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June 20, 2024

Anupama Chopra’s The Walker’s Project takes two budding filmmakers to Cannes in 2024

The Indian film industry, particularly Hindi cinema, has often faced criticism for its lack of diverse voices and the pervasive influence of nepotism. The ecosystem, not just in film but across creative fields, has historically been dominated by a few powerful families and influential insiders, often sidelining many talented individuals who lack these connections. Because of the constant regurgitation of creative output from the same socio-economic voices, the narratives and perspectives portrayed in these works have become largely homogenised, with fresh, unique voices struggling to find a place.

The need for equalising, democratic platforms that amplify the voices of typically unheard creators has never been more pressing. In the field of fashion, India and the world were able to witness the product of what can happen when someone outside of industry in-groups and lacking socio-economic privilege is given a platform to showcase their talent in the form of one Nancy Tyagi. Tyagi though hailing from a modest background in New Delhi made her debut at the Cannes Film Festival after making waves on Instagram with her fashion design prowess. With the help of social media, fashion and styling enters a far more democratised space than ever before, but filmmakers continue to struggle with the lack of platforms for visibility, let alone at a Cannes scale, and the outcry agains the status quo has grown louder in recent years.

 

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With calls for a more inclusive and representative cinema that reflects the true diversity of India’s population, The Walker’s Project arriving at the perfect moment, is the respite so desperately needed in the Indian film space. The project, an initiative by Walkers & Co in collaboration with Anupama Chopra’s Film Companion, seeks to address precisely this need in Indian cinema by offering two filmmakers the opportunity to attend the Cannes Film Festival from this year onwards. This year, the chosen filmmakers are Ambiecka Pandit and Akshay Parvatkar, each recognised for their distinct voices, conviction, and potential to create impactful cinema. The ultimate goal I presume, of spotlighting and empowering emerging filmmakers with distinct and bold voices, is to foster a culture of meaningful filmmaking that can inspire people to push for a more inclusive and progressive society.

But the being selected for such a prestigious opportunity was not a process for the faint of heart. In fact, the selections were rigorous and challenging, involving a panel of film critics, curators, and industry experts, led by renowned figures like Anupama Chopra and Deepti DCunha to choose this year’s participants. Amongst the many candidates who applied, it was Ambiecka and Akshay’s profiles that stood out to the panel. Ambiecka, for her bold decision to transition from law to filmmaking, and Akshay for his consistent exploration of subjects and evolved storytelling. “Together,” Anupama Chopra says, “they represent the Walkers of Tomorrow, ready to be torchbearers of an exciting journey of reshaping the landscape of Indian cinema.”

 

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Following their selection, Ambiecka and Akshay underwent intense mentoring sessions and workshops designed to prepare them for the Cannes Film Festival 2024, the world’s premier event for the film industry. These sessions were led by Oscar-winning producer Guneet Monga, along with other notable industry figures such as Anu Rangachari, Jerome Paillard, and Christian Jeune from the Cannes Film Festival. The objectives of these sessions were multifaceted. First, these experts played a crucial role in teaching Ambiecka and Akshay how to navigate the expectations and standards of international audiences, the business side of filmmaking, and how to effectively present their work on a prestigious global platform.

Second, the mentoring and workshops helped the two filmmakers refine their project ideas, develop their creative vision, and address any challenges they may have encountered in their filmmaking journey. In interacting with experienced professionals and peers in the workshops, both  Ambiecka and Akshay have been able to build confidence, expand their professional networks, and foster collaborations that could enhance their filmmaking careers.

Unfortunately, Ambiecka had a personal family emergency and was not able to attend the festival but Akshay audaciously threw himself into the festivities with gusto.  He saw films, attended workshops, met artists such as Richie Mehta, Naseeruddin Shah and others and truly made the most of the opportunity.  His exposure to the global film industry not only inspired new ideas for films but allowed him to establish connections with industry professionals from around the world that are famously invaluable for filmmakers. Akshay expressed his gratitude for the experience, “I’ve always hoped to tell stories that need to be heard, and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity promises to give me the chance to bring my stories to life on a bigger stage.”

 

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It is difficult to measure immediate success with an ambitious project like this one wherein the the cause is far larger than the people involved. But one attempt at setting a tangible benchmark for The Walker’s Project is through the production and premiere of Ambiecka and Akshay’s fictional films, themed around “Stories of Progress.” These milestones include gauging audience reactions, garnering critical acclaim, and earning accolades at prestigious film festivals that will hopefully bring the filmmakers to Cannes once again as contributors to the industry rather than spectators of it.

As the project embarks on its inaugural year, the vision for the future includes expands steadfastly. The project intends on helping more Indian filmmakers in the coming years by giving them similar support, guidance, and chances to show their work to the world. “The hope ultimately,” says Chopra, “is that through The Walkers Project, we can leave a positive mark on Indian cinema and beyond.”  

Zara Flavia Dmello

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