TIFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Geeta Gandbhir and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – ‘A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers’

nullFilmmaker/editor Geeta Gandbhir (“When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts”) is a two-time Emmy winner. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (“Saving Grace") is an Academy Award- and Emmy-winning filmmaker. (Press materials)

"A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers" will premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 11. 

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

GG and SOC: The film follows a unit of 140 women who, between June 2013 and July 2014, travel far from their families, friends and all that is familiar at home in Bangladesh to join the United Nations Stabilizing Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). They form one of the world’s first all-female, predominantly Muslim peacekeeping units, shattering every stereotype the world holds about the capabilities of Muslim women.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

GG and SOC: We wanted to make a film about Muslim women who defy stereotypes. The Bangladeshi women who travel overseas to be part of the UN Peacekeeping force do just that. They come from small towns and cities and leave behind families, which often include young children, to travel half-way across the world to serve. These brave women and their stories is just what the world needs to see and hear.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

GG and SOC: This was a mammoth project involving two countries thousands of miles apart! At one point, we had four crews filming. There were language barriers and, of course, as with any verite film, things were unpredictable on the ground, so we had to make sure we spent a lot of time with the women — otherwise we would have missed the key moments in the film.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

GG and SOC: We want people to leave the theater knowing that female peacekeepers add a new dimension to peacekeeping and that Muslim women can serve on the frontlines just as effectively as others.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

GG and SOC: Persistence is key. Do not take "no" for an answer from anyone — be it in regards to access, funding, anything!

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

GG and SOC: The biggest misconception is that our films only explore topics that shed a negative light on issues. As filmmakers, we want to start difficult conversations about issues because we want to initiate a discourse that effects change.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

GG and SOC: A combination of important grants and amazing, generous executive producers made our film possible. We started with an "I Believe In You" grant from Chicken and Egg and went from there. Funding was a piecemeal process, but we owe much to all the incredible foundations (Women Make Movies, Ford, MacArthur, Tribeca/Gucci) that believed in our vision.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

GG and SOC: This is impossible to answer: There are so many! Our favorites include "The Piano" by Jane Campion, "Earth" by Deepa Mehta, "Pariah" by Dee Rees and "Winter’s Bone" by Debra Granik.