It was an experience watching a Bollywood film in India on a hot summer’s day that led producer Lisa Cortés into a career in film.

Cortés, the executive producer of the Oscar-winning Precious, is in Durban this week for the KwaZulu-Natal African Film Festival, which starts today.

About 12 years ago Cortés veered into film after great success in the music industry – including her work with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin to launch the Def Jam brand. She was also A&R vice-president at Mercury Records and founded and served as president of Loose Cannon Records, a subsidiary of Polygram Records.

Cortés explained what moved her to leave all that behind and venture into film: “I went to India on a soul-searching journey and one day it was terribly hot and I went to a cinema because it was nice and cool there,” she chuckled. “I sat in that movie and had no idea what they were talking about, but it showed me that in film you don’t need to have language (to communicate).”

She said the most important factor for her was to use film to empower and develop people.

“Film’s provided opportunities for me to travel the world, meet people and engage in conversations. Film provides an international platform to create dialogue in communities.”

During the film festival, Cortés will run film workshops at Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre in KwaMashu.

Speaking of the book Push by Sapphire – on which Precious is based – Cortés said it was a lyrical and poetic offering that showed “some of the most horrific neglect that can happen to the human spirit”.

“The universal connection people have with this movie goes beyond race and colour. Abuse is not limited to one community. I have met people, middle-aged white women, people from Croatia, who identify with this film. It inspires hopefulness and a place of coming to terms with the demons of the past,” she said. “I hope when my brothers and sisters (attending the festival) see this film, they will walk away with the knowledge that we can dwell in possibility and do not need to dwell in darkness.”

Cortés has produced many award-winning films, including The Woodsman, Shadowboxer and Tennessee. She launched her own production company, Cortés Films, last year. Her more recent productions include TV One Night Only: Live from the Essence Music Festival 2011 and the forthcoming feature, Cotton Hill.

The film festival celebrates its eighth year this year with an array of films screening over the next 10 days. Titles include TAC: Taking HAART (directed by Jack Lewis), Eyes Wide open (directed by Gonzalo Arijon); Hunger (directed by Karin Steinberger, Marcus Vetter); White Boy Black Nanny (directed by Mark Rossiter); How Many Sugars? (Durban Motion Pictures/Sithebe) and more.

Spokesman Xolani Majozi said: “The film festival prides itself on contributing to developing and giving a platform to up-coming film-makers. The festival is entertaining and empowering young people who have the potential of producing, writing and directing movies. Film-makers attend the screenings and interact with the audience. This is a way of giving more understanding about the creative process in making films.”

l The KwaZulu-Natal African Film Festival runs from today to December 11. For programme information call 031 504 6970 or e-mail [email protected]