Helmer's Maisha program to benefit East Africans, South Asians

Mira Nair, helmer of “Monsoon Wedding,” “Hysterical Blindness,” and “Salaam Bombay,” has launched a film lab, dubbed Maisha, for screenwriters and directors.

Devoted exclusively to East Africans and South Asians, lab will serve as a training program for filmmakers in Africa.

Nair has formulated her institute on the Sundance model. The first Maisha lab is skedded for August 2005 in Kampala, Uganda, and will focus on screenwriting. It will be open to 12 students. Beginning in August 2006, the lab will encompass both screenwriting and directing and expand to allow 24 students.

The majority of Maisha’s funding comes from the Rockefeller Foundation as well as a handful of private donors, along with what Nair calls “an informal blessing from Sundance.” Nair has created an advisory board whose members include Spike Lee, Raoul Peck and Sofia Coppola.

“My goal is, in five years, to be able to present to the world a locally told story made in Uganda or Tanzania, but with the highest of international standards,” Nair said.

Nair’s next film, Focus Features’ “Vanity Fair,” starring Reese Witherspoon, opens Sept. 1.

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