Programmer Profiles is a brand new blog series that brings you into the life of our esteemed programmers. Through this series you will gain insight into the lives of the hardworking people who spend their days hunting the latest and greatest film releases. They are our tastemakers and curatorial geniuses, and they all have a story to tell.
We open the series with our World Cinema Features Programmer Sachin Gandhi. With his vibrant and whole-hearted passion for international cinema, Sachin's story offers an insight into his journey from commercial cinema into "the larger and rich cinematic world" of the Calgary International Film Festival.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Calgary and this is where I started writing film reviews, film criticism and screenplays back in 2000. I was always an avid film lover and my published film reviews in 2001 put me in touch with a few professional critics and editors who offered valuable feedback. Based on their input, I increased my film education by studying film, taking filmmaking courses (cinematography, editing, sound) and improving my overall knowledge of film techniques and film criticism.
My articles on ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ and ‘Film Noir’ allowed me to become a previewer for Calgary International Film Festival in 2004 and I assisted in various programming capacities until 2014, including co-curating the 2006 Spotlight on India and being a programming consultant on Latin/Asian films in 2006/07 and Mavericks selections in 2009/10. After a programming position opened at Calgary International Film Festival in 2015, I applied and was hired into my current position as a Features Programmer in World Cinema.
What's a film that changed your life?
Seeing the Japanese film SHALL WE DANCE in 1997 at the Plaza altered my film viewing habits in a drastic way. Prior to seeing that film, I only used to see Bollywood and Hollywood films and my writing was informed by commercial cinema. However, that beautiful Japanese film drove me to seek out other international cinema and changed my perception about World Cinema. I still see a few Bollywood and Hollywood films but I mostly view works of World Cinema which likely won’t be shown at a multiplex anytime soon.
Working in the arts is a labour of love. What makes it all worth it?
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus ponders whether life is worth living. In one section, he talks about art and quotes Nietzsche who said “Art and nothing but art, we have art in order not to die of the truth.”
I like to believe that art, in whatever form, nourishes our soul. It holds a mirror to our society and can also liberate us from the shackles of our society. We need art to bring colour to our lives otherwise our lives would forever descend into shades of grey. When it comes to film, my above example helps solidify that belief. I once lived solely in the confines of commercial cinema, oblivious to the larger and rich cinematic world around me. But a foreign film opened the door and now I can’t go back. If one more person is impacted like I was with a film we show at Calgary International Film Festival and that person is willing to discover the rich cinematic world out there, then my job will be done.
What do you do when you’re not watching movies?
My day job as a computer engineer is rewarding and challenging. However, despite my time constraints, I love spending time with my family, including my two lovely daughters who mean the world to me. We all love to travel as well and my family shows tremendous patience as I manage to turn our family vacations into international film festival trips or hunting for the best coffee and beer from around the world.
What’s the strangest/most interesting/funny/moving thing that’s ever happened to you on the job?
After spending almost the entire night working in the office, I was driving back home early in the morning when it started snowing. The roads were deserted and I thought I saw movement on the corner of the road. I stopped. It looked to be a coyote crossing the street. It paused to turn its head to directly look at me for what felt an eternity. Then it continued on its way.
This incident reminded me of the coyote in the movie COLLATERAL which crosses the road although unlike the movie, in my case, the coyote’s eyes did not shine. I had seen the movie a few months prior to this happening. This is why I still question if this really happened. I was tired and I was operating on no sleep and it was snowing. I drove the rest of the way in silence and very slowly. I have still not seen a coyote in Calgary since that night.
What’s your number one piece of advice for filmmakers trying to get into the festival? What makes a film stand out?
It may sound cliched but originality and a unique filmmaking voice still stand out. It is always exciting to discover a film where the director has offered a new way to interpret events or an exciting new approach to telling a familiar story.
How many films do you watch each year (or per day) to select your lineup?
I watch anywhere from 250 - 300 movies a year to select my lineup. My daily viewing fluctuates anywhere from 1-4 movies as I am mindful of keeping each day’s viewing down to a reasonable amount. I once saw 10 movies in a single day, a feat that left me with a pounding headache and one I have no desire of repeating anytime soon.
What’s your film-watching routine?
Watching movies on a laptop is becoming the norm for me although it used to be TVs until the last few years. I still use a TV occasionally now. I either hook up my laptop to a TV or use a projector to project the movie on a screen/wall. My bluetooth speakers allow me to create a better film viewing experience in conjunction with the projector.
I never eat while watching movies as I like to immerse myself in the experience. I sometimes have coffee but that’s it. Until few years ago, I only saw films at night time after the kids were asleep. Since last year, I have started to see films at day time on the weekends and even evenings. I am starting to move away from late night movie-watching.
Any hints on what we can expect from your programming selections at this year’s fest?
This year’s Contemporary World series lineup is very exciting in two aspects. Like last year, there are a few new countries that my programming selections will cover. In addition, there are a few World films that reflect current global issues around cultural, economic and political sentiments. However, the depiction of these issues is not in isolation but instead has implications for us in Canada and our North American neighbours.
What is your advice for aspiring programmers?
Film programmers need to be aware of film history. This means, they should try to see films from as many decades as possible. Film history is not only important from a cultural and societal aspect but also from gaining an insight into film making techniques and the evolution of our cinematic style. I have met programmers who still lament that cinema died in the late 1960s while some refuse to acknowledge films older than the last few decades. Neither view is healthy and sticking to it creates an unbalanced take on cinema.
In addition, film programmers need to be open to all genres of cinema. I like to believe a good film can come from any country in the world and be of any genre. If one is only inclined to a narrow view of cinema, then one could miss out on some worthy works.
Tune in to our Facebook Live on Wednesday, August 2 at 11 am, where Sachin will be joined by Programming Manager Brenda Lieberman and Executive Director Steve Schroeder for our first wave film announcement. Find out which films Sachin is looking forward to bringing to Calgary audiences at this year's festival!