In the last couple years, the entertainment industry has shifted its focus to a global audience and global representation. 45% of Netflix’s content is forgein and breaking records across the board. Squid Game, the South Korean drama that took the world by storm, became Netflix’s most-watched show days after premiering. But even with Netflix and other streaming giants distributing more non-english content, some filmmakers have opted-out of traditional streaming platforms and created their own platforms like Shasha, an independent streaming service for South-West Asian and North African (SWANA) cinema.
NYFA Documentary alum Aya Hamdan, a Palestinian-American producer, has taken it in another direction – she has started her own production company, 10 MILS. A company through which Hamdan collaborates with SWANA and BIPOC writers and directors to produce short films. The company’s most recent film Dress Up screened at the 2022 The Future of Film is Female screening at the MoMA.
Hamdan spoke with NYFA about representation, her artistic inspirations and building her own production company.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): There’s been a revolution in SWANA streaming and art distribution, what do you attribute this to? How does it feel to be a part of this wave of filmmakers, artists?
Aya Hamdan (AH): I think overall, the market has had an appetite for a global perspective. Especially after a foreign film, Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE, won the Oscar for Best Picture. TV shows like A24’s Ramy, Marvel’s Moon Knight (Directed by NYFA Screenwriting alum Mohamed Diab) featuring the first Egyptian woman superhero Layla El-Faouly, played by May Calamawy and Netflix productions coming out of Jordan, like AlRawabi School for Girls, are setting a precedent that there is a space and market for our stories not only in the SWANA region, but in the United States and globally.
Poster for AlRawabi School for Girls courtesy of Netflix
NYFA: What are some of your artistic inspirations?
AH: Seeing Nadine Labaki’s work as a director and actor was the biggest inspiration for me growing up. Specifically, her film Where Do We Go Now? Seeing another Arab woman creating beautiful films was really the moment I realized, “I can do this too.”
NYFA: What do you hope people take with them after seeing Dress Up?
AH: The logline for Dress Up is: On the eve of her sister’s wedding, Karina brings her “best friend” home to meet the family. In the face of familial expectations her anxieties begin to unravel. Dress Up is a story about hiding under a facade in front of family, a dynamic I believe many can relate to, but it also shows the love and acceptance one finds in their family and community. It’s a story about family, love and some of the anxieties that come with familial expectations.
Still from Dress Up courtesy of 10 MILS
NYFA: What was your experience working on Dress Up?
AH: This was a very intimate and personal story. Writer/director and Sundance Ignite fellow Karina Dandashi starred in the film alongside her real life sister Nadia Dandashi. Her home videos are also incorporated into the film. So it was very important to create a set environment that was safe and familial. We brought together a team of SWANA, BIPOC and queer collaborators that really brought their entire selves to set and created the safe space to tell this story.
NYFA: How has your business background and NYFA experience led you to your current position? In what ways have the two helped you?
AH: My business background has definitely helped me make important strategic decisions as a producer and make the most out of our low budgets. Putting our money in the right places to get that high production value and finding the right collaborators who are in it with you for the right reasons is key.
NYFA’s documentary program and making my documentary films from start to finish really gave me the foundation and skill set needed to collaborate with all the people that help make a film. Mentors from NYFA, like producer Tracie Holder are an incredible inspiration.
NYFA: What has your artistic journey been like?
AH: The community we built around the making of these films. Creating and sharing our stories together has really been the best part of this journey.
It’s important to call out that making short films isn’t easy. We are mostly all balancing making films and working full time jobs that feed our creative work. So that has been a balance. I continue to learn how to manage this balance and it’s worth it.
Aya Hamdan on the set of Cousins
NYFA: What has been your favorite project to work on?
AH: I don’t think I can choose a favorite. They will each have a special place and with each short film I get to learn so much from the experience and my collaborators. With each project, I see myself growing as an independent Producer. But so far there are two short films that I am very excited about. We are at the tail end of post-production and aiming for the 2023 film festival run.
Cousins written and directed by Karina Dandashi (Sundance Ignite Fellow) About two cousins, born in separate countries who reunite in Brooklyn when a run-in with an ex turns the night into a mission of revenge. COUSINS explores cultural disconnect between family members and identity within oneself.
Sweet Refuge written and directed by Maryam Mir and starring Laith Nakli (Ramy) About a Syrian baker who spends his first Eid in the US attempting to sell the sweets he has spent his lifetime perfecting: walnut baklava. This heartfelt comedy is a story of immigrants, food, and unexpected connections.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on right now?
AH: I am in pre-production for another beautiful short film and story written by Diana Gonzalez-Morett and directed by Akilah Walker. I’m excited to join these incredible filmmakers and support bringing this story to the screen.
I am in early development for a feature script, Out of Water, written by Karina Dandashi. A coming of age story about an Arab-American woman set in Pittsburgh. The themes in this film are based on our short film Dress Up and Karina’s first short film, Short Shorts. We are also collaborating on and in early development for a TV/Pilot based on the characters in Cousins.
NYFA: How did 10 MILS come to life? What was the process of building this production company?
AH: I established my LLC,10 MILS right after my program at nyfa and I now produce all my short films through my LLC. Not only for Business, finance and legal purposes, but really also to have one platform to promote and talk about the films and stories I choose to support. Every story and writer/director I choose to collaborate with is very intentional. It’s always stories and people I connect with who I want to support as a producer.
New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA Documentary Alum Aya Hamdan for all of her hard work and success!