Tag Archives: Producing

Producer Melina Tupa talks upcoming documentary ‘Slaves Among Us’

Melina Tupa always has always had two passions: film and journalism. Growing up, it never really occurred to her that there was a way to combine both of these things. Then, one fateful day, she had an epiphany that changed her life. She could be a documentary filmmaker. Being a journalist, she believes, gives her an extra responsibility as a film producer to pursue stories that are of public interest and that will help the communities she lives in. Since coming to that realization, Tupa has been committed to making impactful documentary films, and that is why she is so sought-after around the world for what she does.

Over the past few years, Tupa has delivered hard-hitting documentaries that share truths many are unaware of or afraid to talk about. When producing the PBS Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift, audiences everywhere became aware of the horrifying stories of many janitorial workers who have dealt with sexual assault. With her film The Search, she told the story of a grandmother’s search for her long-lost grandchild, which dives into the Argentinean “Dirty War.” All who work alongside Tupa are not only impressed, but also inspired by her commitment to her work.

“I had the honor of being a Consulting Producer with Melina on her documentary The Search. It was a pleasure working with Melina: she’s smart, driven, tenacious, creative, and yet is open to different perspectives and ideas that are not her own, which means that she is also confident. What makes Melina good, but great is a better word, is that she always has a big vision for her work,” said Director and Producer Spencer Nakasako.

Soon, audiences will once again have the chance to see Tupa’s formidable producing abilities in the upcoming Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) film Slaves Among Us. The documentary will expose the many layers of human trafficking, from the recruiter in the home country to the smuggler, trafficker and subcontractor that make it possible for major corporations to profit from forced labor in the United States. The documentary will tell the story of a group of teens from Guatemala who, with the inadvertent aid of the American government, fall into the hands of a criminal enterprise. This investigation will show who makes money off such victims and how the American consumer benefits from their mistreatment.

“I wanted to work on this project because I believed this was a very important story that needed to be widely known by the audience. The fact that in 2017 we still have forced labor is outrageous,” said Tupa.

Tupa was approached to work on Slaves Among Us after her success with the Investigative Reporting Program on the documentary Rape on the Night Shift. The producers of the documentary knew she had a very good reputation and she had an asset that was key to work on the field: she is bilingual in Spanish and most of the characters on this story are Spanish-speaking individuals. As a field producer, this was vital.

“I liked that I had direct contact with the sources of the story. I did old school reporting: just knocking on people’s doors and asking what they have seen or heard about the case. I was able to get to know the community I was reporting on thoroughly. And I was also able to gain the character’s trust. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants and many times they are afraid of telling wrongdoings because they are afraid of the retaliation they might get,” Tupa described.

Working in Ohio, Tupa reported on the trailer park where Guatemalans (adults and minors) trafficked to the United States were living. She was able to conduct interviews with more than thirty individuals there. She was able to secure three interviews (one in shadow, two full face) where the sources confirmed the story about the trafficking scheme she was after. She was also able to establish a connection with a very important source who had worked with the main characters of the story. This led to finding and securing and exclusive interview with one of the victims of labor trafficking.

Back at Investigative Reporting Program office, she worked as a Researcher. She found archival videos, photos and newspapers on the DeCoster Egg Farm violations, unaccompanied children entering the United States across the border, egg industry facilities, and the case of immigrant minors working on an egg farm. This information was pivotal to illustrate the story.

“I believe it is important to tell this story because nobody should be living in slave conditions in 2017. It’s important to let people know this is happening so this could result in a change of policy, for example, in unaccompanied minors entering the United States or for the poultry industry to have highest safety standards for its employees,” said Tupa.

Slaves Among Us is expected to be released in 2019. Based on Tupa’s track record, audiences can expect an outstanding film once again.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

Director and Producer Sonia Bajaj has fast success with new film ‘Bekah’

Sonia Bajaj realized her true calling while in Pune, India. During this period of transition, she was introduced to people from different cultural backgrounds and varied interests. She was in constant touch with daily happenings in the world and she also began to have a better understanding of art forms like music and literature. She was introduced to several films, television series and documentaries from all over the world, thereby exposing her to different styles of filmmaking. She began experimenting, and soon these experiments translated in experiences. She knew she had to be a filmmaker.

