Asian filmmakers celebrate women’s entrepreneurship

An IMS-led collaboration brings together documentary filmmakers from The Philippines and Sri Lanka to use documentary filmmaking as a tool for change, focusing on women from indigenous and minority communities.

A woman with a disability, a young child and an absent husband decides to go solo and set up her own shop. An actor inspires women to take action against revenge porn and online harassment after her ex-partner shares her own nude images without consent. A craftsperson teaches her daughter a traditional artform, and the daughter takes it online.

The New Entrepreneurs is a new audio-visual project that brings attention to women and entrepreneurship in the Philippines and Sri Lanka in indigenous and minority communities. The result is six fascinating films about entrepreneurs from the most unlikely situations doing extraordinary things. Taking destiny into their own hands and often having to overcome doubt, ridicule and resistance from family and community, these are inspiring stories of women overcoming great challenges through innovation.

Why documentary film?

IMS Documentary Film works with independent filmmakers from around the world to develop new projects, connect with the film industries and enable collaborative storytelling that creates impact and contributes to social, political and cultural developments. Supporting local documentary film environments in challenged countries is an effective tool for broadening perspectives in media and thus generating alternative voices and giving audiences access to more sources of information.

The long-term objective of this project is to support women filmmakers from indigenous communities and focus on their stories. It also aims to build a bridge between journalism and documentary filmmaking and to initiate collaborations between these two groups of media workers. At the same time, the project will enhance individual filmmakers and production companies to further strengthen and enable documentary film environments in IMS’ programme countries in Asia. 

All six films have been released in their countries of origin. In addition to this project, IMS also supported the production of 12 short news feature-style documentaries in 2020 and nine in 2021 in Sri Lanka. Thirteen of these productions were produced by women. 

The background for the project

Documentary filmmaking in Asia receives predominantly mixed reactions. Countries such as India, with a large film industry, film schools and sections of its large population able to patronise these works, have kept documentary filmmaking afloat. As an art form, documentary filmmaking is arguably marginalised when compared to commercial filmmaking across Asia, but support from media development organisations and the advent of streaming platforms attracting younger and newer audiences may help to change the status quo.

In the Philippines, there is a thriving and resurgent, if still small, community of documentary filmmakers, enabled by digital film technology and some small national funds to support them. Some of the most prominent names in the movement are women. The roots and traditions for documentary filmmaking in the Philippines are also well established in social and political issues.

In Sri Lanka, more women and gender-minorities have been engaged in various roles during the documentary filmmaking process, but a more accepting of culture where women occupy key decision-making roles remains a need in the male dominated landscape. The number of research-based, creatively rich Sinhala and Tamil documentary has been slowly rising, but sustaining production interest still poses a challenge.

More about the films

Pettai Kozhi Koovi (The Hen that Crows) – by Navayuga Kugarajah (Sri Lanka)

Poorvika is a woman from the traditional Tamil community with a dream of working as an actor. When her former partner releases nude content of her, she fears for her future. But with a strong will and entrepreneurship, she kickstarts a new life and inspires other women to do the same. She shares good, practical advice for women who experience online harassment and revenge porn, and encourages them to believe in themselves and their possibilities.

The film has won awards at two short film festivals, one of them being the Golden Leaf International Film Festival based out of India for Best Documentary Short Film. Additionally, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs in Sri Lanka has asked if the film could be translated into Singala to reach a broader audience.

Watch it on IMS’ Youtube channel: Pettai Kozhi Koovi (The Hen that Crows) – YouTube

Rita: Nothing Is Impossible – by Niroshi Ekanayake (Sri Lanka) 

This is the story of 49-year-old Rita, who was born with one hand, started life without any property or wealth, and raises a young child on her own after her husband has left her for another woman. When Covid-19 hits, Rita has to take action for her own and her child’s sake. But Rita refuses to give up or let herself be defined by her challenges, and her hard work and entrepreneurship inspires the women around her.

Watch it on IMS’ Youtube channel: Rita – Nothing Is Impossible – YouTube

Kumudini – by Umali Thilakarathna 

The singer Kumudini David was abused as a child. As an adult, she teaches music as a way to heal. It is one of the coping mechanisms she has developed to overcome her traumas – forgiveness is another. This short documentary film is a moving portrait of her strength and her her work advocating for help for both paedophiles and survivors.

Watch it on IMS’ Youtube channel: Kumudini – YouTube

Grace – by Alyx Arumpac

Grace is a single mother of three. She has been the head of her family since her father and older brother died in a police operation. She lives in a poor urban community along the banks of Manila Bay. Grace is all about survival and persistence, and she finds many creative ways to make an income. Even as she has endured so much pain in her life, she manages to keep moving forward. 

Watch it on IMS’ Youtube channel: Grace – YouTube

PITIK Shirin Bhandari

In March 2020, Manila-based filmmaker Cha Escala returned to her hometown of Burauen, Leyte, just as Covid-19 started to shut down the Philippines. She was eight months pregnant and had more than a future baby in tow: She also has gathered a group of young students from her hometown. When Cha gives birth, she is not only a new mother, but a new entrepreneur as well, tying her future to a ragtag crew of young, first-time filmmakers.

Watch it on IMS’ Youtube channel: PITIK – YouTube

Soil, Fire, Data – Pia Duran

Soil, fire, and data come together in the journey of Joel and Henia Blunto, members of the T’boli indigenous community in the Philippines who lead Sesotunawa, the indigenous peoples’ enterprise. 

In the heart of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Mindanao, Joel and Henia Blunto are called “Tau Temwel” or brass-casters. Framed by verdant mountains and brown earth, their crafts – from bracelets, earrings, rings and home decor to windchimes and bells – are visible and accessible online to customers across the world. 

Watch it on IMS’ Youtube channel: Soil, Fire, Data by Pia Duran – YouTube