Skip to main content

IDA Logan Elevate 2023 Grantees at IDFA

IDA Logan Elevate 2023 Grantees at IDFA

Pallavi Somusetty, Arya Rothe, and Janay Boulos at IDFA in November 2023.

By Arya Rothe AND Janay Boulos AND Pallavi Somusetty

IDA’s Logan Elevate 2023 grantees attended one of the most celebrated gatherings of documentary filmmakers, producers, and enthusiasts from around the globe, IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam). This festival is known for pushing the boundaries of nonfiction storytelling, and it is seen as a melting pot of creativity, inspiration, and collaboration. This blog post aims to capture the essence of the cohort’s time at the festival, sharing the invaluable insights gained, connections forged, and the indelible impact of the IDA Logan Elevate Grant on our documentary filmmaking journey.

Join us as we reflect on the mesmerizing films, engaging discussions, and vibrant tapestry of perspectives that unfolded at IDFA, including some challenges that were present due to the ongoing war on Gaza that hovered like a dark cloud across all of the festival’s events.

We each had distinct projects at different stages during the festival, and our individual experiences and benefits varied. While some common experiences were shared, certain aspects specifically catered to our respective projects.

Arya Rothe: We participated in IDFA this year as a NoCut Film Collective with my partners Cristina Hanes (Romania) and Isabella Rinaldi (Italy). Our project is currently in the research and development phase, and our most significant gain stemmed from participating in the IDFA Forum. The forum stands as a premier platform for filmmakers worldwide. It serves as a hub where documentary filmmakers and industry specialists come together to explore diverse avenues for financing and creative collaborations through 7-minute-pitches. It stands as one of the most important platforms where filmmakers can connect with industry experts to map the future of their films. Engaging in the forum and attending the pitching sessions was invaluable—we could observe the projects that resonated with us and find out what worked in their pitch. It is essential to articulate a project concisely yet effectively within a short span. Attending the forum now was particularly beneficial as we plan to submit our film to the IDFA Forum in the future. It's inspiring to witness more developed projects while we're still in the research phase—it sparks new ideas and helps us chart a clear path for the future trajectory of our film.

Pallavi Somusetty: I experienced IDFA together with our film’s producer, Debra A. Wilson, as we sought support for our feature documentary in production that is very hyper-local to a community in our corner of the United States. After preparing months in advance with the generous and uplifting support of the IDA team, we arrived excited and curious about what would unfold. Watching forum projects as an Indian American was informative. I observed that the kinds of American stories that speak to European audiences focus on recent immigration stories. I sat through several pitches that dealt with familiar stories of underdog communities fighting for survival that resonated with me but also left me feeling that the oppression of others has been ignored, especially in these current times. Despite these complex feelings, I found attending and sharing our project in this privileged space essential. Though many industry colleagues were overscheduled with meetings, working with IDA, we were able to get meaningful facetime with so many folks. Each time we spoke with someone, we learned and relearned how to communicate our film to different audiences and found that our film’s universal themes resonated with our international colleagues. We are excited to follow up on all the seeds we planted at IDFA. We feel more empowered by the knowledge we gained and are grateful for the experience.

Janay Boulos: Attending IDFA this year was particularly special as I had two projects in different stages. One was at IDFA Project Space, where we pitched at the Academy event with Syrian filmmaker Abd al-Kader Habak. Moreover, it was a joy to attend IDFA to present a new project with producer Sonja Henrici, where we had several high-level meetings, all facilitated by our networking skills and the mention of the IDA Logan Elevate Grant. At IDFA, setting up meetings when you are not officially selected for the forum is tricky as people’s agendas get booked quickly, so we found that being flexible and able to shift our timings, meeting locations, and duration of meetings to suit decision-makers was the best way to talk to influential people in the industry. Being there with the team that included me, Abd al Kader Habak, who is directing the project with me, and our producer, Sonja Henrici, was significant as we could plan things together and simultaneously be present at different locations to maximize networking opportunities. For a project in development like ours, it was helpful to hear folks react to our concept. It helps us to know what’s working and what people are responding to. This experience will help as we continue to frame the project and begin production.

IDA Funds team convened a dinner party with outstanding industry professionals interested in learning more about us and our projects. The dinner party was an absolute highlight for each of us. Beyond the gracious hosts and delightful food, it presented a unique opportunity for us to network informally with individuals who could potentially become collaborators in our work. The casual setting allowed for meaningful connections that engage us with these individuals relationally rather than transactionally, which doesn’t always happen at markets.

This year’s IDFA required us to think and feel beyond the industry as artists. The ongoing war in Gaza also clouded it. As filmmakers, we firmly believe that documentary film festivals should serve as a space where many different viewpoints converge - encouraging resistance, embracing constructive criticism, and boldly advocating for human rights. They should embody spaces that encourage dialogue, champion diverse perspectives, and stand as voices for social justice. Our political stance found a vocal advocate in our IDA mentors, uniting us and instilling a sense of solidarity. Their support not only validated our position but also strengthened our bond as a collective.

Attending a festival under these circumstances reassured us that we belonged. IDA’s Logan Elevate cohort experience allowed us to support each other rather than compete with each other. As we develop our projects further, we have allies and a support network within the film industry. And that’s how we want to make films within the community.

Arya Rothe is an Indian filmmaker and a co-founder of NoCut Film Collective, established in 2016 by filmmakers Cristina Hanes (Romania), Isabella Rinaldi (Italy), and Arya Rothe (India) after their studies within the DocNomads program.

Janay Boulos is a Lebanese journalist and filmmaker. She graduated with a Master's degree in International Journalism from Brunel University.

Pallavi Somusetty is an Oakland-based filmmaker who creates documentary portraits centering BIPOC voices in the hope that we feel fully seen in the complexities of our identities and journeys.