Film - East meets West in new film school

5th July 2013 at 01:00
It will bring the glitz - and hard work - of Bollywood to Bradford

Film students traditionally produce broody, moody films, exploring existential angst. But, from this week onwards, students at one further education college will be calling for lights, camera and sequin-clad, formation-dancing action.

Whistling Woods International, the largest film school in Asia and the only such school to serve the Bollywood industry, is opening an offshoot at Bradford College in the North of England.

The opening chords for the new school, to be known as Bradford-WWI Film School, began playing when Trevor Griffiths, then a tutor at the college, visited the original Mumbai campus.

Initially, an exchange was set up, sending Bradford students to Mumbai. Then, this year, the two sets of tutors began discussing the possibility of instead bringing Mumbai to Bradford.

"There are probably 20 places in London to study film," said Mr Griffiths, now programme manager for the Bradford school. "And there are probably 20,000 people wanting to study film. So why shouldn't we open a film school in Bradford? And why should it be any less of a programme than you'd find anywhere else in the world?"

And Meghna Ghai Puri, president of Whistling Woods International, argues that her school's lessons are relevant around the world. "We don't really teach them 'this is how Bollywood works'," she said. "We just teach them best practice. But we make things happen in Bollywood with minimum resources and a minuscule budget. I think there's a lesson there for everyone."

Bradford has a heritage in film, being home to the National Media Museum, formerly the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. The city also has one of the biggest Asian communities in the UK. And Bollywood, the largest film industry in the world, requires a sufficient number of film-makers to produce more than a thousand films a year.

But, for potential students unsure whether they have what it takes to choreograph a mesh-shirted chorus line or direct a wet-sari scene, Mr Griffiths points out that around half of Whistling Woods International's lecturers come from a Hollywood background. "People automatically assumed that it would be a Bollywood film school," he said. "But we wanted to build an international film school, where students would get a real understanding of world film."

Besides, not all the differences between Bradford and Bollywood involve sequins and spandex. Mr Griffiths plans to extend the existing exchange scheme, offering his film-school students the chance to experience life in Mumbai.

"My preconceptions - the vibrancy of everything, the costumes, the dancing, the choreography - all of that was true," said Martin O'Nions, a former Bradford photography student who spent two weeks at Whistling Woods International. "But it's a real culture shock. They were really keen, and would be up at 6am and working through until seven or eight at night. Coming from the UK, we started at 9.30am and usually finished at 5pm. In India you have to work hard. Really hard."

Although his Indian working patterns swiftly faded on his return, the trip did have longer-lasting effects.

"Not only have I made good contacts in the industry, I've also made real friendships," he said. "It showed me how accessible the world is today. It's the big, wide world, but we were there within a few hours on a plane, meeting people from other film industries. That was a real eureka moment."

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