Students Build International Bridges Through Filmmaking


Sponsorships from the India Center at UCF opened up the opportunity for eight students to travel to India this summer and grow their filmmaking chops.

Six undergraduate and two graduate film students joined film professor and Fulbright Scholar Phil Peters in Kolkata on an innovative research project conducted by The India Documentary Lab. The goal of the project was to collaborate with the iLEAD Institute and the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute to make three student documentaries.

“The India Center is pleased to be able to support students to travel to India to learn about filmmaking through immersion. This is a wonderful opportunity for UCF students to experience Indian culture and filmmaking techniques,” Dr. Kerstin Hamann said. Hamann is Pegasus Professor and Chair of the Political Science department in the College of Sciences, where the India Center is housed.

Kolkata’s rich cinema history inspired Peters’ creation of UCF India Documentary Lab. The lab’s initial research project investigated how students from two universities, from two different countries and cultures, can come together to make documentaries under the pressures of limited time and resources. The research project put two UCF Film students and two Indian iLEAD Institute students together as collaborators to form three documentary film crews.

“I was able to immerse myself deeply into a very specific region in India and see firsthand how my universal theory of cinema can be put into practice,” said David Morton, a graduate student.

The project tested many things: the ability to cope with the culture shock of a developing country while working on a film; the ability to work under the pressure of an extremely tight deadline; and the ability to work with crew members of varying skill levels that may or may not be different from their own. This collaboration not only tested the student’s technical skills, but tested their cross-cultural communication skills with the Indian crew members.

The India Documentary Lab approach to production required rigorous preparatory work by the students from UCF.

“Sometimes it felt like a trial by fire, but it also made all of us work harder than ever before. I learned things I think would take years to theoretically learn, but because it was so involved, we learned way more,” said Ramsey Khawaja, UCF undergraduate Honors Film Major.

Each team of four students had one week of pre-production in which they choose their production roles on the crew and to research and conceive a culturally relevant documentary topic focused on Kolkata. The second week was used to film interviews, shoot B-roll footage and capture the natural sounds and ambiance of Kolkata and its surroundings. The third week the teams focused on editing, refining the final details and preparing for the exhibition of their completed 5-10 minute documentaries.

This type of deadline pressure would be an ambitious project for a film crew that had already made several films together. But it was particularly challenging for a group of four strangers who have never spoken on the phone or met one another before the first production meeting in Kolkata, Peters explained.

“I believe the type of production process being explored in The India Documentary Lab will uncover new ways in which micro-or low-budget film productions can interact with communities, and offer in turn engaging and socially relevant documentary topics,” Peters said.

In addition to research, the teams cultivated both personal and professional relationships with the premier film training institutions of Kolkata and worked closely with the faculty of the world-renowned Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and iLEAD Institute. Both of these institutions expressed a desire to continue the collaboration with UCF on future joint film projects.

“This cross-cultural collaboration has tremendous learning and artistic potential for both the UCF and Indian students,” Peters said.

Here are the three films produced:

Lady Bikers of Kolkata

Kuku (Street Dogs of Kolkata)


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