Asif Kapadia (MA Film & TV Direction, 1997) is an Oscar-winning and three-time Bafta-winning director. Following his debut feature The Warrior (2001) and Far North (2007), international box office hit Senna (2012) established Kapadia as a vital name in documentary film. This success was triumphantly surpassed by Oscar-winning Amy (2015), the moving and controversial documentary about singer Amy Winehouse, and the highest grossing UK documentary of all time. Kapadia counts his award-winning short film The Sheep Thief (1997), made while studying at the RCA, among his proudest achievements.
For Christmas 2016, Kapadia directed The Tale of Thomas Burberry: 160 Years in the Making, starring Domnhall Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Dominic West and Lily James and documenting the tenacious, experimental material-focused innovation that characterises the Burberry brand.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m still around promoting Amy and I’m in post-production on my next film, which is a feature film called Ali and Nino. It’s a kind of epic, period love story, set around the time of the First World War. Having done a couple of documentaries, I’ve now come back to do a fiction film, a drama. I think it’s healthy to keep pushing yourself in new directions.
What are the highlights of your career so far, the achievements you’re most proud of?
I think the real starting point was The Sheep Thief, my graduation film from the RCA. It was the one where I came up with a particular style that was very much my style. That film won international prizes, including one at Cannes, so it gave me an opportunity to get an agent and gain a foothold in the industry.
The next film I made was called The Warrior, which was my first feature. That was a continuation, in a way, of that short film, and again it was taking a gamble, pushing myself into a new place. I shot the film in India, and it won two Bafta awards. Having written and directed these dramas, Senna, a documentary about this amazing Brazilian sports person, was a big change again. I like shifting gear and going somewhere I’m not comfortable, and learning along the way.
All of the films I’ve subsequently made somehow link back to The Sheep Thief and what I learnt at the RCA.
Do you have a clear sense of how the RCA helped you to develop that particular style?
When I started at the RCA, I had already worked in industry for quite a long time and worked my way up. I’d done an undergraduate degree, I’d worked in television, and I was working as a director. I actually quit my job to do the Master’s at the RCA because I felt like I wanted to make cinema – and I was only able to that because I got a full bursary to study there. You can’t read about filmmaking, you’ve got to do it, experiment and make your own mistakes. That’s what art school is all about.
My time at the RCA was brilliant. What was great for me, as a director, was being able to work with artists, animators, sound designers, fashion and graphic designers, to pull them into the world of film and learn from them. I’d never had the opportunity to do that before and that was very special. Film encompasses all of these disciplines, and it was that unique environment that taught me to make films that were visually compelling.
Do you have any advice for current or future students?
Complete what you start. A lot of students and filmmakers don’t finish their scripts, they don’t finish their film, don’t push it to get out there to a festival or get it released. A lot of it is about completing what you started, learning from your mistakes and then doing it all over again. Be unique, stand out from the crowd, and don’t get disheartened.
"A lot of it is about completing what you started, learning from your mistakes and then doing it all over again. Be unique, stand out from the crowd, and don’t get disheartened."