Five years ago, Edmontonian Nauzanin Knight was at the end of three years of service at the Bahai World Centre in Haifa, Israel, and was wrestling with her future. Before Israel, she spent time in England, getting a Master’s Degree in countering organized crime and terrorism, and writing a book about the plight of Iranian Bahais. But what was next?
“All of a sudden while I was praying, film came to mind. My master’s degree is not in film, it's in crime science," she said. "I realized I had to listen to this prayer but also that I would have a long journey ahead of me.”
Knight knew little about filmmaking but back in Edmonton, she discussed her intention with her mother, an experienced project manager and business leader. Mitra Knight was not just supportive; she joined Nauzanin as co-partner in a fledgling movie production company. They came up with the name 1844 Studios in honour of the year the Bahai faith was founded.
The Knights knew precisely what their company’s values would be; to foster international collaboration and work toward improved harmony among people--core Bahai values. The company was to be inclusive, hiring and mentoring would-be filmmakers from minorities underrepresented in traditional Canadian film and television, and producing their stories.
These few years later, Nauzanin and Mitra know a lot about filmmaking, with Nauzanin concentrating on creative development, script-writing and directing, and Mitra with a careful eye on business and production management. Both collaborate closely in deciding what projects 1844 Studios will take on.
And there have been many achievements on the journey: Last year, the ironic romantic comedy “Colorblind” and the animation short “Abu & Mo,” were official selections of the 2022 Edmonton International Film Festival. (Abu & Mo was also an official selection at festivals in Paris and Turkey). The company's first film, “My Lyric I Never Knew,” was an official selection of the 2019 American Indian Film Festival, and was awarded at the Canadian and International Short Film Festival too. (The film is still part of the CBC Gem catalogue).
“We had no funding when we started and it was really the contribution and team effort of so many of the cast and crew, and especially the crew members of Edmonton, who saw potential and wanted to support first-time filmmakers," said Mitra of the city's film community.
1844 Studios is also opening doors for more BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of colour) artists. Along with Nauzanin authoring two nationally-focused papers on improving diversity and equity in film, the Knights launched a project called BE Collective, where would-be film-makers from BIPOC communities were given training and mentorship, both in front of and behind the camera, to help develop filmmaking skills. The project was such a success that the Knights are now setting up a non-profit organization to carry on the work of BE Collective.
Collaborating with young filmmakers has also resulted in a comedy tv pilot in the works for 1844 Studios. At last September’s Toronto International Film Festival, Nauzanin’s pitch for “Notes on Being Unpopular” was warmly received by those in the industry: stay tuned!
While some mothers and daughters might be hard-pressed to work closely together in a high-pressure business, Nauzanin and Mitra wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We both understand the importance of consultation and systematizing our efforts. I think in that respect we are a lot more collaborative than other production companies,” said Nauzanin.
Mitra acknowledges, however, there can be challenges keeping the mother-daughter relationship separate from the business partnership.
“We are more aware of it during formal business settings, especially as our company grows and works on more complex film productions with a wider group of production partners.”
1844 Studios appears headed for more of that--bigger projects with national and international collaborators. The company just reached agreement with filmmakers in the U.K. and Germany to jointly produce several new, as yet unnamed, projects.