Nikhil Chawla-Bhowmick '08
Paris Filmmaker and Video-Editor
I had just submitted my undergraduate thesis on the democratization process of Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire to my professorial panel. One of my majors was political science and I had become obsessed with the fate of the latter two countries in their respective democratization processes since their independence from France in 1960. It was a beautiful spring day in 2005 and the anticipation of graduation was in the air. The ivy-covered colonial edifices of Rutgers University never looked so beautiful. At that very moment, I was relieved that the manuscript of my thesis had finally left my hands. My fate was now in the hands of my research director, who would either grant me the laurels of academic recognition or banish me from the realms of academia altogether. Two weeks after graduation, I was given my academic laurels in the form of a check and the recognition that my thesis had won a coveted prize in the African Studies department. My first reaction was pride, but at the same time, all those film classes and the ten years I spent in an art school in France surged back to the surface. “What am I doing? Do I really want to go for a doctorate?” All this had left me wondering about my future role in academia. So after a summer stint in Montreal, which mostly consisted of auditing film classes at McGill University and immersing myself in the Québécois art scene, the determination of going the artistic path seemed ever so strong. I there and then decided to return to France and save up for a year in order to head to Buenos Aires for film school. The plan was simple. It was only a matter of time, so I went to work.
My first year in Paris coming to an end, I had saved up just enough to cover a year’s cost of living in Buenos Aires. As it happens, an American friend attending the Argentinian film school called me one night. He said he was leaving the school due to the lack of pedagogical tools at his disposal. A little disappointed, I decided to conduct my search for a Masters program in Paris instead. It just so happened that The American University of Paris was offering a Masters of Arts in Global Communications (MAGC). It seemed to encompass all the necessary elements I needed to thrive professionally. The first half of the curriculum really laid down the theoretical foundations of media and communications. The second semester was more about fun due to its practical nature. From learning video-editing to screen-writing, pitching new ideas, to understanding documentary-style filmmaking, I was hooked on video production. It garnered all the components that I wanted, from the conceptualization of a project to its practical approach. It had everything, from A to Z. I also quickly realized that the strength of this graduate program was really rooted in the quality of the courses and the professors teaching them.
My first professional project out of AUP was as Director of Photography and Producer on the set of a documentary that looked at the different approaches of microfinance institutions and microcredit in Southeastern India. (Click on the video above to watch.) Over the course of two months, the director, our sound engineer and I covered the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where we conducted field interviews with villagers, debt collectors, women’s groups as well as highly-ranked government officials and researchers in the field of microcredit. It was an eye-opening experience. Following this project and a quick stint as communications intern at the United Nations’ World Food Programme, I packed my bags and headed on the other side of the world, this time to California. This gave me a chance to hone my skills as a video-editor and cinematographer for the next three and half years by working on visual arts pieces, as a second camera operator on a Hollywood series pilot, directing short video clips for Californian collectives at the forefront of new ideas as well as working with ballerinas from the San Diego Ballet and much more. I’ve been back in Paris since December of 2011 and I’m currently developing a couple of documentary projects, as well as closely working with the Théâtre de Belleville for press photography and video communications on one of their plays.
Looking back on my experience at AUP, I feel privileged to have had professors of such high intellectual merit, who helped me forge my own identity in the media landscape as well as teach me the fundamentals and intricacies of communications and media. Although one cannot neglect the fact that experience is the best teacher, it is important to realize how fundamental the teachings of a classroom setting and the pedagogical approaches of professors can be in order to bridge the gap between theory and the professional workplace.
Nikhil Chawla-Bhowmick is an independent filmmaker, video-editor & director of photography currently based in Paris. His background is documentary filmmaking and fiction. For more information, please visit Nikhil’s online portfolio: www.specimenproductions.com