Alternativa Film Project Looks to Bolster Impactful Cinema, New Talent



Siberian-born entrepreneur Arsen Tomsky is not your typical tech mogul. The CEO of the California-based technology company inDrive got his start far from Silicon Valley, when he designed a ride-hailing app in his native Yakutsk to compete with the cartels that controlled the local taxi industry.

One decade later, Tomsky launched the Alternativa Film Project, a non-profit initiative aimed at supporting emerging filmmakers from under-developed regions, particularly countries struggling with inequality, human rights issues and other societal ills.

The first edition, which wrapped with an award ceremony on Dec. 2 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, cast a spotlight on the cinema of Central Asia, with Tomsky underscoring his hopes that the initiative will become a “nomadic event” that has an impact around the world, “especially in countries where a lot of social injustice exists.”

With a focus on the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Alternativa Film Project head Liza Surganova said the initiative was looking to address a “huge gap” in knowledge of a region that’s little-known in much of the world, even among devoted cinephiles looking for the next big discovery.

“What we are seeing right now is a young and very devoted and very talented generation of filmmakers who have fresh voices, who are not afraid to pick up difficult subjects,” she says. “We are trying to find and support those movies in order to spotlight that message, to enhance that message, to bring it to the world.”

Along with the awards, which included cash prizes totaling $100,000, the inaugural event hosted a Teen Lab bootcamp to cultivate young talent from the region, as well as an Impact Lab for working producers to help them create more impactful, sustainable and inclusive films.

Reflecting on the first year’s participants, Surganova says she was “really amazed” by the quality of the work they presented, noting that “many of those people have never had any film education — they are basically self-taught filmmakers.”

Additional events surrounding the Alternativa Film Project include public film screenings, networking events and pitching workshops, while the organizers also develop “edutainment” shorts for social media. According to Surganova, future editions could also feature a standalone film festival, masterclasses and a wider industry program to help boost capacity in not only Central Asia, but other underserved regions.

Despite the geographic focus of the first edition, a wide call was cast across the Asia-Pacific region, with organizers receiving 350 submissions from 25 countries. Among them was the documentary “No Winter Holidays” (pictured, top), from Nepalese directing duo Rajan Kathet and Sunir Pandey, which follows two lifelong rivals in a dying village who must forget their past to help each other survive a long and harsh winter.

Having premiered their film earlier this year at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the filmmakers are now eyeing a limited theatrical release next month in Nepal — no small feat in a country whose cinemas are dominated by Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters.

“We were really worried how we were going to do this, but I think this award will help us accomplish that,” says Kathet, describing the cash prize as a “blessing” as the duo prepare their promotional materials. Adds Pandey: “It’s nothing short of a miracle.”


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