After nearly three years of its inception, the only dedicated film academy of the country was closed down abruptly - whether temporarily or permanently remains unclear - on Wednesday, allegedly over issues between the partners on fewer admissions and low prospects of profit, The Express Tribune has learnt. The South Asian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Television (SAAMPT) was reportedly locked down with deployment of civilian vigilante when the SAAMPT dean, also one of the five shareholders/directors, Daniyal Ali Khan, did not agree with the decision of the four other directors to close the academy.
“It was all done so hastily that the students who were within the premises were locked inside while the rest of us were outside the building,” said Noor Muhammad, a cinematography student, while talking to The Express Tribune.
According to the Daniyal, Tooba Munif who is the daughter of one of the directors, Afzal Munif, and another director, Azmat Khan, told the students on Tuesday that they had decided to close the academy with immediate effect. The students, however, did not take the news well as they were in the middle of their studies, said Daniyal. “The academy made a commitment to the students and fees for their professional education had also been charged,” he said, alleging that Munif rejected the students’ protest and stated that the directors will go ahead with the closure.
A twist in the plot
When contacted, Tooba declared that there was no truth to the story. “The academy was only temporarily closed as a security measure because we felt threatened by one of the directors and the students who were misled by him,” said Munif, vowing that the academy was not going to shut down.
She added that Daniyal Ali Khan was now the ‘ex-dean’ as he was fired on Wednesday by the board of directors’ chairperson for his overall conduct. “He misled the students and incited them to be violent. He also threatened the directors with destruction of property.”
A notice at the academy reads that the institution will remain closed for two weeks.
When The Express Tribune contacted the faculty and students of the academy, they corroborated Daniyal’s account. Of the five directors, each holding 20 per cent shares, Daniyal was the only one who was practically involved with the institution’s academic affairs. Most students, when asked, did not even recognise the remaining four directors.
“A meeting was held formally and students were informed that the directors wanted to meet them on Tuesday,” said a student, Osman Rafiq. “It was categorically stated during the meeting - for which an audio recording is also available - that the SAAMPT will discontinue operations.”
Daniyal said that students’ enrolment at the academy had remained low with a high drop-out rate - which was expected during the initial years. The tuition fee was competitive with other institutions, such as the Indus Valley School. He believed, however, that even from a business point of view, no enterprise could breakeven in the first few years. “During the last three months, the enrolment was increased from five students in each semester to around 11 students and I am sure the number will double by next year.”
According to Daniyal, he tried to persuade his counterparts not to take any hasty decisions that would risk the future of the students and the academy. “But the directors, in their haste, have compromised the academic credentials of a budding institute that has renowned personalities on its boards.”
Reactions pour in
Cinematographer Faraz Iqbal, who has been with the academy since its inception as a part-time faculty, said that the step was a great loss to the students and the industry. “I am a visiting faculty member at few other prestigious media schools and I can say that independent filmmakers and students have started to recognise the SAAMPT,” said Iqbal. “The academy has potential and was moving in the right direction with positive results.”
Professionals from the independent cinema have also raised concerns. Anjum Chandna, an aspiring filmmaker who has directed three short-films, told The Express Tribune that the academy could have played a pivotal role in resurgence of Pakistani cinema.
She used to visit the academy off and on for discussions with students and faculty. “I want to see young filmmaking students being facilitated in the country and take part in revival of the cinema,” said Chandna. “The students appeared promising, motivated and a few had even arrived from other cities and countries. Some of them were professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, who had put their former profession at stake.”
Veteran actor and director Khaled Ahmed found it sad that the only specialised academy in filmmaking was becoming a victim of internal feuds. “The academy was expected to play a greater role in times when several new faces have generated hope for the revival of our film industry.” He hoped that the directors would be able to sort out their differences in the larger interest of the film industry.
In less than three years, the academy had fostered academic partnerships with prominent institutions, such as the Columbia College Chicago, Prague Film School, Raj Kapoor Films & Media Academy, Mandviwalla Entertainment and Kodak Pakistan.
The academy’s advisory council also comprises veteran filmmakers, directors, producers and writers, including Mira Nair, Jamil Dehlavi, Chris Swider, William Gilcher, Syed Noor, Javed Jabbar, Mehreen Jabbar and Nadeem Mandviwalla.
“I am not aware of the details of the closure but as far as I know, Daniyal has been successfully trying to put the academy through,” said Nadeem Mandviwalla, the owner and managing director of Mandviwalla Entertainment.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2013.
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