Special to the AmNews

Director/producer Mira Nair is at a point in her career where every creative and business move resonates on the wavelength of living legend. Nair—by all accounts direct, professional and to the point—might disagree with the label “legend” attached to her diminutive frame, but I would argue the point with her, face-to-face.

Her films are considered “intelligent” and “entertaining,” with a wide canvas of subject matters, including the charming “Monsoon Wedding,” which is my favorite film and gives me the same level of comfort of mac and cheese, the deep-reaching and heartbreaking “The Namesake” and the nail-biting “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” starring powerhouse Riz Ahmed.

Her next project “Queen of Katwe,” which will open at the end of this month, will have a special screening at the Urbanworld’s 2016 (Sept. 22), followed by a Q&A with festival ambassadors David Oyelowo and Nair.

“Queen of Katwe” stars Golden Globe nominee Oyelowo, Tony nominee and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga. The film is based on the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion.

Nair’s love and understanding of Africa comes from a sincere source. While being interviewed for “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” she shared how a trip to Uganda, in 1989, shaped her future.

Like most interesting journeys, love was a key motivator, and she met the love of her life, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan academic, author and political commentator. James Shamus, award-winning screenwriter, co-founder of Good Machine, called Mamdani one of “the smartest men that I know” and added that, as a couple, Nair and Mamdani are well matched.

Deep into production for “Mississippi Masala,” she felt a connection so deep that she began a film school, the Maisha Film Lab, which is a training program for aspiring filmmakers from East Africa.

The powerful slogan for the Maisha Film Lab is connected to action: “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one will.” The word maisha means “life” in Kiswahili.

In a recent interview that appeared on ABC News, Nyong’o, who stars in “Queen of Katwe” and has also worked as a production coordinator at Maisha Film Lab, said about Nair, “Mira has a drive that is spellbinding, and a passion that is unrelenting. I think that kind of energy is infectious and it is also the kind of energy that is so easy to follow and support.”

Below is an excerpt from the interview with Nair.

AmNews: Share more about the production facility in Uganda, The Maisha Film Lab, please.

Nair: First, Maisha is a free school. Not free for me, because we have to raise the money and it’s hard. It’s free for the students. … I am very proud of this school because those that have experienced training in writing, producing, directing, editing, shooting, acting, sound recording and cinematography are working successfully in their careers. Since its inception, more than 650 people have been trained at Maisha. That’s from one school.

AmNews: Tell me about “your Africa.”

Nair: (laughing). My Africa. For many, the images from the African continent don’t vaguely resemble what it is like to live here, or to struggle here—the dignity and the power and the beauty of it. Africa is beautiful.  

The school is an enormous validation, and entertainment one gets from seeing your own situation, and your own language, and your own struggle onscreen is a very powerful thing … If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will.

Most of the graduates from the school are working and running the television industry in Uganda. Again, that’s from one school.