'I'm always looking for solutions'
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Megan Mylan, who is in India to promote her short film, After My Garden Grows, tells Deepali Dhingra why she is all about seeing light at the end of the tunnel
I came home from an Oscar to a grand rejection,” Megan Mylan declares with a laugh. We look astounded as the 45-year-old American documentary filmmaker, who won the Academy Award for Smile Pinki in 2008, makes this revelation. The rejection, she explains, was not of her documentary on efforts to provide free cleft palate surgery in India, but for another independent film she had worked on back then.
American documentary filmmaker, Megan Mylan. Pic/Atul Kamble
Mylan, who is in India to promote her latest short movie, After My Garden Grows, tells us that the Academy Award didn’t really change things for her. “Maybe if I’d got the Oscar for a fiction film, I would have bagged a six-movie deal. However, that’s not the reality for independent cinema. People do take my call now, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into funds,” she shrugs. What it did bring her, she adds, is a sense of comfort as a creative person, and on a human level, the solace that she helped create awareness about a lesser-known issue.
For her latest venture, though, Mylan did not have to ask anyone to fund the short film. The Sundance Film Institute received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conceive five movies that looked at ways to overcome poverty and hunger in the world. Mylan was one of the chosen directors. An article on a programme called Girls Project, promoted by the West Bengal government caught her eye, and she knew she had her story.
The 10-minute short film — for which Mylan shot 10 hours of footage within a week last November— follows the story of Monika, a teenage girl in rural Bengal, who while growing vegetables on her rooftop, sows the seeds of her own independence. And just like most of Mylan’s movies, this one too, is about finding solutions and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. “I’m always looking for solutions. It’s an important facet of my personality,” says Mylan.
Having directed movies such as Lost Boys of Sudan, a feature-length documentary about two Dinka boys who fled the Sudanese civil war for the US and another on racial inequality in Brazil, Mylan has touched upon various global issues.
Currently, she is working on a film that looks at the Japanese concept of time banking, which explores elderly care. She believes that a lot unites people across the globe. “I fiercely feel that we have a lot in common. Along with finding solutions or focussing on the issue of social justice, the idea of showcasing our shared humanity onscreen excites me. Finding these small moments make us feel connected. For example, in Smile Pinki, the father can be seen trying to straighten her pigtails all the time and I remember my dad doing that. It’s easy to have an idea of ‘The other’, but I find ways to make the audience feel they are part of a human family,” she concludes.