The fact that Sasha Rainbow's short film "Kamali", about the life of India's skateboarding star Kamali Moorthy, has qualified for Oscars 2020, is an "unbelievable milestone" for the London-based director.
Sasha says Kamali's story represents an "incredible moment in India", and she wishes to enter the final race for the Academy Award next year.
"Kamali" narrates the story of how single mother Suganthi fought against all odds to raise her nine-year-old daughter Kamali so she can become a skateboarder. The film had its US premiere at the Academy Award-qualifying Atlanta Film Festival, where it screened as part of the Transient Youth programme and won Best Short Documentary.
Shot in the coastal town of Mahabalipuram, the over 23-minute film is a tale of determination, hope, passion, dreams and breaking away from the gender struggles.
"Even qualifying for the Oscars is an unbelievable milestone and we have high hopes to make it into the final selection. Coming this far has been an amazing journey and I'm feeling so proud of everyone involved already," Sasha told IANS over an email.
"We are already starting to feel the positive effects of making space for diverse stories. Kamali's story represents an incredible moment in India and shows how massive change can start with just one person. I believe Kamali's mother Suganthi and others like her are heroes who should be celebrated for her bravery. I believe skateboarding is a symbol of going against the grain, standing boldly in front of society and taking ownership of one's life," she added.
Sasha, who won Best Director at the Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival for "Kamali", has worked across multiple disciplines. She believes storytelling can spotlight communities to showcase role models, and she focuses on films that highlight social causes.
The director was in India to direct Wild Beasts' single "Alpha Female" when she stumbled upon Kamali's story.
"The documentary 'Kamali' came about when I flew to India for the first time to film a music video for British band Wild Beasts. It was a song called 'Alpha Female' and I had proposed filming Indian girls skateboarding as the theme for the video.
"I had seen a photo of Kamali skating barefoot down a ramp and knew she had to be part of the video. Little did I know that it would be her and her mother Suganthi's first trip out of their fishing village. When Kamali arrived at the skatepark, her eyes lit up as she had never seen such a big skatepark.
"Her energy was magical. Kamali and her mother stayed with me and the crew, and speaking with her really opened my mind to what dedication and bravery women take to break the cycle of tradition and repression. Their story needed to be shared, because Kamali is the prime example of a little girl being given the freedom to be herself, and what a delight it is to see."
She says language was a barrier, but "not understanding everything helped us to focus on the depth of Kamali's relationship with her family".
Looking back at making the film, the New Zealand-born filmmaker said: "It was a completely independent production, so it took a very small team of us with the passion and belief in the project to make the film and turn it into a reality."
Has the story of Kamali and Suganthi influenced you as a filmmaker?
"Suganthi said that many people judge her for letting her daughter skateboard. They ask her what will happen if Kamali falls and hurts herself. They warn her she could be risking Kamali's potential to marry. I remember being so impressed because she had decided after seeing the Paralympics that even losing limbs doesn't stop people who are driven... That Kamali should follow her passion and be allowed to play as the boys do.
"That was really when I realised the power of positive storytelling. Suganthi is a woman with amazing spirit and ability to draw positive lessons from life. She's my hero."
Now, she wants to take the story to the "mothers and children in India", as she said: "I'm sure Suganthi and Kamali will be positive role models for anyone else going through abuse or oppression because of their gender".