About the Filmmakers

Indira S. Somani

Indira S. Somani, Ph.D. is an Independent Documentary Filmmaker. After a 26-year-career as a television newscast producer and broadcast journalism professor, Somani moved to LA and earned an MFA in Directing/Production, Documentary film program at UCLA. Currently in production is a personal documentary about her role as a caregiver for her Mom who battles depression. The film reveals how much Somani and her mother rely on each other for emotional support. Other films Somani has directed and produced include Life on the Ganges (2017), a 10- minute documentary directed, produced and filmed in Varanasi, India, during Dev Diwali, when people from all over India travel there to bathe in the Ganges River. The film screened in film festivals in the U.S., India and Europe and won Best Short Documentary at the Berlin Independent Film Festival, and the Cannes Short Film Festival. Another film Somani directed, produced and wrote was, Crossing Lines (2007), a 30-minute personal essay documentary about her struggle to stay connected to India after the loss of her father and to maintain and preserve her Indian cultural identity. The film won numerous awards, screened in film festivals nationally and internationally, aired on PBS affiliates through NETA from 2008-2011, and has been used by more than 100 universities as a tool to teach intercultural communication in the classroom. Both films are in distribution through New Day films.

Somani’s doctoral research studied the media habits and effects of satellite television on the Indian diaspora, specifically the generation of the Asian Indians in the Washington, DC metro area, who migrated to the U.S. between 1960 and 1972. She expanded her research to study the media habits, acculturation, and social identity of the same generation in the New York-New Jersey area, San Francisco, Houston and Chicago. For the fall of 2011, Somani was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Fellowship to study the Western influence of Indian programming in India.

While teaching at Howard University’s School of Communications from 2012-2021, Somani’s research shifted to study Black Broadcast Journalists and how race had an impact on their success in the newsroom. She has been published in several academic journals and has also co-authored two book chapters.

Somani’s academic career was preceded by 10 years as a television news producer, most notably with CNBC and WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.  Somani has also been a leader of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), where she has also won several “Outstanding” awards for her coverage of South Asians in North America.  Prior to teaching at Howard, Somani taught journalism at Washington and Lee University (Lexington, VA) and American University’s School of Communication (Washington, DC). Somani earned her Master’s in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University in 1993, her Ph.D. from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park in 2008, and her MFA in Directing/Production from UCLA in 2023. https://www.indirasomani.com/

Leena Jayaswal

Leena Jayaswal is a documentary filmmaker, award-winning photographer and Professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington DC, where she is the director of the new BA in Photography. Her photography and film work often deals with the intersections of being Indian and American. This work has been nationally recognized in galleries around the country, including solo shows at the Gandhi Memorial Center, and International Visions Gallery. Group shows include Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, The Washington Project for the Arts/ Corcoran Gallery of Art, Arlington Arts Center, Kathleen Ewing Gallery, Lexington Art League and the Studio Gallery. Jayaswal has photographs in group collections with the Society of Photographic Education’s Multicultural Caucus at the Center for Photography, En Foco, Light Work, Photo Center Northwest and the Asian American Arts Centre. Previously she has worked for famed photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, and with the Sandra Berler Gallery. Her award winning films have been screened in various film festivals around the country. “Crossing Lines” was picked up for national distribution by NETA and has been broadcast on over 100 PBS affiliates across the country. The film has won numerous international and national awards including the prestigious Gracie Allen Award, and is currently being distributed by New Day Films. Her latest film, “Mixed”, a collaboration with Prof. Caty Borum Chattoo, explores what it means to be mixed-race in American, fifty years after the historic, landmark Supreme Court Decision, Loving v. Virginia which made interracial marriage legal. Jayaswal is also working with artist Monica Bose on a feature documentary about climate change, called, “Rising Up to Climate Change: Storytelling with Saris.” Jayaswal was one of 8 filmmakers to be a part of the Futures Exhibition at the reopening of the Smithsonian’s Arts + Industry’s Futures Exhibition. Jayaswal was the Schools’ first Inclusion Officer and Associate Dean from 2019-2022.