“20 Weeks”Leena Pendharkar
is an award-winning writer and director working in film, television, and new media. Her first feature film, “Raspberry Magic
,” about a young girl’s connection to nature, screened in 25 film festivals. She recently wrote and directed the short film “Dandekar Makes a Sandwich,” which won the Grand Jury Prize for short filmmaking at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.
“20 Weeks” will premiere at the 2017 La Film Festival on June 19.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
LP: “20 Weeks” is an intimate drama about a couple who goes in for a routine scan during their pregnancy, and learns that the baby has a possible serious health condition. The film takes us through the ups, downs, highs, and lows as they navigate how they are going to handle the outcomes of this difficult situation. They are madly in love at the start of their relationship, but this situation causes them to face some very challenging realities.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
LP: I wanted to tell this story because this happened to me and my husband. At our 20-week scan, our daughter was diagnosed with a serious health complication. We didn’t tell anyone, even our families, that we were going through this, because it was just so hard to talk about and it felt like no one could really understand.
I think pregnancy and child birth are so complicated for women and men in this modern age, and I wanted to tell a story that could reach people and even start a conversation. This seems to be even more relevant under the current administration where women’s rights are being trampled on everyday.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
LP: I want them to watch the film and tell me what they think!
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
LP: Making a low-budget movie is challenging at every juncture. There is never enough resources or enough time to do everything you want to. We were very resourceful in finding what we needed, but it wasn’t easy. Filming around Los Angeles on a tiny budget is no joke, and no one really wants you there.
Someone called the cops on us in Echo Park
even though we had a permit to be there. Managing all of these nutty things and still making the best movie you can is not very easy! But I worked with an amazing team and we were able to stay positive and focused.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
LP: We did a bit of everything. We had some private equity investors, plus we did a small crowdfunding campaign, and we got a few grants, including the Panavision camera grant, which was amazing because we were able to get a beautiful camera package complete with Primo lenses that gave us the look we wanted.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at the Laff?
LP: It’s a dream come true! When I first moved to La over ten years ago, I would go out to the La Film Festival and watch as many films as I could, and go hear as many directors speak as I could. I found it all so inspiring and always thought it would be amazing to play in this festival.
I did two fellowship programs through the organization that sponsors the festival, Film Independent. I participated in their diversity program and their screenwriting lab, so it feels like I am coming full circle and feel really honored to be a part of it.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
LP: The best advice I received was to just go out and find a way to make films. Don’t wait for the right budget, or the right person to green light you — just find a way to do it, even if it’s on a shoestring budget or no budget.
The worst advice I received was that stories with women as the protagonist in the lead don’t sell, so write material for a male lead. This always seemed strange to me, since women watch movies.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
LP: Go out and make films! Find a way. Even if it’s making short pieces for no money, make a lot of those and get really good at your craft.
Find and collaborate with producers, actors, and other crew that you vibe with, and build a team that you love and just be prolific. In the end
, making work is what will move your life and career forward.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
LP: My favorite woman directed movie — and there are many — is “Fish Tank
” by Andrea Arnold
. There are so many reasons to love this movie. Her use of the subjective Pov in really bringing us into this girl’s world is incredible. The visual palette is raw and moody yet visceral and character-driven at the same time.
We see many stories of male angst that are complicated, but with female stories, they often revert to stories about sex and sexuality to fulfill the male gaze. But in “Fish Tank
,” she shows an angry young woman who is sexually innocent and confused, still a child even though she doesn’t seem it. It’s a very complex and earnest portrayal of a teen girl, which I love.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
LP: I’m optimistic, yes! The world of media is changing everyday with ground-breaking television and digital series.
More opportunities are happening for diverse voices. If the old guard of Hollywood doesn’t keep up, the film business as we know it will [be deemed] irrelevant. There is a demand and desire for more diverse voices, and I think the business has to keep up and fulfill that.
Laff 2017 Women Directors: Meet Leena Pendharkar
— “20 Weeks” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.