USC senior with Canyon Crest Academy roots makes history with thesis film ‘Sultana’
Melanie Limas An had great dreams for her film career when graduating from Canyon Crest Academy’s Envision Cinema program. She went on to study film production at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts which has allowed her to attain many of those dreams. One recently came to realization with a senior thesis film that has made history at the number one rated film school in the nation.
She is the producer of the film “Sultana” along with Director Zaid Hassan, Producer Charlie McCollum, Screenwriter Sahil Rustami and over 30 other team members. The film was conceived by Hassan and is based on the ancient story of Razia Sultana, the first woman Sultanate of India. It has interwoven themes of family, identity, and culture.
The short film was pitched to the faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with the hopes for project funding. It made the cut and now it will make history.
An says the project is breaking boundaries in many arenas, “To have this be the first Muslim senior film centered around a woman for an undergraduate thesis sets a precedent. It breaks stereotypes and provides a sense of female empowerment. Hopefully more stories like this will be told in the future.”
Pieces of South Asian and Islamic culture are weaved throughout the short film, including Islamic verses, cultural clothing and scenes where characters speak Urdu. But creating a period piece, a film not set in modern times, was not an easy feat. The group realized the boundaries of their vision when critics met them with skepticism.
Hassan says this film was destined to become a reality after the research was conducted. “We were willing to go down fighting to the last second to make sure this film got made. The script went through 20 to 30 rewrites and continued to change all the way up to post-production.”
Rustami adds, “It was so amazing and such an eye-opening experience in regards to being chosen as a thesis film and receiving support. But with that came a lot of downsides, too, in that a lot of people were doubting us, even calling the project very ambitious. We were held to much higher scrutiny because no one had ever seen anything like it before.” All of these challenges simply motivated the team to push forward.
While the project includes representation, the mission is to properly portray the universal human experience and create a film that teaches its audience as much as it gives them something to relate to.
McCollum says, “The power of films in general is making people more interested in a subject they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience on their own.”
The almost five-month-long project is set to hit USC’s Norris Theater May 11.
An says USC is an amazing higher learning institution allowing for mega iconic names in the industry to share their creative knowledge with the generations that will advance the craft. She is excited for what other cinematic dreams will become reality in a profession with ever-growing ethnic and female film talent.
— Gloria Goldstein is the mother of Melanie Limas An
Get the Del Mar Times in your inbox
Top stories from Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Del Mar Times.