Tag Archives: film education

Cambridge Film Festival #5: Our last day and Summary

One of the major strengths of the Cambridge Film Festival is the education programme which is carefully threaded through the whole festival by Trish Sheil, the Education Officer for the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium. The Archive event that I reported in my third Cambridge post is a regular event that was given a special festival flavour, but the ‘Meet the Industry’ morning was organised specifically for the festival.

The event was jointly with Anglia Ruskin University and as far as I could tell most of the big student audience (filling the 220 seat largest screen) were from Anglia Ruskin. The students were offered four Q & A sessions with industry professionals with Trish or one of the Anglia Ruskin lecturers in the chair for each guest. Catherine Wheatley is a writer/reviewer for Sight and Sound with a day job teaching at the University of East London. She gave an interesting account of how she managed to get a her first chance to write for what is the most prestigious film magazine in the UK. Clearly persistence and self-belief are essential and the willingness to give up a day of holiday to write in the off-chance that a piece might be accepted. She gave a realistic appraisal of what writing about film might be like for a living (though she has the day job). She also mentioned that she had done a course for prospective writers at the BFI and admitted that she wasn’t the most successful student on the course – but she did get published.

Next up were an interesting couple, Ant Neely  and Sloane U’Ren who have recently completed an independent film in and around Cambridge. Neely studied zoology but decided to become a professional musician. He has since had his music used in various film and television productions including Six Feet Under and Boston Legal. But in a way his most useful, if least glamorous, achievement was writing four minutes of music for each episode of a Dutch TV animation series which taught him a great deal about deadlines and ‘being professional’ (and which no doubt paid for the time spent on his more experimental music released on CD – and his filmmaking activities). U’Ren has been an Art Director, Set Director and Production Designer on several well-known Hollywood productions including Harry Potter and Batman Begins. This engaging couple gave students a useful insight into production work on major projects as well as their own more modest enterprise.

Peter MacFarlane was a more mysterious figure for the students. He runs his own ‘literary and talent agency’, MacFarlane Chard Associates, which also operates in Ireland where it is now that country’s second largest agency. I think it was an excellent idea to put an agent in front of these aspiring filmmakers (and in one case, actor). The questions revealed that few in the audience were sure exactly what agents do (though quite a few of us were not surprised to discover that 12.5% is the usual commission). The role of agents within all creative industries is crucially important and it isn’t often studied formally within film studies. I’m not so familiar with production degrees, but clearly it should be included in industry studies.

In between the Q&As a selection of short films were projected on the big screen. This was the only aspect of the event that didn’t work for me. It was probably different for most of the students who would recognise what the production briefs had been, but as the films were presented without any contextualising I was a little lost. The talent and creative invention was there but I didn’t feel I could evaluate the work. I think I probably enjoyed some of the animation pieces most.

The final speaker was Rosemary Richards from BBC VideoNation Network. She presented her project using slides and clips and I found the history of the ‘Video Nation’ concept very interesting. It was good to be reminded of the BBC Community Programme Unit in the 1970s and ’80s which gave birth to Video Diaries in 1990 and then Video Nation in 1993. The concept is now flourishing in the age of social networking and even cheaper digital video recorders. Rosemary set out her case for film students to join the project and submit material. I’m not sure that a ‘community’ project sounds sexy to film students these days, especially since there are various conditions attached to the entry process. On the other hand, the BBC offers a fantastic platform for short video films, online, broadcast and also on the ‘Big Screens’ found in public spaces in various large cities across the UK. Add to that the useful experience of working under restraints and within specific briefs and it looks like an interesting opportunity.

Summary

I very much enjoyed my trip to Cambridge. The Arts Picturehouse is a welcoming venue and the programme was varied and interesting. There was a lot more that I didn’t see, including a family-orientated programme in the mornings and various special events. Each day a festival bulletin was issued with feedback from festivalgoers and interviews with visiting guests. I’d like to thank Tony Jones and his team from the Cambridge Film Trust, Clare Wilford, the Press Officer who helped me access the screenings and everyone who worked on the festival. This is clearly a labour of love and I hope it can continue for another 30 years. This is a difficult time for the UK film industry and specialised film exhibition is particularly vulnerable. Around the time of the festival, the Regional Screen Agency, Screen East, was suddenly wound up because of its own problems (all the RSAs will now be re-organised as the UK Film Council is phased out). This has left the Cambridge Film Festival wondering if its grant from Screen East will appear. I do hope so as the festival deserves public funding support.

Robin Wood, 1931-2009

I was saddened and shocked to discover today that Robin Wood, one of the most important figures in the development of film education worldwide, had died on December 18 at his home in Toronto aged 78. It’s always sad to lose the writers who helped you to become passionate about something, but the shock is that no-one in the UK seems to have noticed his death. It seems like an indictment of the insularity of UK film culture that I should discover this news by stumbling across it when idly surfing movie blogs and chancing on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s. Credit to the New York Times and the World Socialist Website for carrying proper obituaries.

When I first started to take Film Studies seriously in the early 1970s, Robin Wood was one of the leading figures in the UK, setting up the first of a new round of degree courses at Warwick University in 1973. I’m not sure when I first discovered his writing, but it was probably in the early 1970s, around the time that I bought his books on Hitchcock and and Chabrol (with Mike Walker) and then his writings in the relaunched Movie. I soon became aware of the divide between Screen and Movie, but I always tried to follow both. Robin Wood turned left in his politics in the 1970s but didn’t lose his grounding in practical criticism. Towards the end of the 1970s he moved to Canada and his interest in gay and feminist approaches to film became more pronounced. I continued to read his material in CineAction, but also in the 1980s re-discovered some of his earlier writing and it was through his championing that I developed a deeper interest in and then a passion for Mizoguchi Kenji.

I’ll be interested to see how he is eventually remembered in UK film studies/film criticism writing. For now, I just want to recall my admiration for what he achieved as an English teacher in the 1960s – hiring 16mm films to show to his students and writing up his incredibly detailed readings of a broad selection of titles. In these days of DVD and YouTube, it’s hard to imagine just how much energy and commitment it took to be a ‘film teacher’. I know that somewhere I once read about Robin Wood’s early writings as a teacher, but I’m indebted to the NY Times obit for the story about how a Wood essay on Psycho in the early 1960s, when he was still a secondary school teacher, was turned down by Sight and Sound but accepted by the notoriously anti-British film Cahiers du cinéma. More on this if I can find the refs.

Just now found this entry on The Auteurs.com with at least one UK contribution via Catherine Grant’s Film Studies for Free with an excellent collection of links to tributes and online material by Wood himself – great work Catherine.

Added January 4: The Guardian has finally managed a decent obit penned by Charles Barr – good choice.