Giulia Achilli is the Italian producer of “Inshallah, Football”, the new documentary directed by the Oscar nominated Ashvin Kumar. Giulia tells us her story and the story of her first documentary.
. Can you tell us your own story ?
I was born in Milan, Italy- where I grew up as well. I was a student of the city’s Cinema College in the early 2000s. Soon after graduation, I teamed up with two young talented Italian directors and produced my first short film with them: a sci-fi 15 mins piece, E:D:E:N, which won several prizes around the world, besides teaching me how to build a spaceship with eggs’ boxes! Immediately after, I executive produced the full-length feature ‘Onde’ (‘Waves’), by Francesco Fei- a love story between two ‘different’ people set against the visually powerful backdrop of Genoa. The film opened at Rotterdam film festival in 2005.
. How did you arrive in the Far east ?
In 2006/2007, I set off to India, eager to gain an insight into one of biggest and most talked about film industries in the world . In Bombay, I produced my first Hindi Film ‘Barah Aana’ in 2008, directed by Raja Menon and starring Nasseruddin Shah, Vijay Raaz, and Violante Placido among others.
‘Inshallah, football’ is my first documentary film. It had been fiction till then.
. Why did you decide to make a doc ?
With ‘Inshallah, football’, I discovered the pleasure of documentary filmmaking, a truly organic, surprising process. There’s an emotional implication- which is to be found in having real people and real lives as your subject. There’s an especially irrational relationship that develops between you and your subject, and you’re left with no option but to go with the flow…the flow of life I suppose. How more comprehensive can it get?
. What is the story of “Inshallah, football” ?
‘Inshallah, football’ explores the paradigm of being born the son of an ex militant in one of the most volatile regions of the world: Kashmir. The absurd circumstances of a state ravaged by years of brutal insurgencies and army deployment get explored through the overlapping voices and stories of an ex Hizbul Mujahiddin militant, his 18 years old son- whose dream is that of playing football in the land of legendary Pele, and an Argentinean football coach who trains boys in Kashmir.
It’s a personal narrative about father and son, and at a more macro level, about the dreams of Kashmiri youth, stone pelters and the state of Indian democracy.
. How did you start to work on this doc ?
The film is directed by Ashvin Kumar (nominated to an Oscar for his ‘Little Terrorist’). I met Ashvin in Cannes, where I was consulting for an Indian film fund in May of 2009. We later met in Bombay again, after Ashvin had returned from Kashmir- the place where he wanted his next feature film to be set- hence the research trip. His interest for the state has always been enormous. Ashvin told me the story of this remarkable man he met while there: Marcos, an Argentinean football coach who against all odds, was living and coaching in Kashmir…and who had just arranged for a scholarship to Spain for a couple of his players: at that time, they were supposedly ready to leave to Malaga. I recognized that as a powerful lens through which we could explore Kashmir larger issue.
Little matters that the film became something else throughout the process, as the two kids never left to Spain (although they are now successfully playing in Brazil), and as we met Basharat (the team’s captain) and his ex militant father.
. How did you produced “Inshallah” ?
Initially, when Spain was a part of the film, we started talks with a Spanish production company. The interest shown was high, but due to a number of factors (first and foremost the limited time we had to pull the finances together), we finally produced it with private equity from India. Nevertheless, Europe is one of the film’s main markets.
. Did you show the finished doc to the characters you followed in India ? How was their feedback/reaction ?
Well, at the cost of sounding melodramatic, the characters’ reactions have been so far the biggest satisfaction, emotional reward we got. Very overwhelming, warm, moved voices woke us up late at night, through a phone call from under curfew Srinagar. They were all sitting in the same room, sipping tea, and having the most amazing things to say about the work they had just seen on screen.
. What was the major problem during the production ?
There were no major problems really. At some point, as mentioned before, we switched gear and just started being with these remarkable people, taking our time to follow them, listen to them, quietly observing and growing closer and closer to them. It became our life style for 5 months, increasingly less and less of a film schedule.
And the relatively ‘calm’ political climate of those few months allowed us access to areas and people who are presently much less accessible, given last summer violence outbursts (more than 100 youths died in encounters) and subsequent curfews that Kashmir had to witness.
. Up to now, in how many territories / countries have you sold the doc ?
The film has just been completed- October 2010. We just began our round of festivals with Pusan this year, and we have a Sales Agent on board- Smiley Films from New Zealand. The film is still to start its outwards path, as final versions are getting delivered as I write. So, I’ll have to answer this question in a short while down the line!
. Where did you shown “Inshallah” in India ?
In India, we held a private screening in Delhi at the beginning of this month, where the film got tremendous reactions (First Indian review). We believe Indian audience is totally crucial to try and engage with this film: Kashmir is a fundamental issue in this country, and it desperately needs voices coming from within it. We’ll be approaching distributors from the Subcontinent to seek a platform theatrical release as well.
Simultaneously, being the film the personal, human story it is, I suppose its value won’t find insurmountable territorial boundaries.
. Is it easy to distribute docs about Asia in Asia ?
Again, will reserve to answer once the process is a little more advanced and I can be more concrete about it.
The Indian market barely offers any example of theatrically released documentaries in recent times. TV of course offers a more accessible platform- but that’s true of most territories.
The historical moment is crucial for Kashmir though, with the Indian government having moved some steps towards opening a dialogue with the conflicted region’s various parties- an essential move in order to start looking for any possible solution. At the same time, Kashmir is located in a neuralgic point of the present global geo-political asset…the need to talk about it seems more and more necessary, and its relevance more wide-spread.
. Are you working on new doc projects in / about Asia ? Do you want to do more docs in this part of the world ?
As said, I’m still deeply involved with ‘Inshallah’, but I’m definitely intentioned to produce more work in and with this part of he world.
. How do you see the evolution of documentary production in Asia and India ?
I’ll limit my answer to India, as it’s the one place I got to know quite well. The key issue is not producing but having them distributed. The Indian film market is growing at remarkable speed, audiences are far more open and curious than they were a few years ago, people are exposed to a much wider variety of films/works and fresh talents are unquestionably to be found around. I feel it’ll still take some time though, before all of this turns into a commercially viable and solid mechanism. It takes time to integrate the pleasure of sincere storytelling into a strongly commercial driven industry, but the ground is fertile.
. Have you recently watched an Asian doc which you specially appreciated?
‘Smile Pinki’ is an Indian documentary that our same sales agent represents and which I truly appreciated. I watched it a few weeks ago although it’s a 2008 production, and it seriously stroke some of my emotional chords.
(Interview by mail on 16/11/2010)
About Alipur Films
Alipur Films is a company incorporated in the UK and with operative offices in India. It’s a small set up, with a number of professionals being involved and called in on a project by project basis. The main founding partner is Inshallah’s director Ashvin Kumar.
About “Inshallah, Football”
Director: Ashvin KUMAR
Producer: Giulia ACHILLI
Cast : Basharat BABA, Bashir BABA, Marcos TROIA, Priscila BARROSO
Production company: ALIPUR FILMS
Sales company : SMILEY FILM SALES, firstname.lastname@example.org
The doc on facebook
Inshallah, Football – first impressions, Kashmir August 2009 on Youtube
Director’s Youtube page
PIFF web presentation
About “Smile Pinki”
Smile Pinki (2008) is a 39-minute documentary directed by Megan Mylan. The film shows the story of a poor girl in rural India whose life is transformed when she receives free surgery to correct her cleft lip. The documentary was made in Hindi and Bhojpuri, and won the 81st Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
Smile Pinki wins best short Oscar (BBC News, February 2009)