Promoting film literacy.
Did you always want to join filmmaking?
I was always interested in films and since the beginning I used to wonder how things could change for Pakistani cinema, which is way behind Indian or foreign cinema. I realised that the only way to go about it was to study film.
I was very fortunate to attend one of the best film schools in the world - Columbia College Chicago. While there I realised that filmmaking wasn't a six-month or year-long course; it is an ongoing process as there are so many specialisations within the discipline.
When I was in my last semester, I had the idea that I would like open a film academy if I came to work in Pakistan. However, my immediate plans were to move to Los Angeles. I had graduated but I wanted to do one more semester in screenwriting in LA, meet up with filmmakers in Hollywood and perhaps get a break in television. I had already worked on a couple of independent projects as director of photography.
The 9/11 happened and things changed drastically. Within a month, I decided to come back to Pakistan. At that time new channels were opening up with the changing political landscape. As a senior producer, I became the head of Indus News TV when it was launched. I also worked for ARY for some time and then for BBC, which was a fantastic experience.
You have been teaching Film and Video in various institutes. Why did you choose to concentrate on the academic side?
While studying film, I had realised how much we need to learn to be able to achieve international standards. With new channels coming up and higher salaries, people had started accepting this as a viable profession. I realised this was the right time for film education as it would open new avenues for career growth.
I started teaching filmmaking as a minor at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA). We also worked on the launch of a full degree programme but I guess the management there wasn't ready. Then I joined Szabist as the head of the Media Sciences programme.
How was South Asian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Television (SAAMPT) established?
We started in February 2010 but as I mentioned, I have been working on it for a long time. In the last 5-6 years, I have not only taught film courses but have also been involved in administrative work. I have looked at everything from course design to facilities/equipments and the kind of faculty members required. I designed around 30-35 film and digital courses, and conducted them as well. They are still taught at Szabist.
So I gained a lot of experience in administration and saw the kind of problems faced at IVSAA and Szabist. I also developed an expertise in designing all kinds of media and film courses, be it lighting, sound, cinematography or creative writing, which has really helped with the setting up of my own academy.
Which programmes are you offering at SAAMPT and how has the response been so far?
Currently, we have a one-year programme in Digital and Documentary. Then we have two-year programmes in Cinematography and Directing for Camera. Students will get a diploma at the end of each programme.
The response has been pretty good. Our students are focused. They know exactly what they want to do with their life and are committed to their areas of specialisation.
The courses have been designed on the pattern of the film department at Columbia College Chicago?
Columbia College will always be an inspiration because of the overall education I acquired there. It influences my teaching, methodologies and course design etc.
The programme at Columbia is a very comprehensive and meticulously designed one. I learnt a lot there and want to pass that on. The advisors of SAAMPT are associate professors of Columbia College. As part of the alumni, I am in touch with the faculty members and my mentors. I ask for their advice and guidance. So it's not just me who is behind this academy, it is Columbia College as well.
What about the infrastructure and facilities available?
When I initially thought of setting up something like the Columbia College film programme in Pakistan, it seemed near impossible because of the equipments and facilities required. But I did not want to compromise. I wanted to ensure that my academy would have the best infrastructure to give the best training. And by the grace of God, we have all the facilities required by first year students.
Books are also available here. Columbia College donated 200 books and will continue to do so in the future.
What measures are you taking to ensure SAAMPT students find suitable employment opportunities?
We have a production house parallel to the academy. Sometimes we rent out our studio and equipment. When professionals rent it, our students get a chance to see their work and network. This helps bridge the gap between industry and academia.
We will also allow our students - who want to pursue filmmaking independently - to use the studio space and other facilities free of cost for up to two years after they graduate.
We have also started "Reel Talks", which will be a monthly interactive session between a guest filmmaker, students and the general public.
Daniyal Ali Khan, Dean, South Asian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Television, talks about SAAMPT and film education in Pakistan.