My thesis film: The Benefaction

"The Benefaction" will be my MFA thesis film.  20 years ago when I started teaching filmmaking in Bangalore, India, I never dreamed I'd be here 20 years later!  Despite fantastic reviews from students, colleagues and directors of institutions I worked with for 17 years in different cities in India, I was unable to teach in the US.  The US requires a terminal degree, like the  MFA (Master of Fine Arts), to teach college and university level students. Nearly three years ago, when I moved to the US at the age of 48, I decided I was not going to give up my reason for living, just because of US laws.  I enrolled in National University, Los Angeles, in their online MFA program in Digital Cinema.

Those of you who know me know I'm passionate about filmmaking! Ex-students have many memories of key phrases ... "don't drop the camera unless you're dead or dying", " if it's one minute late, it is late, and not acceptable" etc etc... Many of them kindly attribute their love for the medium to their years under my whip!

Studying after such a long gap has been fun, interesting, challenging; studying in a different culture has been enjoying and full of pitfalls!  Wrong interpretations, foot-in-mouth disease, different pronunciations, different connotations... all worth a story in themselves - another day.

When I got a 4.0 GPA in my first course, I was hooked!  Every other course was pursued with fanaticism... for the elusive Four point O GPA!!!  Two plus years later, and just my thesis film away from my prized MFA degree, I am happy to say I maintained my 4.0 GPA throughout the course.  I am one of the top 10 (soon-to-be) graduates of the program.  A professor has told me my work in certain areas has been the best in the history of the university.  I am one of the first two students (the other being my classmate) to complete the film in the shortest duration of time.  I don't think I studied harder in my life!  And enjoyed anything so much!

So here I am, one last month or so away from the completion of my film, and just three months away from earning this elusive degree.  I shot 'The Benefaction' in Bangalore, India between June 13 and June 18.  It is a bi-lingual film in Hindi and English.  It is the story of a lower middle class taxi driver, Rishi who is caught in the cross fire of his own beliefs and needs, as he struggles to save his daughter's life.  Rishi could easily be me.  Or you.  It is a film close to my heart.  It weaves in karma, a belief system, an estranged relationship between husband and wife that heals and sees new beginnings through their darkest moments.  It is a love story.  It is a story of hope.  It is a story of a father's desperation.  A father's love for his 7-year-old daughter who trusts him beyond belief.  It is a story you will love.

I completed the shooting of the film between June 13 and June 18, 2016 in Bangalore, India and am now more than halfway through the post production process.  The film will go through the thesis cycle at my university; I will defend my thesis and get my MFA degree in January 2017.  I then aim to send 'The Benefaction' to film festivals in both India and the US over 2017.

My efforts have being supported by a core team of ex-students, now professionals with many years of experience, who have come together to offer 'gurudakshina' to  "Nikhat Ma'am" to make her film.  With the help of two commercial sponsors and a college in Bangalore, and about 40 people who had faith in me and have already donated through this platform, I was able to cover the costs of my equipment, lights and sound departments.  As I moved forward into post-production, I was told that I was working with footage that had the potential to go places! I am humbled by this opinion from senior filmmakers/professors in the industry. I know if my film is to be of international standards, my post must be of international quality.  For this I need your help. 

I've worked tirelessly on this project the past year, developing the story, screenplay and the production basis. The initial $3000 helped me cover the production costs. I'm past the Director's Cut stage now and am now raising money for the final post-production processes of the film. This includes sound design, composing music, color correction, final mastering and making a DVD for sending to festivals. I have managed to raise upwards of USD 4,000 through this platform. I am now trying to raise USD 1,500 (approx Rs. 1,10,000) more, in addition to the USD 3,500 I have personally invested in my film. This last amount will go towards paying my core team the bare minimum that might be considered decent. They don't expect it. They have never asked for it. Not once. They even refuse to let me pay them some of the costs incurred. But they deserve it. Like no other team deserves it. I hope to channel this last part of the fund towards them as a token of appreciation for owning the film.

To follow the film through it's production, please look at the Facebook Page

So far, my faculty have liked the film very much and I quote from their comments:

From Christopher Rossiter, the Production faculty (ever so meticulous) "In the history of National University, there hasn't been such a complete production book.  You have everything there, and it's easy to find."

From Sara Montgomery, the Editing faculty (has been on the jury of Cannes Film festival): "This is a WONDERFUL story, Nikki, truly. I think you have done an excellent job establishing the characters, obstacles and objectives, and dramatic action. I love moral dilemma stories and this one is beautifully crafted. "

Alyn Warren, my lead faculty, has written in his recommendation letter, “ I consider Ms. Powell an exemplary faculty candidate, matched by the best MFA graduate fellows in the last ten years of the program.  I offer you my unqualified personal and professional recommendation of Ms. Powell for a teaching position in the next semester.  I am confident that her breadth of experience and passion for filmmaking would be a valuable asset to your department and students.”

If you are in a position to support this venture of mine in any way, please do.  Your donation will be used  towards the post-production costs of the film, and whatever is left will be divided between the key people in my team who didn't get any pay (the producer and assistant editor are still working with me, while the 1st Assistant Director's work is done,  the Music composer/ Sound Designer and a colorist are now on board).

Any and all amounts are welcome.  However, sponsors donating  $101 and above will  receive a DVD of the film with  "The unique Benefaction doodle" .

 "The unique Benefaction doodle” products are specially designed by Artist Rahil at  "Doodlebawa". 

"The Benefaction" will be my MFA thesis film.   But more than that, it will always be a testimony to what faith, support, strength, belief, and a team can do together, and will always be close to my heart.



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Nikhat Aslam Powell 
Missouri, MO
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