PETALING JAYA: Filmmaker Indrani Kopal has gone from her humble beginnings as a computer lab technician to winning the Best Short Documentary for a film festival in the United States.
She was all smiles when her film, on a prison rehabilitation programme involving modern dance entitled The Game Changer, was announced as one of the winning films at the Harlem International Film Festival.
“What made me happier was when the men featured in my documentary performed at the film festival and the full house audience gave them a standing ovation!” said Indrani, 35, a student of Hofstra University in New York.
The film, which was part of her thesis submission for a Master’s in documentary studies and production, received nominations at eight film festivals, a record-breaking success for a filmmaking student.
“I’ve never thought that I would go so far,” she said in a Skype interview recently.
She worked as a lab technician for five years in the early 2000s before becoming a TV producer and getting a degree in multimedia communications three years ago.
Indrani, who also won an award in the 2007 Freedom Film Festival Malaysia, worked with a local online news portal for about six years producing various short web documentaries, training Malaysians in video journalism and learning to run a successful citizen journalism programme.
She went to the United States in 2010 under the prestigious International Emerging Filmmakers Fellowship for six weeks but she knew she would return home to pursue her love of documentary filmmaking.
“I can’t help noticing the vibrant and diverse American society. A walk along the streets of New York reveals many stories (to tell),” she said.
Her dream came true when she became the first Malaysian film scholar from the Fulbright programme, but little did Indrani know that she would be dragging her hefty equipment through the harsh winter of New York city alone.
“It was an entirely different ball game in a foreign territory. In Malaysia, I could get away with my media tag but here, I only have a student ID card. And I was alone doing all the interviews and shots.
“I was chased out when my friend and I tried to get footage of prison compounds. I would wake up early to travel and see the dancers who are now my friends and return home only late at night,” said Indrani, who grew up in Kuala Lumpur.
With the success of this documentary, Indrani will produce a sequel entitled The Incarcerated Rhythm for her final thesis, focusing on the lives of the dancers upon their release from prison.
“I hope there could be more support from locals for documentary filmmakers because people’s lives can change from the storytelling we do,” said Indrani, who hopes to obtain grants to continue doing documentaries when she returns home.