Leena Pendharkar has been making films for over 10 years, striking a balance between teaching, doing client-based work, running her own company, Spicy Mango Productions, as well as working on her own creative projects. She recently received the Tribeca All Access Grant to do just that, explaining that she makes more mainstream content to reach a wider audience, but she makes indie films to stay creative and sane.
“I think the biggest, toughest thing in any creative field – filmmaking, writing, painting – is being true to your own voice as a creator.”
Pendharkar earned her Master’s degree in documentary film production from the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, but says she has always written fiction. She found the socially-conscious journalism mindset to be a great place to start, but comedy really allowed her to speak out about political issues and use humor in a powerful way. Her web series, So Natural, critiques topics like hardcore parenting styles, and isn’t afraid of discussing things like women’s’ health. She says that it’s hard to find female directors who stand out, and looks up to Indian directors like Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.
Pendharkar offers a word of advice for aspiring filmmakers: “Be prolific and make as many films as you can.” Her debut feature film, Raspberry Magic, was screened at over 20 film festivals, and received the Audience Award at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. Recently, she has been actively distributing films via YouTube and other Internet based platforms to reach wider audiences. She also has a strong social media presence, viewing it as a great way to get her work out there.
Five years ago, she says people had a more passive take on filmmaking: get an agent and wait for the pay day when you sell the big script. Now, she says that a lot of artists are taking their careers into their own hands on the web and crowdfunding their films. “With social media, you can have a presence, a personality, a career, without really waiting around for an agent.” Social media has become part of the process.
While she humbly states that she is not a brand manager, she actively makes those connections that make her productions a reality. Designers give her dresses for the actresses in So Natural to flaunt, and she holds contests and head-turning give-aways to get viewers involved. “I would like to take that to the next level.” While she hopes to get another feature film off the ground soon, she says her ideal work situation would be making compelling, interesting and profitable web series.