*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, May 14, 2017.*
“At Luminoustudios, we’re very passionate about shattering the glass ceiling and giving more opportunity to women in the film industry.”
Meet Reema Dutt, one-half of the powerhouse Desi duo behind all-woman-helmed independent production company Luminousstudios. She drinks her coffee black like Special Agent Dale Cooper, and she’s here to develop and produce “original films that educate, inspire and share stories across cultures.” From promos, trailers, short and feature-length films, Dutt, her co-founder Sania Jhankar, and their team are creating beautiful and unique visual media that reflect their diverse backgrounds and creativity in an industry that is overwhelmingly controlled by white men.
Wear Your Voice: How did you end up in film?
Reema Dutt: The entertainment industry always resonated with me, mainly because I was compelled by the visual form. There was this certain universality in filmmaking — whether you knew a language or not, you could still take something away from a piece. And its power to evoke and elicit emotion always amazed me, whether good or bad!
I never formally studied film — I was an economics and broadcast journalism major at NYU. But, fortunately enough, I met my co-founder and directing partner Sania [Jhankar] at NYU. She was in the film program and I was always fascinated by what a direct and confident path she took in the field. She encouraged me to produce her student films during college, even when I had zero knowledge on how to do it. I realized I love being a creative producer! I loved seeing a project from beginning to end.
WYV: What prompted you to start your own production company and how long did it take? What kinds of films and projects are your favorites to work on?
RD: Our current company, Luminoustudios, is about two years old now. It came to be after we realized the shift in the industry in terms of new media and digital videos. We realized there’s an appetite for short-form content and we zeroed in on startup stories, because we had the right resources and skills to show younger companies how they could leverage video content without breaking the bank. We also wanted to tell more stories, more often!
Our favorite content — whether film or video — is projects that are narrative-driven and compelling. We like our viewers to engage with our content because they enjoy what they’re watching and because it forces them to think. We like to tell stories driven by people, characters, humans, etc. and we always like to have some sort of takeaway or message or to elicit an emotion.
WYV: How does your Desi identity shape your work? How would you describe your filmmaking and production style(s)?
RD: I think since Sania and I are both of Indian origin, though I’m born in America and she’s born in India, we at times don’t realize how it impacts our work. But the truth is, it does. We’re definitely more aware of telling global and culturally sound stories. It’s almost a priority for us.
One of our most exciting film projects that is in development right now, KULFI, really rings true to this notion. It’s the story of three characters who live in separate continents, experience different cultures, but find similarities in their struggle to survive. The idea being that experiences and background can be different, but there are certain things that happen to all of us that impact us deeply in a profound and relatable way, no matter where we come from.
WYV: Your production company foundation is all Asian women. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about? By accident or by design?
RD: We’re very passionate about shattering the glass ceiling and giving more opportunity to women in this industry. We try our best to keep this in mind with Luminoustudios as much as we can and we do believe we have a responsibility in our positions now to make things better. I’d say we’ve experienced more gender bias in the business than racial bias, so that became a focus as time went on. Initially, it was never an intention, it was just sort of happening by accident, happy accident!
WYV: Do you have any advice for young women of color who want to break into the behind-the-camera side of the film industry?
RD: Things you hear aren’t always right. For the amount of people you meet that bring you down or discourage you or treat you in an unfair and unequal way, I promise you, there are double the amount, whether male or female, rooting for you. Pay attention to those voices.
I believe perseverance in the passionate pursuit of anything is the most important. And to persevere you have to innovate.
But I think it’s especially important for women, and then minority women, to be acutely aware of this — because it’s easy to get bogged down and it’s easy to presume or get upset from presumptions. So be tenacious. Be mindful. Be bold. Be confident. And just keep going.
And specifically for film, keep making stuff, and keep making better stuff, stuff that matters to you and stuff that represents your style and perspective. You need that one person to take a chance on you in this business, because the film world is small, so once you’re in, you’ll definitely be able to carve a spot for yourself if you’re doing good work.