Friday, February 1, 2013

New Beginnings at the University of the Arts London

Before the New Year, I was faced with making a very difficult decision.  My current school had still not received its appeal response and the lingering doubts of whether or not I would be able to continue my study at the London Film School were weighing heavy on me.  Despite having completed one term at LFS, I had to take action in finding an alternative solution to my education given the circumstances.  This prompted me to look at other MA Film programs in London, but proved to be a complicated challenge, mostly because programs typically begin in the fall.  My first approach was to look into universities that had a highly trusted status, which meant that student federal loans could be accepted.  Since the London Film School had their highly trusted status revoked, I had to make sure that I would not find myself in same situation.  In my search for universities that would allow me to use my student federal loans, I found suitable film programs, but they began in the fall.  However, these programs did not truly resonate with me as a right fit for my goals and ambitions.  The other problem is that I would be required to return back home since my visa sponsorship would be cancelled from the London Film School, had I chosen a program that began in the fall.  You can imagine how deflating this felt being in this position.  

Then... life happens.   My involvement with the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) proved to be a blessing.  Because of my role as the Ethnographic Film Festival Assistant, many networks have been established with my supervisor, Susanne Hammacher from multiple universities and institutions all over the UK.  As she learned of my predicament, she informed me of a professor from the University of the Arts London (UAL) who once served on the judging panel from the previous RAI film festival last year.  Turns out the university is Europe's largest provider of education in art, design, fashion, communication and the performing arts, as well as being on of the most famous and prestigious art universities in the world.  Had I not taken the initiative to intern at the RAI, I would have never learned of this school.  Susanne contacted the judge, Cathy Greenhalgh, from the University of the Arts London who is the principal Lecturer and course director of the BA Film and Video at the London College of Communication (LCC), which happens to be one of the largest campuses of UAL.  Cathy informed Susanne that I would be a perfect candidate for the one year MA in Documentary Film program and just so happens that course begins in January.  Not only was this a stoke of luck, but UAL has a highly trusted status that would allow me to use my student federal loan.  My next step was to contact the school because after researching the program the application deadline date was on October, 31st.  After explaining my situation to admissions, they sympathised with my educational and financial quandary and made an exception for me to state my interest of study to the course director of the MA Documentary Film program, Pratap Rughani.  After personally meeting Pratap for an interview, both he and I were convinced that this was where I needed to be.  

Now that I gained the initial green light from the university, I could not move forward unless I had the blessing from my district sponsor, John Mcquire and from my RI Headquarters scholarship program coordinator, Ken Waterbury.  I communicated with both John and Ken explaining the prospect of transferring to a different university.  Traditionally this is not allowed as it is clearly stated in the Rotary Scholar handbook, but since I have been communicative with both of them about my dilemma from the very beginning they agreed that this was a justified reason and gave me their full support to take the steps necessary in gaining acceptance at LCC.  I had one week to act fast in order to get my application and documentation in time before the holiday break or else it would be too late.  I also had to discuss my intention of transferring with the London Film School in time before they would be on holiday break to request an official withdrawal from the course.  While I am grateful they did all they could to work with me to continue studying at LFS, they completely understood my decision and offered to assist me in anyway possible to facilitate an easy transition on their part.  The only downfall is that I had to pay for a new visa application under the sponsorship of UAL.  Although I am conditionally accepted at UAL, I am still able to attend classes while waiting for approval from the UK Border Agency.  UAL worked very hard advocating for me to the UKBA to understand my extenuating circumstances and hopefully I will receive word soon that my visa has been granted.

I am about to start my fourth week at LCC, and I am absolutely enamoured with my new school and program.  I am the only American student in my class and the distribution of international students is quite vast.  There is a great dynamic between all of us and what binds us all together is the support and direction from our course director and course tutor, Nancy Platt, who is a Chicago native.  Both of them bring years of experience working at the BBC and are award winning documentary filmmakers.  The creative atmosphere at LCC is such a great environment to be in and our instructors have been providing us the tools to foster our own indivdual documentary filmmaking style.  The program couldn't have been more fitting, considering that my interest in filmmaking is documentary focused.  My inspiration is soaring high and I feel that my experience here will be carried out in the world to make films that will make a positive difference for humanity.  My experience at the London Film School is bittersweet and full of challenges.  I over extended myself with attempts to gain additional funding, contacting the US Department of Education, my state Senator from California and still I found myself hanging by a thread.  I know I made the right educational decision and had I known about this school beforehand I would of potentially chosen it as my top choice school in my scholarship application.  The world works in mysterious ways and this has clearly been a blessing in disguise.   

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