SFTV Professor Leena Pendharkar’s latest feature film 20 Weeks will premiere at the LA Film Festival. 20 Weeks is a romantic drama about a couple who, after learning that their baby has a serious health condition in utero, must decide whether or not to move forward with the pregnancy. Interweaving past and present moments of Maya and Ronan’s relationship, the film explores the way that relationship is tested and the fragile balance between science and ethics.
Pendharkar was inspired to write the story after facing a very similar experience during her own pregnancy. “It was harrowing, and we were suddenly faced with some tough challenges I never I thought I would face,” recalled Pendharkar. “My husband and I didn’t share what we were going through with anyone because it was all very confusing and unpredictable. Medical science and technology can tell us so much, and yet there is so much that is unknown.”
The film works to humanize the issues at hand, and that is in part because of Pendharkar’s decision not to include the word “abortion” in the film. She says of the decision, “I want it to be a very human story, and a scenario where a person could see either character’s point of view. There is no right or wrong answer in this situation; it is a very personal, very intimate thing that each individual is going to feel very differently about.”
To tell such an intimate story right, Pendharkar brought together an amazing cast and crew. Before 20 Weeks, she had worked with producer Jane Kelly Kosek and Director of Photography Daud Sani on the award-winning short, Dandekar Makes a Sandwich. She also brought on former crew members and students, including Production Manager Howard Johnson. Working with such a tight knit crew created a “safe and comfortable” environment, despite the tough subject matter.
Pendharkar found a wonderful on-screen couple in Anna Margaret Hollyman and Amir Arison. “They were both incredibly professional and worked very hard on fleshing out the characters in a way that felt very authentic.” Pendharkar also noted that she and Arison skyped for about 20 hours prior to the shoot, which made them comfortable with one another. The performances in the film are very raw and realistic, and help bring Pendharkar’s vision of pregnancy, birth and relationships to the screen.
On the film’s LA Film Festival premiere, Pendharkar calls it “a dream come true.” After participating in Film Independent’s diversity program and screenwriter’s lab, she is honored to have come “full circle” with the screening of this personal story. After LAFF, they will continue their festival play through the fall and then on to a limited theatrical release and distribution on digital platforms like Netflix, as well as TV, VOD and SVOD.
20 Weeks premieres at the LA Film Festival on June 19th.