The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. Shreya Patel is a former international Model turned actress, filmmaker and mental health advocate who has dedicated her work and voice to empowering the underdog. From humanitarian work as a human rights activist to sharing the stories of strangers around the word through film, Shreya embodies altruism and a passion for contributing to the betterment of her community. Read on to find out how she’s been keeping busy during the downtime of the pandemic.
Q: Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field?
I am a former model turned filmmaker, actress, human rights activist, and a mental health advocate. I’ve been drawn to the arts and working with people since I was quite young so it was natural for me to become a storyteller, mixing my interests and activism work into my film projects.
My career switch to film and storytelling happened when I was traveling around Asia during my off time working there as a model. I was volunteering with Mother Teresa’s Orphanage and Make A Wish Foundation Mumbai chapter as a celebrity wish granter. Because of my time there, I had a new found drive to tell the stories of the people whose voices needed empowerment. When I came back to Canada I went back to school for documentary and film as well as enrolled myself into acting classes. It was intriguing to learn the psychology of why people do what they do, and both my studies and acting satisfied my burning curiosity to better understand human nature.
Q: Can you share what impact-production is and how Window Dreams differs from other independent production houses?
Window Dreams Production is an award-winning production house that specializes in impact-production. Impact-production is when a project is produced on the bases of creating social change or challenge and bring new thoughts and ideas to the viewer.
Our leadership team works onsite (remotely now) and are very hands on and committed to creativity, which is why we differ from other independent production houses. We have a global team who are now all working completely remotely and have already completed two projects in the midst of the pandemic. Our typical projects include documentaries, music videos, films, and spoken word poems.
Q: What inspired you to make Girl Up?
Girl up sheds light on violence and human trafficking, and is something that has been happening for years in Canada. I first learned about the issue when I was in school for documentary and film in 2015. I had 7 months to make a documentary to graduate this program. Initially, I was going to focus on a murder case but that didn’t work out due to the trial getting pushed a year. With only two months left, I was going through a vigorous casting and interview process where I met some very interesting people, but one girl grabbed my attention. She was very timid and shy when I first met her, she did not talk much. She was introduced to me through a NGO and all I knew was she was that she was coming out of sex trade. Halfway through the interview, It became clear that she was a survivor of domestic human trafficking. I was in utter shock. Since making the documentary, I have worked with countless survivors and have had the chance to immerse myself in their stories; I want to give a voice to those who did not know how to use theirs.
I first shot, edited and produced the 26-minute short documentary myself and It took two years to screen it because I had no guidance or support on how to distribute or release it. I could not wait any longer, so I self-released it to a small theatre. In 2017, the bill C96 – Girl Next Door Act was passed which is when I extended my documentary to 50 minutes.
The feature has been showcased at the 18th Annual South Asian Film Festival and was partnered with the Toronto International Film Festival to showcase it at the 2019 Civic Action Summit where hundreds of civic leaders which include national security, elected officials, senior business executives, and community advocates used the film to start a conversation on how to combat human trafficking.
Girl Up has since been showcased at many community screenings and conferences, and received special mention in the Forbes Magazine feature, “Cracking The $150 Billion Business Of Human Trafficking”.
Q: You’ve also been involved in advocacy work with Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign, can you share more about this experience?
Speaking about mental health has always been taboo. I had suffered with severe anxiety and PTSD due to a few traumatic experiences, eventually discovering within myself an incorrigible desire to fight back to get my life in order. I have since become a mental health advocate to break the stigma surrounding this topic.
Being apart of the Bell Let’s Talk family from the past three years has been heart warming and impactful for me; I’ve experienced so much healing working with them. Sharing our stories on a platform like Let’s Talk has made many young Canadians feel heard and seen. Sharing has power in healing when we realize that we are not alone.
I’ve had the opportunity to spread awareness by sharing my story of resilience and collaborating with organizations to discuss mental health and how to recover in a safe, non-judgmental way. I hope to encourage people to speak more openly about their struggles with mental health. Being with Bell Let’s Talk has been the most fulfilling and rewarding campaign of my entire life.
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, if so, how has this shaped your practice?
There will be a time in your life when you will feel like giving up on your dreams; being in this field is hard and unpredictable, and self- motivation doesn’t always help. When that happens, I ask myself “What would a Warrior Goddess do?” and I do that. A Warrior Goddess is strong, resilient fighter and a compassionate human being towards others and herself. A woman with that kind of character would never give up. It is all about growth mindset. Believe it is possible and it is!
Q: How have the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your art?
In the beginning of the pandemic I ended up losing 6 gigs, it was heart breaking. I was able to pivot fairly quickly and came out with the documentary Unity – #LOVESPREADS faster than a virus.
During the pandemic, a group of my friends from a few different parts of the world were feeling so low and alone in isolation that I felt helpless; words of support were not enough, Zoom calls weren’t enough. The only thing I felt I could do to use the time productively was to tell the story of the millions of citizens around the world going through the same thing. I gathered over 100 cast members from 66 countries on 6 different continents with the help of the global Forbes U30 community and Global Sharpers Hub. and made the documentary showcasing the plight of the human spirit. It also explores the disparity that exists between industrialized and developing nations.
It’s a love letter film that I made for the world to realize that no matter what country we come from, what language we speak or what religion we follow, we are going through the same thing and that we are all in this together. What separates us is bringing us together in unity. Canada Art Council awarded us a grant to complete the project and we tried and we also raised funds for Actors Fund Canada and the Artist Relief Fund.
Q: What are you working on/up to right now?
Following the release of Unity, I was hired as a creative director for the music video Freedom Dance by DJ Faynyx in India. Freedom Dance is a single that shows footage of each personality showcasing their individualistic perspective on what inner freedom looks like during the pandemic. I remotely co-directed models, actors and personalities from the UK, South Africa, Canada, USA, Dubai, and India including Jim Sarbh, Bani J, Soniya Mehra, Stefan Howarth, and Aleksandra Girskaya to name a few. The video was released on Sept 18th and received 600K views in 2 days, Rolling Stones India also took notice!
We are currently in Post Promotion for the next month, so my full focus is there. Plus, I am very grateful to have booked a few roles which I am currently shooting. I’ve recently temporarily moved back home with my parents near the nature trails and water which has been quite nice bonding time.
Q: How do you envision the future of in-person/ interactive events like theatre & art shows and live music events, given physical distancing measures and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?
Within the given circumstances everything is digital, but I do miss the magic of live theatre, music, and art shows. No amount of Zoom events can create the atmosphere of the live experience.
The upside of going digital is that everyone in any part of the world can now witness these wonderful shows from the comfort of their homes, which makes the world feel smaller and allow us to get a little closer, no matter what time zone we are living in.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?
We are slowly seeing change, but I really think that systemic racial inequalities will begin to change only when the top management and leadership of these companies and organizations changes to reflect what Canada looks like – diverse. A fair chance or an equal opportunity is the only way forward, this way different ideas can be bought on to the table and our creation of art will show that.
We need to celebrate the different backgrounds, cultures, and traditions we all come from. We all have something to say. The pendulum has to swing so much to the other side; hopefully it can come to the middle someday.