An LA-based director, photographer and podcaster, Sindha Agha has many strings to her bow, working across disciplines and applying a unique sense of colour and abstraction to everything she creates. The prolific young filmmaker is the recipient of two Sundance Institute Fellowships, director of the critically acclaimed women’s health BBC Three series Body Language, and a contributor to the Radiolab Podcast, which attracts more than eight million listeners monthly.
Agha is a #TimesUp supporter and was one of 14 women filmmakers featured in an Advocate article about Sundance naming her as ‘a woman to watch’. She was awarded the New Voice Fellowship for her Exit the Body series to be developed with YouTube, and made a fellow of the 2018 Sundance Ignite mentorship programme for creators under 24, an accolade awarded to her shortly after her debut film Birth Control Your Own Adventure was picked up by The New York Times.
On being a young woman filmmaker making her way in the post-Weinstein, #TimesUp film industry, Agha says: “It’s such an exciting time to be a woman in film! I feel very lucky to be coming up in this era of the film industry. There’s this new energy for supporting diverse voices and getting our stories out into the world, and I think a lot of the opportunities I have gotten are thanks to that energy.
“Of course, it’s still hard to be taken seriously in any industry as a young woman, but I don’t have patience to try and win over people who might hold my gender or age against me. Instead I focus on my relationships and collaborations with people who don’t need to be convinced of my worth. I do think as a woman, one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome is a deeply internalised sense of self-doubt — but I see it as a joyful challenge as I work to fill my life up with the experiences and people that build up my confidence, and I try to pay it forward to other women I meet.”
Agha’s authentic approach to filmmaking has a unique perspective that gives voice to young women experiencing issues that society often ignores, and she explores topics that don’t usually make it pass the commissioning stage. She has developed an unconventional and memorable visual language in order to present engaging narratives that resonate with women who might be dealing with mental health issues such as Body Dismorphic Disorder (BDD) or post-natal depression.
In Birth Control Your Own Adventure, she explored her own experiences with endometriosis. The film has now been viewed over 12 million times, and the New York Times described it as: “A sparklingly cutting film featuring a cast of sinister Icelandic sheep, clumsy endives and an ob-gyn who talks with the voice of a robot … a dizzyingly inventive self-portrait of a person forced to choose between depression and physical pain.”
In Body Language, Agha creates clever visual essays discussing taboo subjects about women’s health, and presents personal accounts from women who have experienced conditions including ADHD, PTSD, Depression, Painful Sex, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, early menopause and endometriosis.
“After seeing how Birth Control Your Own Adventure resonated with millions of women, I had a hunger to identify and share other stories about our most private and isolating health experiences,” she explains. “Serendipitously, a commissioner at the BBC named Navi Lamba had that same hunger. Navi found me through the magic of the internet and we got to talking about making a series … and Body Language was born! Both of us are drawn to that radical act of taking the things we’re taught not to talk about, the things we’re told other people won’t accept in us, and sharing them with laughter and self-compassion.”
Candid monologues by women are presented using techniques such as painting, collage, photography and stop-motion, and Agha also uses surreal imagery to represent sensitive topics, for example imagery of knives and nails to represent painful sex. This clever approach eases the viewer into the films’ often confronting themes by creating empathy through the use of unexpected visuals.
Agha developed her distinctive visual style in part from her upbringing, and in particular the influence of her father.
“I owe a big thank you to my dad, who is Sindhi (a South Asian ethnic minority that he named me after). In Sindhi culture, colour is massively important and ubiquitous, and I grew up with a dad who always had this incredibly liberated relationship with colour – wearing hot pink shirts to work despite the sea of neutral colours around him. It took me a while to come into my own relationship with colour, but now it’s a huge part of my identity and my work. When I’m developing a project, colour is one of the first things I think about. I tend to write with colour in mind, then use free association to attach visuals to the writing.”
Agha doesn’t let traditional boundaries between mediums restrict her, and approaches her films, photography and podcasts with the same conceptual wit. She is currently working on a film for The New Yorker and writing her first narrative television series.