are selected out of more than 100. The goal is to ensure that half of the filmmakers that end up on that long list are racial or ethnic minorities. These teams go through an intensive boot camp to sharpen their skills, and in the end, two films are commissioned.

SATHE: We wanted to have a very aggressive drive to enable our long-lists to reflect the make-up of London. And both in my experience in television and in film, the talent pool often are those who are in the know. And I felt that what we needed to do, in order to broaden Microwave's reach, was to run a targeted recruitment campaign across London. And so we made sure we were talking to all the organizations that had a foothold in communities that sometimes we don't see reflected in the cinema. And we use social media. We used theater outreach groups. And all the sessions that we ran, all the roadshows, all the master classes were full, and it was really, really exciting.

RATH: Last year, a successful film came out of the project. It was called "Lilting."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LILTING")

ANDREW LEUNG: (As Kai) If only she liked you, then it's a lot easier.

CHENG PEI-PEI: (As Junn) (Foreign language spoken).

NAOMI CHRISTIE: (As Vann) He was my only child.

BEN WHISHAW: (As Richard) He was my life.

RATH: Can you tell us about that film?

SATHE: Hong Khaou, who is an extraordinary storyteller, is a London-based filmmaker. It's just been nominated for a British Academy Film Television award as the most outstanding debut, and it has sold across the world. And it is an incredible achievement, considering his budget was under 150,000 pounds.

RATH: Wow, so you've set a goal to get 50 percent filmmakers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and you've reached that goal with 12 long-listed films.

SATHE: Yes.

RATH: What're you aiming for beyond that?

SATHE: Sometimes, I think, the greater public think that it is an earnest endeavor, which I don't agree with. I think that we have to look at the changing face of the audience and how we enable and grow a new audience to champion television and film. That doesn't mean to say we ignore the film fan that exists there already, but I think that film fan is able to consume stories from everywhere. And if you look, particularly in London, in our big urban centers, the most quickly growing population is a diverse one.

RATH: So if the push is successful, what would be your measure of success? What would you like to see the Oscar nominees look like in 2025 or 2030?

SATHE: I would love to see them champion extraordinary innovation and bravery and performance, as well as the traditional kind of big hitters. And I feel like, as an industry, in order to survive, we have to innovate. And sometimes that feels terribly scary, but ultimately, it will strengthen our industry in the long run.

RATH: Deborah Sathe runs Film London's Microwave project. Deborah, thanks very much.

SATHE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.