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Sweta Rai’s Pandemic Documentary in the Oscar Race

‘A Pandemic: Away from the Motherland’ is Shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Award Best Documentary Feature Race 

Sweta Rai- Director, Producer, Writer of A Pandemic: Away from the Motherland, a documentary shortlisted for Oscars 2021 race.
Director, Producer, Entrepreneur – Sweta Rai / Indo Holly Films

Indian-born, LA-based filmmaker and American Film Institute (AFI) alumni Sweta Rai’s feature-length documentary film, “A Pandemic: Away from the Motherland,” is shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Awards race.

The film features five immigrant doctors working on the frontline of the Coronavirus pandemic, currently based in the United States, away from their families in India. Sweta became the first female filmmaker of color who has not only written and directed but has produced a 65-minute film from her apartment in downtown Los Angeles during the strict lockdown. Inspired by the subtle yet powerful issue of immigrant healthcare workers’ daily lives, Sweta brought their heroism to the big screen at the peak of a pandemic. This movie is now available for streaming on Apple TV/ iTunes, Google Play, and other digital platforms.

“I have started getting these nightmares where I feel that somebody is triangulating me in the nighttime,” says a doctor in the movie; working 12-hour shifts to treat patients infected with COVID-19. She sleeps in a separate room. Her family prepares their “will” to secure her daughter’s future if something happens to her due to COVID. 

This movie brings the raw emotion of the healthcare workers from the early days of the pandemic. Sweta recorded the day-to-day lives of these healthcare workers in their homes in the United States, and their family’s lives in India. We see the contrast of a mother ringing a bell to pray for her son. Then, a grandfather who is also a doctor in a small town in India. This grandfather refuses to sit at home and instead fulfills his duty as a healthcare worker, regardless of exposure to high-risk zones.

Still from the film: A Pandemic: Away from the Motherland
Still from the film: A doctor in the U.S. speaking with his Grandfather in India over a video call

We have seen the stats of this virus’ progression; we have seen the political issues surrounding the pandemic, but the absent key factor was the personal lives of these healthcare workers. Setting up cameras in their homes and recording every emotional moment brings light to these unseen events. Sweta states, “It could be a story of any immigrant healthcare worker who has been fighting the deadly virus, which has changed their lives.”

Sweta is an inspiration to all the women entrepreneurs and small business owners who looked beyond the pandemic; bringing forth these stories, despite the odds. Her journey from India to Singapore and then to Los Angeles is remarkable. Her mother, Anita Rai, a radio anchor, and an 80s Indian writer, worked as an Associate Producer on this movie for India shoots. Sweta explains, “The virus left everyone devastated, and no one planned to leave home except essential workers. When I informed my team it would be a remote shoot entirely in the U.S. and India, my cinematographer David Bouza and editor Josh Muscatine got on board with my experiment. While David and I were on Zoom and WhatsApp calls to shoot with the doctors, Josh had the challenge of editing footage from various sources, as sometimes the doctors recorded their private moments themselves. I chose to keep some bumpy shots and not miss a single moment because I wanted to show a realistic picture of the pandemic, not the beautified version of it.”

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Still from the film – A Pandemic: Away from the Motherland

Producer, writer-director Sweta Rai, is the Founder and CEO of Indo Holly Films, where she aims to give under-represented stories a voice in Hollywood. She produced multiple high-profile Hollywood feature films, namely the 2020 Hallmark channel release, “JL Family Ranch: The Wedding Gift,” starring Jon Voight and James Caan. Sweta is currently shooting her latest documentary, “Shades,” with leading Bollywood and Hollywood actresses. “Shades” brings live footage from the Black Lives Matter campaign, a topic relevant to present day.

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