Cary Sawhney is a well respected filmmaker, writer and producer. He moved to the UK from India at the tender age of three years old with his Indian father and English mother. Sawhney recalls his childhood, growing up as mixed race and gay in North London: “Having an Indian dad was not particularly glamorous in the more openly racist days when I was a schoolboy” However, Sawhney found solace in Bollywood films.
“I always had a connection to Indian cinema as a child, it was my connection to my homeland and I almost constructed my identity around what I saw in the films. We never went back to India when I was a child so I suppose it was the music, dancing and characters that gave me an idea of what India was like. I created a fantasy based on cinema, I had the ability to slip into a completely different world and it gave me a connection to a place I did not know.”
Sawhney’s passion for film continued into adulthood, with over 20 years experience in the film industry. He was the Head of Diversity at the BFI and during that time he created the UK’s largest Asian festival, ImagineAsia. He now works as a freelancer and organises three film festivals a year. He is also a South Asian Programme Adviser to the BFI London Film Festival.
Sawnhey explains that his career has been: “70% determination, 10% talent and the rest is luck”. He has written and directed three short films; Looking For You, Khaana and most recently A Secret of the Heart, which he might show at this year’s Brixton Reel Festival.
Sawhney explains that: “pursuing filmmaking full time can be difficult regardless of your racial identity”. Just 5.3% of the film production workforce, 3.4% of the film distribution workforce and 4.5% of the film exhibition workforce were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in 2012.
“When was the last time you saw an Asian actor/actress in a British film, playing a character that was not a token or some kind of terrorist?”
The next step Sawhney would like to take in his career is to produce and direct a feature length film. “People are nagging me to make my own feature film, but I need to make sure the story is right and comes from the heart. The script is the most important thing and working with great actors to convince the audience that this is reality. Feature films also take a lot of time and money and working on three film festivals a year can often be a challenge.”
Brixton Reel came to fruition in 2010 after Sawhney pitched the idea to Lambeth Council and was able to get funding for that year. The main aim of the festival is to showcase diverse films and filmmakers whilst promoting Five steps to wellbeing. Speaking on wellbeing Sawhney says: “Everyone has mental health and at different stages in life you face different things, whether it is good or bad.”
Sawhney has his fingers in several pies and it is evident that he is truly passionate about his work to strengthen the community, and have honest conversations about mental health and wellbeing through film festivals.