(pictured above: actress and writer Liv Ullman and Dheeraj Akolkar)
Whilst promoting his film, 'Liv and Ingmar', at the 54th Nordische Filmtage in Germany, Goldsmiths alumnus Dheeraj spoke to us about his current projects, his advice for students and graduates, and his time studying in New Cross.
You're currently enjoying success with your film 'Liv and Ingmar'. What was the inspiration behind the film?
Well, the inspiration came largely from Liv Ullmann's book 'Changing' which I found in the house of a Cinema and Theatre legend Zul Vellani whilst in India. That book made a lasting impression.
In the book I met Ingmar Bergman, and saw him not as a gigantic, larger than life person, but a vulnerable, childlike human being. Liv writes with a lot of empathy and honesty about many delicate facets of her relationship with Ingmar, but it was Ingmar's death in 2007 that triggered the film. I was working in the library at Goldsmiths at the time, and flipped through all the newspapers in order to find an interview from Liv - and there was nothing from her, and I realised there would be nothing - that's when the film came to me.
You've worked in a variety of roles in the film industry, in India and the UK. How did this project differ from what you've done before?
The major difference is that this is my first feature length film as a writer, director and co-producer.
Earlier I had assisted on large-scale productions in India and made short films in the UK. Also this is the first international co-production we have put together with five countries - Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the UK and India.
You're a writer, director, cinematographer and producer. Which role holds the most enjoyment for you?
I like writing and directing the most. Writing is very primal, it’s between you and your computer or paper. While writing you can become very close to your film, and know it intimately.
While directing, you get to realise what you have written. It’s extraordinary to work with artists in front of the camera and from behind the camera, travel through many ups and downs and stay true to your vision... It’s true that while writing you are directing, and while directing you are writing!
What advice would you offer to graduates looking to use their knowledge and break into the industry?
Just keep at it! Giving up is not an option. And there are crazy times when nothing works out and there are piles of rejections, and people laugh in your face or behind your back or both! But that time is a gift - you have to use that time constructively to work on your skills and learn along the way.
And this I will not say as a matter of advice, instead I want to share it from the bottom of my heart, that you have to keep knocking on those doors. It may hurt, it may hurt a lot, but keep knocking. Because one day, one of those doors opens!
How did your study at Goldsmiths prepare you for working as a film-maker?
It has helped me immensely! Our course convener Robert Smith is largely responsible for this. He worked extremely hard for us and with us. He took us to many different places - from Working Title to The UK Film Council, from distributors and exhibitors to lawyers and independent producers. He made sure we worked hard as well. Tammy Riley Smith - our teacher on the core course was extraordinary. Both of them encouraged us to write our cinema. This fantastic exposure taught me how to put together an international co-production. Robert encouraged us to go to various film festivals where we could participate and pitch our projects, however scared we were.
In this field, like any other, you need someone to advise you, someone you can talk to on creative and pragmatic levels, and Robert has been there for me and that has helped me a lot!
What skills or knowledge have you taken from your time at Goldsmiths?
I think the most important thing has been the exposure and freedom Goldsmiths gave me. I learnt many things here. But I also worked in Goldsmiths' library for three years, during my student days and after. And I am most thankful for that. I made wonderful friends, read a lot, saw a lot of films. It was at Goldsmiths that I started developing 'Liv & Ingmar'. In the end credits of my film I have acknowledged the Goldsmiths Library - I mean, how could I not? I am immensely grateful for what Goldsmiths has given me...
How do people react when you tell them that you're a graduate of Goldsmiths?
I am treated with a lot of respect when people know that I am a Goldsmiths graduate! They look up to this institution, for many reasons. In the force of the current circumstances, I just hope that we do not lose what is good about this place... It takes decades, even centuries for a tree to grow and blossom, but it takes an hour to axe it down... we must not forget that!