Westminster’s Warrior

Asif Kapadia is a hot new film talent, recently winning two BAFTAs for his first feature length film, The Warrior. A graduate of the University of Westminster film course, Asif tells Charlotte Moore about how he became a film director and his hopes for the future.

Asif Kapadia on locationFor a movie that was to go on to win two BAFTAs, things did not begin well for The Warrior.

“By the time we arrived on location, we had about 250 crew and a huge number of local people who had turned up to watch us. I had actors, children and animals to deal with. We were in the desert and it was bloody hot, about 47C. Everyone was looking at me, waiting for me to say or do something. I realised that I had not filmed anything for a couple of years and I felt like I forgotten the language of making movies,” says Asif Kapadia.

“I was about eighteen when I first worked on a film,” says Asif. “I did my first job as a favour to replace someone who couldn’t do the job of runner. Although it felt like all I was doing was carrying big, heavy, metal boxes in and out of vans in the pissing rain, I loved it.”

Asif originally trained as a graphic designer. “I found being a graphic designer a very lonely business, working at a desk in front of a computer all day long.” In contrast, making movies is exhilarating. “When you make a movie, you are with a group of people, collaborating, in the middle of nowhere, it’s you against the world and you have somehow got to make it work.”

Asif joined the film, television and photography degree at the University of Westminster in the second year of the course. He had previously done a film course in Wales. “I felt that I had plenty of practice making movies but I wanted some more theory. It was brilliant to be in London, a great place to study because it was close to the film industry.” His enjoyment of the course paid off; he graduated with a first in 1994.

His graduation film from Westminster, which he wrote and directed, was called Indian Tales. It was produced by Paul Day, a fellow student who Asif had known before starting at UoW. As a hint of things to come, this film won various prizes including one in Chicago. Day managed to get some financing from Carlton which helped them to make the movie. Since the movie had managed to win prizes, Carlton decided to screen it. “This was a real first, Carlton don’t usually bother to screen short movies,” he says. “It was shown just after Basic Instinct, funnily enough. Although no-one would admit to watching the movie they all seemed to have seen my short film despite it being late at night.”

As a result of this Carlton offered Asif and Paul jobs in television. “Somehow straight after university, Paul and I were directing for network TV. It was this new late night youth program, you know, youth with an f, called Shift,” he says. “This was an amazing opportunity because it was a whole hour’s worth of television made entirely by eight film school graduates.”

After a year, Asif realised that he hated television and wanted to make films so he enrolled at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in a postgraduate film course. Whilst at the RCA, Asif also made another short film called The Waiting Room. “A bit of a Kafka-esque type movie, quite stylised.” Terry Gilliam saw this movie, liked it and got in touch. “I’ve stayed in touch in with him since then, he is a great guy, very supportive of young film makers.” Asif’s RCA graduation movie The Sheep Thief was equally well-received. This success helped to raise the funding for The Warrior.

When I ask Asif why he enjoys making movies, he says: “I love the journey that is involved in making a movie. Its starts off as a lonely process as you sit writing the screenplay, then you have to go out and sell yourself so as to raise the finance. After this, you find yourself with a group of people in the middle of nowhere, shooting the film. Editing then acts as a wonderful therapy where you can bin those rushes that you don’t ever want the public to see. Finally you have the audience and you will never know how they will react.”

Winning two BAFTAs for your first ever feature film must be intimidating. “Absolutely terrifying,” Asif agrees. “I thought that one would be enough. Two is taking the piss. How do you beat that? Don’t even think about it,” he says. But he tries not to worry about his future films not being as well received. “As long as I am proud of it, that all matters.” He adds: “At the moment I just want to make more feature films – after all I have only made one so far.”

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