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Setting the stage - Sapna Moti Bhavnani on Wench Film Festival, India's first Horror and Sc-fi festival

Interviewed by Sakshi Jadhav (@_alleycatz)

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to speak with Sapna, the founder of Wench Film Festival. Before anything else, we need to mention how amazing it is to have spoken to someone who brings so much of themselves into their work! Wench comes off as a testament to exactly that trait that follows filmmakers from around the world portraying a bit of themselves on screen. Their 4th edition is happening from February 29th to March 3rd 2024 at Veda Factory, Mumbai.

Sapna, could you please take us through your personal journey in the industry, from your early experiences to becoming the founder of the Wench Film Festival? What were some key moments or milestones that shaped your career and led you to where you are today?

When I came back to India in 2022 the Hair profession chose me instead of the other way around and I happily submitted.  I think back then it was so rare to see a woman with a platinum blonde mohawk and tattoos that every magazine and newspaper covered me and I became a little popular.  My skill however is what kept me afloat not the fame and i think that of every profession.  Mad O Wot was instrumental in changing the way Indian youth looked at hair and in return, their attitude.  Yes i did work with a lot of celebrities and the longest one was MS Dhoni till the end of 2020.  I shut the salon and gave up hair to focus on other things like films and my film festival and my self-healing place in Kamshet called Purrom.  Wench Films, Wench Film Festival and Purrom were born of pure passion like Mad o Wot and I wouldn't have it any other way. I lead from the heart and stay till the love stays.  This is a motto for everything in my life.

People thought I would break into the film industry with ease since i worked with a lot of folks from it in my hair career but the truth is no one has helped and I am here on my own merit and skill (like it should be).  Unlike hair, when my main bread and butter were everyday folks, in film a name matters and breaking in the industry is beyond kissing a few asses :) (which is not in my nature) so I am doing it on my own terms - slow and steady and not settling! 

Sindhustan has won 11 awards and gone to 23 festivals and My Dog Is Sick even though I released it during covid was equally successful and my next feature Bearlike Man that I just finished writing has been getting some eyeballs already.

One of our favourite works of yours has to be (THE WOMAN WHO GETS MARRIED A MILLION TIMES) self-portraits, could you tell us a little bit about that?

This project was my favourite for a long time.  I was consumed by it and like most of everything I do , I was away ahead of my time.

Here is my intention behind it:

When you’ve already been married 3 times this whole theory of ‘till death do us part,’ goes for a toss.  Words like ‘forever’ , ‘infinite’ , ‘eternal’ , ‘permanent’ describe the ink on your body better than the human standing in front of you at the altar. 

Summer 2012 I took a solo European holiday. I had just broken up with a man I spent 3 years with marking it my longest relationship. Based on that I crowned him the love of my life.  I knew that record would probably never be broken again.

I was in Berlin when I saw this beautiful bridal gown in the window. Something about it really evoked me.  The vintage lace, the 15-foot trail, the 4-foot veil, there was a story in every detail even though it had never been worn.  I walked in and requested to try it on.  I was refused. The guy looked at my shaved head, ink, chub, and snubbed, “You’re getting married? Who the hell to? That dress is a size 6 and you look like a 12.” At least the myth that ‘this kinda shit would never happen in a hipster cool city like Berlin’ got shattered.  A 40-year-old, unmarried and childless woman was ‘loser’ material worldwide. 

That shop attendant had aroused the spinster in me.  I went to a thrift store close by and bought a used vintage gown for 10 bucks.  I was now determined to re-invent the notion of marriage as we knew it and instead of marrying just a human, I entered the sacred ritual with spaces and animals I felt love, respect, and commitment for. 

Poster for Wench Film Festival 2024

What challenges did you face in establishing the Wench Film Festival, and how did you overcome them?

Wench Film Festival has been a lot of hard work. It has taken me 3 years to get to where we are today - a kickass place. We are India's first horror film festival and with that comes a lot of pride but also fear - from sponsors as they have not seen the potential of genre in India like in the rest of the world. I am confident that in the next few years, we are gonna blow up ... in the best way possible. We have some big plans for 2024 and fingers crossed we will be on track. I am happy to have a good team including Vivek Rangachari who is heading Business Development and my mentor Uma daCunha as Artistic Director.

The only way to overcome anything is persistence. Know that giving up is not an option and don't expect anyone to just help! In all the industries I have worked in, the film industry is the most insecure in India. We hope that changes.

As the founder, what are some of the most rewarding aspects of organizing and running the Wench Film Festival for you?

Well, we successfully had a kickass 2023 edition which was our first physical edition.  I am strict, difficult, and hell-bent on my way when it comes to the festival as it's in its beginning stages and the foundation cannot be compromised :)

Can you describe a particularly memorable or impactful moment you've experienced while working on the Wench Film Festival?

You mean like doing the social media posts with copy, email marketing, website, films, panels, and everything on my own? lol ... It is a lot of work and every bit memorable! 

How do you see the role of the Wench Film Festival evolving in the future, and what are your aspirations for the festival moving forward?

We're gonna explode! I know this.  The spirits are high :)

Lastly, what message or advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs or individuals who wish to create platforms for underrepresented voices in the film industry?  




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