By Mara Keen
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jaya Mahajan! Originally from Mumbai, India, Jaya is a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel.
She spent the initial part of her career as a business reporter and producer with CNBC and Bloomberg. More recently, she has been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore.
Jaya recently moved to New York and is looking forward to focusing on projects that highlight and amplify traditionally underrepresented, diverse, and marginalized voices.
Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I am a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel. For the last decade I have been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore. I recently moved to New York and I am looking forward to collaborating with fellow creatives as I embark on the next phase of my career.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I would like to meet other fellow New York-based producers, scriptwriters, and directors to know more about their journeys and filmmaking experiences.
As of today, what are some of your career highlights?
One of the most ambitious projects I worked on was a 13-part documentary series that looked at different events through the history of SouthEast Asia. The series proved to me the importance of collaborations in the world of filmmaking. One can choose to make a documentary and it can be watched by a limited number of people. But for scale, a wider audience and better budgets, one needs the winning formula – a perfect combination of creativity and business acumen.
The 13 films I produced managed to sweep all the regional awards while competing with international broadcasters. We also created fiction miniseries out of each of the documentary episodes, giving them a broader appeal among non-documentary watchers. The films went on to be aired on History Channel and worked across a pan-Asia audience.
I see that you have traveled all around the world to produce factual projects. What inspired you to do this?
Ever since I started my career in documentary filmmaking and journalism, I have had the opportunity to tell stories that have taken me to different countries. In the initial years it was travel and food shows – a genre that took me around the world – but over the years I have lived in different countries and embraced new cultures.
Mira Nair recently told me, “I have strong roots and hence I can fly.” I love that quote and I relate to it and would like to embrace it on my journey.
How does your combined experience in journalism and in strategy and business development influence your work as a producer?
No creative project can be a standalone one-person project. My foundation lies in journalism, and I have always had a passion for real life stories. Strategy, business development, and a financial acumen are skill sets I have picked up through my years in producing different kinds of projects and they are the key differentiators that can make a creative project into a profitable venture.
What’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
I am developing a project that looks at stories of immigrants. It is in the early stages of development.
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jasmine Yeshan Zhang! Jasmine Yeshan Zhang was born and raised in Xinjiang, China and is now based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at School of Visual Arts in 2021. During her studies at SVA, she expanded her interests on making documentary films. She has been working as an Assistant Editor for documentaries since graduation and is currently working on an archival-heavy doc-series. She is always looking for more opportunities for documentary/film editing. Jasmine spoke to us about how her upbringing influenced her interest in other cultures, her transition from still photography to video, and what she hopes to achieve next.READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2. She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year. Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally on Apple TV. Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Myra Velasquez! Myra Velasquez is an indie filmmaker and playwright whose films have been screened across the country and abroad. Some of her awards include the Lawrence Kasdan Narrative Film Award, the Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, the BIFF Golden Honu Audience Choice for Best Short, the HIFF Gold Kahuna, and the BIFF Family Favorites. She has also been a finalist for the Sundance Lab, the BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award, the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Big Apple Screenplay Competition, and a Cinequest Short Screenplay semi-finalist, among other notable mentions. Myra spoke to us about her latest audio drama, the best (and worst) advice she’s received, and what she hopes audiences will take away from her work.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Kilara Sen! Kilara is a Japanese female stand-up comedian and actor, moving to New York this summer. Kilara currently is hosting "Japanese Whisky Lockdown" and "Japanese Whisky World" on Dekanta TV. She also appeared on international TV such as Asia's Got Talent, Paul Hollywood Eats Japan, and Welcome to the Railworld. Kilara is gender non-conforming (she/they), a "hikikomori" survivor (a form of severe social withdrawal), and had a wonderful year at Historically Black Colleges. Based on her experiences, she shares her strong and funny voice on mental health, feminism, and diversity. She believes that everyone should be as special and unique as a unicorn. Also, she is the voice breaking stereotypes of Japanese women: the New Pink. Kilara thinks of herself as a Pink Unicorn. Kilara spoke to us about breaking down stereotypes, community support, and finding liberation through comedy.READ MORE