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Sunnylands and U.S. State Department foster international filmmaking at AFI-DOCS festival

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Some of the filmmakers were recent college grads with an eye toward affecting social change through documentary film. Others were already at work in the film industry with experience in producing, editing, and directing.

But all of them, a group of about 15 filmmakers from Pakistan who had gathered for a Sunnylands roundtable June 25 during the American Film Institute’s documentary film festival in Washington D.C., were eager to learn how they might generate a wider audience for their films, particularly in the West.

“This is an extraordinary treat,” said Catherine Collins of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department, which sponsored the artists’ visit to the United States. She said the four-hour gathering at the historic DACOR Bacon House was an opportunity for the group to “go a little deeper and see how we can promote and elevate all of your projects.”

The roundtable marked the third straight year that Sunnylands has promoted the art of filmmaking as part of the AFI-DOCS film festival. Along with an evening reception for filmmakers at Old Ebbitt Grill, a tavern just a block away from the White House, Sunnylands has convened a roundtable at DACOR Bacon each year to focus one aspect of the filmmaking industry. The first year was devoted to exploring issues that women filmmakers face. In the second year, garnering financial support for documentaries took center stage.

In 2016, the roundtable consisted of the Pakistani filmmakers who are attempting to gain a foothold in the industry and expose their work to Western viewers. The filmmakers heard from speakers such as Debra Zimmerman, executive director of the non-profit Women Make Movies, and Iram Parveen Bilal, a writer and director whose movies are attracting attention on the film festival circuit. Both speakers emphasized the importance of networking at festivals such as AFI-DOCS and of the persistence required to get films into the hands of those who can distribute them effectively.

“These kinds of discussions are critical to building international film communities, and Sunnylands has played such a vital role in connecting artists from around the world,” Collins said.

Speaking before the roundtable began, Sunnylands President Geoffrey Cowan (2010-2016) noted that Walter and Leonore Annenberg were lifelong proponents of the arts who regularly invited film legends to their winter estate in Rancho Mirage. Leonore Annenberg, he noted, was raised by her uncle, Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohn and his wife, Rose. “We think of Sunnylands as a place that carries on that film tradition,” Cowan said.

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