Ride Hailing Service inDrive Fires Up Film Biz Initiative in Central Asia (EXCLUSIVE)

In what signals a new source of financing for Central Asia’s nascent film industry, Mountain View, California-based tech company inDrive, best known for its bid-based ride hailing service, is getting into the film business.

The tech giant, founded by CEO Arsen Tomsky, has launched Alternativa Film Project, a global non-profit film initiative aimed at supporting emerging filmmakers from less developed film industries, starting with Central Asia this year.

With each subsequent edition targeting a different region, the program comprises three strands: an awards ceremony acknowledging the impact of local features, animated films, documentaries, and shorts; funding via cash prizes to winners; and the training of upcoming filmmakers.

The maiden project will be headquartered in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the cultural epicenter of the Central Asian region. It kicks off with the free Teen Lab bootcamp aimed at fostering young, emerging talent in film and the Impact Lab, described as “the first program outside the global North designed to teach working producers how to create more impactful, sustainable, inclusive films by partnering with NGOs and state institutions.“

Other activities will include public film screenings, networking events, pitching workshops, and “edutainment” shorts for social media.

“Film is a powerful tool for social change, and there are so many undiscovered creatives and trailblazers who aren’t acknowledged by traditional systems,” said Tomsky, adding: “As a disruptive start-up from outside the global North driven by the desire to create a more equitable world, we appreciate and recognize the work of similarly pioneering creatives in the screen industry.”

inDrive previously backed the film community in Yakutia – one of the most frigid and northernmost parts of Russia – where it launched a funding institution to support local filmmakers. Founded in Siberia, inDrive divested its Russian outpost in July 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’re thrilled to continue our expansion into the art space and use our resources to help emerging filmmakers succeed,” Tomsky asserted. “It’s so important to nurture and celebrate those who remain invisible in the existing hierarchy, to bolster local talent in emerging markets, and to foster artistic community,” he added.

Its inaugural awards ceremony, the Alternativa Film Awards, slated to take place in early December 2023, will stray from the traditional prizes for best director, actor etc., to instead honor work that bolsters the social impact of cinema, as well as more mainstream films with broad audience appeal.

These include the Spotlight Award, which honors a film that sheds light on a little-known theme or story; the Future Voices Award, given to a first-time filmmaker with the potential to contribute to changes in the film industry and society in general; the Alter Award, which celebrates a film that addresses critical social issues (such as human rights, migration, war crimes, and the environment), and the Nativa Award, which touches upon topics of national or cultural identity.

The total prize fund stands at $100,000, to be equally divided among the festival winners. Submissions from all Asian countries (except for the shorts category, for which only Central Asia is eligible) are accepted.

inDrive is available in over 40 countries and just entered the U.S. market in July where it started operating in South Florida. The start-up operates a bid-based platform whereby passengers can make a bid on their own fare and drivers have the option to accept, decline or make a counter offer. Its top markets are in Latin America and in Asia, namely Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and India.

Company says that its app has been downloaded over 175 million times, and was the second most downloaded mobility app in 2022. In addition to ride-hailing, inDrive provides an expanding list of urban services, including intercity transportation, freight delivery, task assistance, courier delivery and employment search.

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