ROCKVILLE – A local filmmaker has been tapped to join the 2019 class of NBC’s Female Forward program.
Sara Zandieh is an Iranian American filmmaker who grew up in Gaithersburg. She explained that she attended Quince Orchard High School before moving to New York for college.
Zandieh explained that she returned to the area after college to work in a newsroom in Washington, D.C.
“I started working on documentaries, then applied to film school,” she said. “I went to Columbia University School of Arts on a merit scholarship, and I studied narrative filmmaking and started making short films that won numerous awards.”
Through her work, she received a Fulbright Scholarship for filmmaking.
The success of her short films like “The Pool Party” and “Reza Hassani Goes to the Mall” landed her the opportunity to begin directing feature-length films.
Her first short film won the Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film was also screened at other festivals around the world.
The Gaithersburg native is now based in Los Angeles.
The Female Forward program from NBC aims to increase representation for female directors by creating a conduit to more-scripted television.
“(The Female Forward and Emerging Director Programs) are the only programs in the industry that give participating directors an in-season guarantee to direct at least one episode (of an existing show),” wrote NBC in their press release. “Chosen from 500 applicants, the new classes are comprised of directors experiences in various mediums, including independent features, music videos, commercials and branded content.”
NBC also offers the Emerging Director Program to ethnically diverse male and gender non-binary film directors.
“Our scripted-directing initiatives are proven change-makers in our industry. While celebrating this milestone year, we are so proud to continue building NBC’s legacy of making a meaningful impact in representation on television,” said Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, who serve as co-presidents of Scripted Programming for NBC Entertainment.
According to NBC, this is the second year of the Female Forward program. In its first year, seven directors from the first class were invited back to direct more episodes of NBC shows.
“Female Forward and the Emerging Director Program have become the litmus test for successful and effective pipeline programs, and our new class of accomplished directors will continue to add to our rich heritage,” said Karen Horne, who serves as senior vice president of programming talent development and inclusion, at NBC. “It is especially gratifying to continue to provide a steppingstone into episodic directing for so many talented directors.”
Class members of each program have an opportunity to shadow the directors while they work on episodes of NBC’s current scripted television shows. They also receive an in-season commitment to direct at least one episode of the series they get to shadow.
Those selected to be part of the programs are also assigned mentors who are already established in the world of television directing for advice and further guidance.
In recent years, the film industry has been under scrutiny from the public over issues of representation. In fact, in 2016, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending after many of the films nominated for the prestigious Oscar Award showed a lack of diversity.
According to a study published in 2016 called “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment,” only about 33 percent of speaking roles were given to female actresses and under 30 percent of roles with any dialogue to non-white roles.
“Major film distributors like Disney, 21st Century Fox, Sony and NBC Universal failed inclusivity evaluations,” wrote the New York Film Academy. “Those are not very encouraging numbers for an industry that is supposed to be embracing more diversity. Worse, stories continue to percolate that the input and feedback given by minorities on film projects is often ignored.”
According to Vanessa Pearce, press coordinator for NBC Universal Media, the Female Forward and Emerging Director Programs are the only ones in the industry that provide these types of directing opportunities for women and minorities.
According to the press release, however, NBC claims to be at the forefront of inclusive filmmaking.
“Since 2000, NBC has been dedicated to discovering and nurturing onscreen, behind-the-camera and below-the-line talent of diverse and inclusive backgrounds through the NBC Talent Infusion Programs,” the release stated. “NBC (Talent Infusion Programs) are amongst the most extensive and robust diversity and inclusion programs in the television industry.”
During her time in the Female Forward program, Zandieh expects to direct an episode of “Good Girls,” which stars Mae Whitman, Retta and Christina Hendricks.