Hackney film director Asif Kapadia awarded Honorary Doctorate of Arts

Asif Kapadia Honorary Doctorate

Honoured: Asif Kapadia receives his honorary-doctorate

Hackney-born film director Asif Kapadia has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the University of East London (UEL).

Kapadia, best known for directing the award-winning 2010 documentary Senna, which told the story of Brazilian Formula One drive Ayrton Senna, received the award at the North Greenwich Arena.

Catherine Harper, Dean of UEL’s School of Arts & Digital Industries, said: “Asif Kapadia’s contribution to filmmaking – but also to story-telling – is extraordinary: he weaves tales that move seamlessly from that of a boy thief in Rajasthan to the career of Ayrton Senna. Hackney is rightly proud of Asif, and UEL is equally proud to name him as an honorary doctorate.”

Born in the borough in 1972, Kapadia has experienced a career that began when he worked on student films as a runner.

He then completed an HND at Newport Film School, followed by a degree in film-making at the University of Westminster, before completing a Masters in film and TV direction at the Royal College of Art.

Upon graduating, he directed The Warrior, set in the Himalayas and India’s Rajasthan region; the film would go on to be nominated for three BAFTA awards and won the Alexandra Kora Award for outstanding British Film of the Year 2002.

Senna, meanwhile, remains the highest grossing British documentary of all time, winning two BAFTA awards (Best Documentary and Best Editing), and scooping the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Not bad for a Hackney native, born the youngest of five children.

Speaking to the Hackney Citizen, Kapadia enthuses: “It’s an incredible honour! I’m a local boy, so this means a lot. Most importantly, I hope the honorary doctorate can inspire the graduating students.”

Of his native borough, he says: “It has influenced me in so many ways – I will always be a proud Hackney Boy! Although it was a tough place when I was growing up, my school Homerton House had a pretty bad reputation, so you had to be mentally strong to survive, to study hard and make something of yourself.

“The upside of Hackney was how multicultural the place was – everyone spoke more than one language, my school friends were from all over the world, and I guess this sowed the seed to learn more about other cultures, to travel as much as possible. To tell stories from around the world, something I have been lucky enough to do through my films.”

For those Hackney-based filmmakers starting out today, Kapadia has some sage advice: “Study film if you can, even a short course. It will give you the training, access to equipment, hopefully some money and most importantly deadlines.

“Be original, be bold, take risks, and always finish the film, even if you’re not happy with it. Then send it out to festivals and get on with the next one. The best training is getting out and making films, learn from your own mistakes.”

The last time the Citizen interviewed Kapadia, it was for his contribution to the Hackney Film Festival, which took place in early September. Kapadia’s documentary, The Odyssey, focused on London in the seven years since it was awarded the Olympics in 2005 to the start of festivities this summer, containing interviews with a cross-section of Londoners.

As he revealed at the time: “Four different groups of directors were asked to make films as part of the Cultural Olympiad, and they could be about the Olympics, or not about the Olympics…one of the other films was made by Mike Leigh, another by Lynn Ramsay – and they asked me”.

Of his contribution, he says: “I directed a 30-minute documentary about the journey from 2005 – 2012 of the Olympic Games, and how they affected London and Londoners. The film was a real success with Londoners who saw it.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, Kapadia already has a few dramas and documentaries in the works. “One of them is an epic period film, and another is a documentary about a well-known artist,” he reveals.

“Hopefully they will be confirmed in the New Year and I’ll be able to speak about them, but as the projects have not been finalised, I’m too superstitious to say any more right now!” No doubt it will not be the last that we hear from this gifted director.