Originally from Mumbai, Bajaj has been able to travel the world doing what she loves. She thoroughly enjoys the aspects of making a film. As a producer, she is responsible for overseeing all five stages of filmmaking: development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. She creates a business plan, budget, and schedule, handle creative and business affairs, and gather cast and crew. But that is not all she does, she also is a successful director.

“While making multiple short films, I realized how thoroughly I enjoy myself during the entire process of making a film. Being a director is similar to being the captain on a ship. You have your entire team helping you, yet the responsibility of a successful sail lies entirely on your shoulders. When I direct a film, I have the opportunity to take the audiences to the world of my characters through my eyes. That’s what I like about being a director,” she said. “I look forward to narrating stories that touch the heart, that inspire an individual to overcome obstacles and live his dream, stories that educate and entertain.”

As both a director and producer, Bajaj has had a formidable career. She has worked on award-winning films such as Rose, Hari, The Best Photograph, A Broken Egg and Impossible Love. She is also the curator for the women in film series at Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, where her responsibilities include reviewing and judging films around the globe. She has an esteemed reputation, and is respected by all she works with.

“Sonia is a professional and a pleasure to work with. She has a superb eye for truth when it comes to filmmaking and making an actor feel connected and safe on set. I would work with her again in an instant,” said Tony Ruiz, who worked alongside Bajaj on her film Rose.

With her new film Bekah, Bajaj is impressing both audiences and critics yet again. The film was just completed in May, and was first recognized at LA Shorts Awards where it won an award for Best Drama. Since that time, it has already been an Official Selection at the UK Monthly Film Festival, a Semi Finalist at Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival and Los Angeles Cine Fest and a Finalist at Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival. It won the Award of Merit at Accolade Global Film Competition, the Gold Award at NYC Indie Film Awards, and the Platinum Award at Mindfield Film Festival, with many more film festivals expected for the powerful film.

“With Bekah, I had the opportunity to direct and produce the story of a young African American woman. Our entire cast comprised of African American Actors, and crew from different parts of the world, giving me the opportunity to work in a culturally diverse project. Our goal was to inspire and encourage our viewers through Bekah’s eyes. We’ve been successful in achieving that in a short span of time,” said Bajaj.

Bekah is the story of an idealistic young writer and college dropout who pursues her dream of becoming a full-time writer, motivated by the spirit of her deceased fiancé. She leaves her dysfunctional home and goes it alone facing a world that is less idealistic.

The story focuses on the struggles of a young writer trying to break into the real world. It’s a tale of overcoming the loss of love, by fulfilling a promise that was made. At the end, it becomes all about how families need to be connected and support each other.  We wanted to tell this story to encourage families to support each other, encourage youngsters to pursue their dreams despite the difficulties that they may face,” Bajaj described.

After looking at Bajaj’s success of her other films, the main lead and co-producer Charlie Cakes, also known as Charlotte Makala, asked her to be a part of the project, knowing her needed someone of her caliber to make the film the success it has already become. Looking at the diverse nature of the film, Bajaj instantly got on board. As they began producing the film, they realized that 80 per cent of the cast and crew were all women.

“This definitely was refreshing experience to produce a film made by women and about women,” said Bajaj. “The very fact that our team was so diverse, it was essential to have a director who wasn’t familiar with the culture of the characters. I had my own take to the production, which helped us to create a fresh outlook to the story we wanted to convey.”

There were many rehearsals, and script revisions, and Bajaj, both the director and producer of the film, experimented with different techniques before filming. This enabled her to create a fast-paced productive environment on set, allowing her to get all the shots she set out for in a skilled and quick manner.

“I enjoyed directing my actors in their accent. The lingos were so different that it was a learning experience to get out of my comfort zone, learn a different style of talking and build emotions out of that. It helped to broaden my horizon and work on building varied layers to the characters,” Bajaj described.

Bekah is just one of many films that Bajaj has put her winning touch on. She is a formidable director and producer, and one that audiences can expect to continue hearing about for years to come.