CityU filmmaker wins Michael Moore Best Documentary at US film festival

Michael Gibb

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Ms Sheetal Agarwal, an MFA graduate from the School of Creative Media (SCM) at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has beaten off stiff competition to win the prestigious Michael Moore Award Best Documentary Film at the 44th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) last month.

CityU is dedicated to encouraging its creative media students to showcase their talent in international film festivals. AAFF is one of the most established and prestigious film festivals in North America that focuses especially on independent, experimental, and documentary work.

Sheetal’s award-winning film, Ordinary Lives, caught the attention of the judges with its exploration of the social, cultural, infrastructure and political issues that affect the lives of a family of ten living in a slum in Mumbai.

“This award has given me a lot more motivation to continue working in this field because my film has been appreciated by such a diverse audience,” Sheetal said.

The award is all the more noteworthy because it is named after Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and best-selling author. He shot Fahrenheit 9/11, the highest-grossing documentary film of all time. His other credits include Bowling for Columbine and Roger and Me. The proceeds of the latter fund the documentary award at AAFF.

Ordinary Lives also won the Best Documentary KODAK Award ­Student Competition at the 20th Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in November 2005, and it has screened at many international festivals in the past few months, underscoring that this is an exceptional film by an exceptional filmmaker.

Sheetal thanked everyone at the SCM for their help and encouragement, including Dr Louisa Wei, an assistant professor in SCM and Sheetal’s principal adviser; the noted local filmmaker Mr Patrick Tam, an assistant professor in SCM and an advisor on Sheetal’s film; and Dr Steve Fore, an associate professor in SCM and programme leader for the MFA programme which Sheetal took.

Dr Fore spoke of Sheetal’s skill as a documentary producer. “She has this uncanny ability to get the subjects of her films to open up to her, to speak freely and honestly. And that leads to moments of genuine insight into the lives of these people,” he said.

Mr Tam said in her film Sheetal gave a personal and humanistic touch to an
exotic subject matter. “She possesses good visual sense in capturing her
subjects and reveals her respect and compassion for them through her lens,” he said.

Sheetal added: “The editing and the post-production process would have been impossible without Patrick Tam's guidance.”

Ordinary Lives is being distributed worldwide by Documentary Educational Resources. For more information, please visit www.der.org/films/ordinary-lives.html

Sheetal graduated with a first-class honours degree in commerce from K C College, Mumbai, and a diploma in commercial art from Nirmala Niketan Arts College, Mumbai, before joining the SCM’s graduate programme.

International screenings for Ordinary Lives:


India International Women's Film Festival, 2005
Golden Lion International Film Festival, 2005
Delray Beach Film Festival, 2006
Washington DC Independent Film Festival, 2006
Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Images of the 21st Century, 2006
Sweet Auburn International Film Festival, Atlanta, Georgia, 2006
San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, 2006
Vibgyor Short and Documentary Film Festival, India 2006
Sehsüchte, Germany 2006

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