Producer Shrihari Sathe of New York-based production company Dialectic is enjoying the best time of his life, with no less than three of his projects, each completely different in style, genre and tone, being selected at A-list festivals.
The latest career high for Sathe began with Bangladeshi filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s continent-hopping, multilingual identity tale “No Land’s Man” being selected at Busan in October 2021, followed by Francisca Alegria’s Spanish-language magical realist drama “The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future” premiering at this year’s Sundance. Now, “Stay Awake,” an expansion of Jamie Sisley’s 2015 short film of the same name that premiered at the Berlinale and won the Jury Prize at Slamdance, makes its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival’s Generation 14plus strand on Feb. 12.
The “Stay Awake” cast includes Wyatt Oleff, Fin Argus and Chrissy Metz. “Prescription drug and opioid addiction is a global problem. Tens of millions of people are affected by this in the U.S. and probably an equal number globally,” Sathe told Variety. “Typically movies or television shows about addiction are from the addict’s POV or where they are the villains. Jamie has explored this epidemic from the family members’ perspective and with a levity that comes from a very authentic place.”
The film is about two teenage brothers Ethan and Derek, who try their best to navigate the pressures of teenage life while tending to their mother’s debilitating prescription drug addiction. It’s based on Sisley’s adolescent years in small-town America. “It is a personal exploration of the roller-coaster ride that families go on while trying to help their loved ones battle a disease that affects millions every day,” said Sathe.
Sathe grew up in Mumbai at the cusp of the television channel boom and was exposed to a lot of Hollywood content. Having cinephile parents meant that he also saw world cinema with films that made an impression including “Bicycle Thieves,” “Breathless,” “Seven Samurai” and “The Piano.” Sathe then moved to the U.S. and enrolled as an economics major at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, but soon discovered that he didn’t really have much of an aptitude for economics or quantitative mathematics, and switched majors to film. Two of his professor mentors helped unlock his inherent organization skills, while he went on to earn an MFA in film degree from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. At Columbia, he studied producing, where he nabbed a best producer award at the university’s film festival.
While at Ann Arbor, Sathe had developed a specialized course of study called Global Media and Culture, during which he explored film industries from all over the world. This helped inform his choices as a producer. The producer has an eclectic range of credits, spanning continents. For example, Sathe produced Venice selection “Screwdriver” (2018), Palestinian filmmaker Bassam Jarbawi’s account of a man’s return home after 15 years in an Israeli jail, and Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam’s Toronto player “The Sweet Requiem” (2018), which follows a Tibetan refugee in Delhi confronted by a person from the past.
“As a producer, I’m primarily drawn to the underlying story in the screenplay and the director’s vision for it,” says Sathe. “I don’t go out to seek a film from a particular country or a particular language. It is mainly a director’s voice and what they want to tell about the current state of human society. I’m also looking at films that are stories typically not being told in mainstream cinema or, in some cases, even in arthouse cinema.”
In 2019, Sathe won the Producers Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Sathe also directed “Ek Hazarachi Note” (2014), which won best feature and the special jury award at the International Film Festival of India, Goa.
He is developing “Goodbye Mr. Kanay,” a multilingual feature film, with “Ek Hazarachi Note” writer Shrikant Bojewar and screenwriter James Windeler (“Sweet Little Lies”).
As a producer, Sathe has several projects that he’s currently seeking financing for. “Doha: The Rising Sun,” is an Arabic-language feature film by writer-director Eimi Imanishi that Sathe is producing with Eric Dupont and Virginie Lacombe from France; “Fight,” an English-language feature film set in the American Rust Belt with award-winning writer-director Musa Syeed (“Valley of Saints”); and “Back Seat” with Emmy winning director Lana Wilson (“After Tiller”).
On the TV front, the producer has “Watched” with series creator Afia Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s “Dukhtar” was Pakistan’s entry for the 2015 Oscars and was co-produced by Sathe. On the nonfiction front, Sathe is in early development on a feature-length documentary with Oscar-nominated director Sami Khan (“St. Louis Superman”). He also has plans to break into the streaming market.